August 11, 2008

Tesla sets new record CAFE rating: 244 mpg

With the run-up in gas prices earlier this year, fuel economy became the top concern for buyers. In the latest report by the Department of Energy, the average fuel economy for all cars and trucks sold this year will rise by two-tenths of a mile per gallon to 26.8 mpg.

But an astounding number was buried in this otherwise banal report.

Tesla Motors of San Carlos, California — best known for their electric roadster — received a corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) rating of 244 mpg. The current federal standard for CAFE is 27.5 mpg.

The new record high rating raises debate over whether the current formula fairly reflects the environmental impact of an electric vehicle compared to one powered by gasoline.

At the heart of the issue is where and how the electricity is generated.

California owners could feasibly recharge future electric vehicles by solar power alone, drivers in less sunny climes would have to rely on power from the grid. There's a major environmental difference between a kilowatt of solar power versus one generated by burning coal.

But in the short term, the high CAFE rating will mean cold cash for Tesla. When CAFE credit trading begins, the automaker will have a large annual surplus to sell.


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