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CAFE Fail – Lexus NX to be Classified as a Light Truck

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The difference is subtle, but enough to get through a CAFE loophole.
The difference is subtle, but enough to get through a CAFE loophole.

United States EPA CAFE (Environmental Protection Agency Corporate Average Fuel Economy) regulations are intended to keep automakers improving the average fuel economy of the US light vehicle fleet, but there are loopholes.

Averaged in with the rest of Lexus’ offerings, the Lexus NX could contribute, for better or for worse, to Lexus’ CAFE rating. For 2015, CAFE requires fleetwide fuel economy to average, at least 29 mpg (miles per gallon), at least for small-footprint passenger cars, such as the Lexus CT 200h. The Lexus NX 200t and Lexus NX 300h would qualify as medium-footprint light cars, which would require them to meet an average somewhere between 23 mpg and 29 mpg, but what if you can’t meet the standard?

If automakers can’t meet the CAFE standard, they pay something like $5.50 times every 1/10th mpg under CAFE times how many vehicles were sold, or they can find a loophole. Unfortunately, there are at least a couple of loopholes built-in in the EPA’s CAFE regulations. First, the CAFE requirement is based on vehicle footprint, that is, the area covered by the four wheels, and the Lexus NX calculates to 45.2 ft2. The first flaw in the system could be exploited by simply extending the Lexus NX’s wheelbase and track width by a few inches, pushing it into the large-footprint passenger car section, requiring just 23 mpg to meet the CAFE standard.

Lexus chose to go another route, however, exploiting a second loophole in CAFE standards, to get the EPA to recognize the Lexus NX as a light truck. Taking a look at the latest offering in luxury vehicles from Lexus, the Lexus NX, for all intents and purposes, is a crossover sport utility vehicle, which would firmly fall into the passenger car segment of CAFE regulations. It’s all an issue of approach angle, that is, the angle formed between the front tire and the furthest-forward part of the vehicle. Passenger cars have very low, typically less than 20°, approach angles, and off-road vehicles have very high, typically over 45°, approach angles. Light trucks are required to have an approach angle of at least 28°, which the Lexus NX didn’t meet.

So, how did Lexus get around this? They took off the original front fascia, the plastic bumper cover, and replaced it with a shorter version for North American markets. Voila! Instant EPA CAFE light-truck certification, for which the Lexus NX only needs to average between 18 mpg and 25 mpg.

Image © TTAC and Lexus

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