The Alternative Motor Fuels Act of 1988, Pub. L. 100-94, October 14, 1988, (AMFA) provides Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) incentives for the manufacture of vehicles that use alcohol or natural gas fuels, either exclusively or as an alternative fuel in conjunction with gasoline or diesel fuel. AMFA directs the Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator and the Secretary of Energy, to conduct a study and submit a report to Congress evaluating the success of the policy decision to offer CAFE credit incentives for the production and sale of dual-fuel vehicles.

As required by the statutory language, this study evaluates: (1) the availability to the public of alternative fuel vehicles and alternative fuels; (2) energy conservation and security; (3) environmental considerations; and (4) other relevant factors. It is also required that the Department of Transportation either extend the incentive program for dual-fuel vehicles up to four years beyond model year 2004, with a maximum allowable increase in average fuel economy per manufacturer of 0.9 miles per gallon (the maximum through MY 2004 is 1.2 miles per gallon); or issue a Federal Register notice that explains why the incentive program was not extended.

This study indicates that the AMFA CAFE credit incentive program for producing dual-fuel vehicles has had mixed results. Key findings include:

  1. The AMFA CAFE credit program has been successful in stimulating a significant increase in the availability of alternative fuel vehicles. Nearly all of these have been flexible-fuel vehicles that can operate on gasoline or E85 fuel (a mixture of 15 percent gasoline and 85 percent ethanol). There are currently about 1.2 million of these vehicles on the road. Because manufacturers had to overcome technological challenges, nearly the entire increase in the number of these vehicles has been in the past three years.

  2. The auto manufacturers stated that the CAFE incentive program has been a major factor in developing and manufacturing alternative fuel vehicles in high volumes. They also stated that extension of the credit provision will be a major factor in their decision to continue offering dual-fuel vehicles in the volumes that are being produced today.

  3. While the availability and use of alternative fuels has increased since the inception of the CAFE credit incentive provision, it has not nearly kept pace with the increase in the number of alternative fuel vehicles. Although there are 176,000 gasoline stations nationwide, there are only 5,236 alternative fuel refueling sites and just 121 of these offer E85. The Federal government, and specifically DOE, the General Services Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are involved with efforts to promote the use and expansion of alternative fuels and the alternative fuel infrastructure. A major focus of these efforts is the development of different feedstocks for ethanol and on partnerships that result in the expansion of the ethanol fueling infrastructure.

  4. Due to the lagging development of the alternative fuel infrastructure and the fact that E85 fuel is typically more expensive on a gasoline-equivalent basis, the vast majority of dual-fuel vehicles rarely operate on alternative fuel. Even under these circumstances, use of E85 increased from 694,000 gasoline gallon equivalents in1996, to more than 3.3 million gasoline gallon equivalents in 2000. It is also important to note that even if relatively few of these vehicles are actually being operated on E85, it is still valuable to be increasing that capability throughout the fleet because it could potentially contribute to the future transition away from petroleum, could spur an increase in the number of E85 refueling sites, and provide consumers an alternative if there are gas shortages or gas prices increase significantly.

  5. Conducting an assessment of the energy and environmental impacts of the dual-fuel vehicle credit incentive is complicated by uncertainty regarding automobile manufacturers' behavior. While the use of alternative fuels can reduce petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, the energy consumption and environmental impacts cannot be assessed with any reasonable amount of certainty because we cannot determine what manufacturers would have done in the absence of the credit incentive.

  6. If it is assumed that vehicle manufacturers took advantage of the incentive to relax the effect of the CAFE standard on the rest of their fleet, then the credit incentive has resulted in an increase in alternative fuel use (almost all E85), and some slight increase in petroleum consumption (about one percent) and greenhouse gas emissions (well less than one percent). Unless the availability and use of alternative fuels is significantly expanded, the CAFE credit incentive program will not result in any reduced petroleum consumption or greenhouse gas emissions in the future.

  7. It is also possible that manufacturers might have responded to strong consumer demand for performance and utility and produced the same vehicles without the provision as they did with it. In this case, manufacturers would have chosen to pay civil penalties rather than meet the CAFE standard. Under this scenario, the main effect of the program has been to greatly expand the population of vehicles that have the potential to use alternative fuels.

  8. In the past year, three significant initiatives have addressed issues related to the dual-fuel vehicle CAFE credit incentive. The National Energy Policy Development Group, in its May 17, 2001, report on the National Energy Policy states that, "ethanol vehicles offer tremendous potential if ethanol production can be expanded." Additionally, the report states that, "a considerable enlargement of ethanol production and distribution capacity would be required to expand beyond their current base in the Midwest in order to increase use of ethanol-blended fuels." In July 2001, the National Academy of Sciences' report on CAFE recommended that credits for dual-fuel vehicles should be eliminated, with the provision that enough lead-time be given to limit adverse impacts on the automotive industry." Finally, on August 2, 2001, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 4, which is entitled the Securing America's Future Energy (SAFE) Act of 2001. This bill, which has been placed on the Senate legislative calendar, includes a provision that would extend the dual-fuel vehicle CAFE credit incentive program through model year 2008.

Based on the results of this study, our preliminary conclusion is that continuation of the program should consider other actions that could improve the program and its chances for success. Specific actions by Congress or others might include any or all of the following:

(1) Examine alternatives to the current dual-fuel vehicle CAFE credit program structure, such as linking the CAFE credit to actual alternative fuel used;

(2) Develop, implement, and evaluate policies, regulations, or programs to promote the actual use of alternative fuels by consumers; and

(3) Develop, implement, and evaluate policies and programs that facilitate more rapid expansion and use of the alternative fuel infrastructure. Such policies and programs should be evaluated, taking into account the availability of alternative fuel and other potential transportation uses for each fuel.

In view of the nation's energy security interests, it is important to increase alternative fuel capability throughout the fleet. Given the mixed results of the program to date, it would be prudent for Federal agencies, Congress, industry, and other interested stakeholders to identify additional programs and authorities that could contribute to achieving greater use of alternative fuels in dual-fuel vehicles that receive the CAFE credit.

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