The short answer is maybe. It would require that vehicles being sold ten years from now would have to average 75 miles per gallon—not impossible, but improbable–unless. It requires political will, higher and real CAFE (fuel efficiency) standards and continued technological improvements or a gasoline price that rises substantially. The latter two are the factors about which I have the most confidence.
I hate to do this, but we need to understand the numbers. Try and stick with me on this. These numbers are rough but get us into the ballpark.
We import 9 million barrels of oil a day, about half from OPEC by the way. So we need to get rid of 3 million barrels a day or 1.095 Billion barrels a year. Now, those barrels don’t just go into making gasoline, but let’s make the leap of having all that reduction come from gasoline. Based on refining experience, each barrel of oil typically produces about 19 gallons of gasoline (there are 42 gallons in a barrel). If we are to get rid of 3 million barrels of oil per day that means we need to reduce gasoline consumption by about 46 Billion gallons (42 gallons per barrel x 1.095 Billion barrels); that’s out of the 160 Billion gallons consumed each year by the 240 million vehicles on the road today. (Notice that I capitalize Billion. We are talking BIG numbers.) Those vehicles, each traveling about 12,000 miles a year, are actually averaging about 18 miles per gallon. To think about it another way (inverted), each vehicle is consuming about 0.0556 gallon per mile or 0.00132 barrel per mile. Pretty exciting so far…
Over the next ten years at a scrappage rate of 5% a year we will replace half of those 240 million vehicles. That’s where the reduction in consumption has to come from. Let’s calculate what the mileage improvement has to be to eliminate those 1.095 Billion barrels a year. Currently the half of the fleet that will be scrapped, which is less efficient than the whole fleet, is likely consuming about 1.8 Billion barrels a year or 4.93 million barrels a day. We would need it to be consuming only 1.93 million barrels per day or 0.705 Billion barrels a year or 29.61 Billion gallons per year. If each vehicle in that half of the fleet is traveling 12,000 miles a year it would have to be averaging about 49 miles per gallon. You can do this calculation yourself by dividing the total mileage for the fleet (1.44 Trillion miles) by the gallons expected to be consumed (29.61 Billion). To get that average for the 120 million vehicles assuming a linear increase in miles per gallon over that ten-year period, the vehicles bought in 2022 would have to be averaging 75 miles per gallon. While the all-electrics are already getting over 100 miles per gallon equivalent and many of the hybrids over 50 mpg it is still a stretch to think that we will get the average on all vehicles sold in a year up to 75 miles per gallon in 10 years or about 50 miles per gallon in 5 years. It is not impossible, but would require one hell of a change in the growth path for highly fuel-efficient vehicles, supported by significantly higher CAFE standards. The problem is we are starting with only 40% of all vehicles being subject to the higher CAFÉ standards. We have a lot of light trucks and real trucks on the road.
We should strive for all 3 million barrels a day coming from fuel efficiency. As I said, political will, CAFE standards, and technology are required, and higher oil prices are a given unless we do this. And, by the way, every million barrels a day of gasoline we don’t use, reduces CO2 emissions by 148 megatons per year.