The Mercedes-Benz G550 is one of the automaker’s least fuel-efficient vehicles, a condition that has led to consistent fines for owner Daimler Benz.

Thanks to a law passed in late 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has dramatically increased fines for companies that fail to meet Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. Fines jump to $14 per vehicle sold for each 0.1mpg miss of the standard. Set in 1978, the standard of $5 per 0.1mpg miss had not been updated since. For Jaguar Land Rover, one of the most heavily fined companies for missing standards for decades, fines could jump from about $375 per car sold (based on its 2014 CAFE performance) to $1,050 per vehicle with the new fine structure.

Most automakers generate credits from beating standards for cars and apply those credits to their trucks and SUVs. In addition, greener car companies, such as Tesla Motors, can sell credits based on their sales to allow competing automakers to reduce their exposure to fines. The value of those green-car credits could spike in response to the higher cost of paying fines for non-compliance. Since the mid-1980s, NHTSA data show that two automakers – BMW and Daimler (via Mercedes and its sub-brands) have accounted for almost two-thirds of the nearly $1 billion collected with the $5 fine structure.

Officials with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers say the new fine structure complicates the relationship between manufacturers and regulators. The sides have been cooperating on working out a single national framework for automotive regulation, but discrepancies remain between U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards, NHTSA standards, and standards used in several states, spearheaded by California.

“Despite commitments made in 2009 and 2011, the troubling reality is that we still do not have One National Program for fuel economy standards,” Alliance officials say. “Automakers were already preparing to face the unfair reality of having to pay significant CAFE fines despite meeting the more aggressive EPA standard. That daunting prospect just nearly tripled due to this draconian fine increase and the corresponding impact to the credit market. These harmonization issues must be addressed in order to ensure consumers are able to afford the cleaner, more fuel efficient, and safer vehicles available on showroom floors.”

In its rule filing with the Federal Register, NHTSA officials said the fee change was mandated by the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act, a 2015 law that requires old fine levels be increased to match inflation. That law capped increases at 150% of the original fine (with some minor adjustments and rounding). Had it not been for those caps, the fines could have increased to $22, based on the Consumer Price Index.

US automotive safety lags falling death rates of similar nations

About 90 people die each day from motor vehicle crashes in the United States, resulting in the highest death rate among 19 high-income comparison countries. Crash deaths fell 31% from 2000 to 2013, but other high-income countries reduced crash deaths by an average of 56%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The U.S. had the:

  • Most crash deaths per 100,000 people and per 10,000 vehicles
  • Second highest percentage of deaths involving alcohol (31%)
  • Third lowest front seat belt use (87%)

If the U.S. had the same motor vehicle crash death rate as second-highest death rate Belgium, about 12,000 fewer lives would have been lost and $140 million in direct medical costs would have been averted in 2013. If the U.S. matched top-ranked Sweden, about 24,000 fewer lives would have been lost and an estimated $281 million in direct medical costs would have been averted in 2013.

"Seeing that other high-income countries are doing better, we know we can do better too," says Dr. Debra Houry, director of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

Erin Sauber-Schatz, transportation safety team lead, CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, adds, “About 3,000 lives could be saved each year by increasing seat belt use to 100%."

Researchers recommend seat belt use in front and rear seats, car seats and booster seats for children, never drinking and driving, obeying speed limits, and avoiding distracted driving.

Hyundai, Energy Department extend fuel cell research program

Hyundai and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) are extending their fuel cell vehicle confirmation program, originally from 2013 through 2015, to its second phase, from 2016 through 2017. The program involves Hyundai providing a number of Tucson Fuel Cell crossovers for daily use and confirmation by the DOE using existing hydrogen infrastructure. This phase of the program will use a newly-opened hydrogen refueling station in the Washington D.C. region.

Phase 1 of the Hyundai/DOE program focused exclusively on Southern California, where the earliest hydrogen infrastructure existed. Phase 2 further expands the program to Northern California, Washington D.C., Michigan, and Colorado.

The Hyundai/DOE partnership continues preparation for the rollout of fuel cell vehicles nationwide in the near future. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles promise quick refueling, longer range, more flexible vehicle size scalability, and range performance in colder climates.