Earlier this year the Obama Administration nearly doubled fuel efficiency standards in the United States, requiring that by 2025 all cars and SUVs sold nationwide get at least 54 miles per gallon on average for city and highway driving.
“These fuel standards represent the single most important step we’ve ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” President Obama said in a statement about the mandate. Indeed, automaker and environmental groups alike have welcomed the changes for the most part, each claiming an incremental victory in the new regulation.
Upgrades to improve efficiency will cost automakers roughly $1,800 per vehicle to comply, according to EPA estimates, and cut US oil consumption by about 700 million barrels.
But automakers will have to get creative in how they meet the new standard without sacrificing performance or drastically increasing prices. They’ll do things to lighten cars like use more carbon fiber throughout the body and cabin; sell more hybrid and pure-electric variants of existing models; and pare down engine sizes while using turbo-charge and direct-injection technology to keep up power levels despite reduced cylinders.
Those are just some of the easiest changes consumers can expect to see in the future of transportation. There are plenty more.
“What we’re seeing is a real revolution in technology,” says Daniel Sperling, the director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis. “We’re seeing advances that were inconceivable five or six years ago…a dramatic sea change in the industry, in the commercialization of technology, and in the changing consumer purchases.”
An expert on urban transportation technology, Sperling says the most obvious change consumers can expect in future transportation is increased prevalence of hybrid and pure-electric vehicles. But don’t expect every OEM to be able to push them as easily as smaller start-ups like Tesla and Fisker.
The technology is already able to produce powerful electric cars—just ask Elon Musk. It’s pricing and logistics that will set the pace of electric dominance on American roads as car makers figure out how to implement expensive and complicated technologies in big-enough volumes to allow for profit.
“We’re on the path to electric, but the question is how quickly,” Sperling says. “Tesla reminded people that it really is doable, but I think it’s really internalized in the company. Certainly it will take longer for the companies with big supply chains.”
Other changes in future transport will have nothing to do with the cars themselves but everything to do with how we drive them. Robert Harrison, the deputy director of the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Texas, says intelligent systems that will help control congestion are already in place—and will become much more prevalent as time passes.