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Automobiles on Steroids: Product Attribute Trade-Offs and Technological Progress in the Automobile Sector

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  • Christopher R. Knittel

Abstract

New car fleet fuel economy, weight and engine power have changed drastically since 1980. These changes represent both movements along and shifts in the "fuel economy/weight/engine power production possibilities frontier". This paper estimates the technological progress that has occurred since 1980 and the trade-offs that manufacturers and consumers face when choosing between fuel economy, weight and engine power characteristics. The results suggest that if weight, horsepower and torque were held at their 1980 levels, fuel economy for both passenger cars and light trucks could have increased by nearly 50 percent from 1980 to 2006; this is in stark contrast to the 15 percent by which fuel economy actually increased. I also find that once technological progress is considered, meeting the CAFE standards adopted in 2007 will require halting the observed increases in weight and engine power characteristics, but little more; in contrast, the standards recently announced by the new administration, while certainly attainable, require non-trivial "downsizing". I also investigate the relative efficiencies of manufacturers. I find that US manufacturers tend to be above the median in terms of their passenger vehicle fuel efficiency conditional on weight and engine power, and are among the top for light duty trucks; Honda is the most efficient manufacturer for both passenger cars, while Volvo is the most efficient manufacturer of light duty trucks. However, I also find that over time, US manufacturers' relative efficiency in both passenger cars and light trucks has degraded. These results may provide insight into their current financial troubles.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15162.

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Date of creation: Jul 2009
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Publication status: published as Christopher R. Knittel, 2011. "Automobiles on Steroids: Product Attribute Trade-Offs and Technological Progress in the Automobile Sector," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(7), pages 3368-99, December.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15162

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  1. Alberto Abadie & Guido W. Imbens, 2002. "Simple and Bias-Corrected Matching Estimators for Average Treatment Effects," NBER Technical Working Papers 0283, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Goldberg, Pinelopi Koujianou, 1998. "The Effects of the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency Standards in the US," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 46(1), pages 1-33, March.
  3. Alan S. Blinder, 1973. "Wage Discrimination: Reduced Form and Structural Estimates," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 8(4), pages 436-455.
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Cited by:
  1. Thomas Klier & Joshua Linn, 2011. "Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards and the Market for New Vehicles," Annual Review of Resource Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 3(1), pages 445-462, October.
  2. Soren T. Anderson & Ian W. H. Parry & James M. Sallee & Carolyn Fischer, 2011. "Automobile Fuel Economy Standards: Impacts, Efficiency, and Alternatives," Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 5(1), pages 89-108, Winter.
  3. Lawrence H. Goulder & Mark R. Jacobsen & Arthur A. van Benthem, 2009. "Unintended Consequences from Nested State & Federal Regulations: The Case of the Pavley Greenhouse-Gas-per-Mile Limits," NBER Working Papers 15337, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Lawrence Goulder & Mark Jacobsen & Arthur van Benthem, 2009. "Unintended Consequences from Nested State & Federal Regulations: The Case of the Pavley Greenhouse-Gas-per-Mile Limits," Discussion Papers 08-049, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
  5. Klier, Thomas & Linn, Joshua, 2013. "Technological Change, Vehicle Characteristics, and the Opportunity Costs of Fuel Economy Standards," Discussion Papers dp-13-40, Resources For the Future.
  6. Christopher R. Knittel, 2012. "Reducing Petroleum Consumption from Transportation," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 26(1), pages 93-118, Winter.
  7. Bruce A. Blonigen & Christopher R. Knittel & Anson Soderbery, 2013. "Keeping it Fresh: Strategic Product Redesigns and Welfare," NBER Working Papers 18997, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Michael Anderson & Maximilian Auffhammer, 2011. "Pounds that Kill: The External Costs of Vehicle Weight," NBER Working Papers 17170, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. James M. Sallee & Joel Slemrod, 2010. "Car Notches: Strategic Automaker Responses to Fuel Economy Policy," NBER Working Papers 16604, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Lutsey, Nicholas P., 2010. "Review of technical literature and trends related to automobile mass-reduction technology," Institute of Transportation Studies, Working Paper Series qt9t04t94w, Institute of Transportation Studies, UC Davis.
  11. McConnell, Virginia, 2013. "The New CAFE Standards: Are They Enough on Their Own?," Discussion Papers dp-13-14, Resources For the Future.
  12. Antonia Díaz, & Luis A. Puch, 2013. "A Theory of Vintage Capital Investment and Energy Use," Documentos de Trabajo del ICAE 2013-35, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Empresariales, Instituto Complutense de Análisis Económico.
  13. Huse, Cristian, 2014. "Fast and Furious (and Dirty): How Asymmetric Regulation May Hinder Environmental Policy," MPRA Paper 48909, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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