DETROIT – It's the magic number that has all the car makers on a mission: 54.
That's the average miles per gallon each company must achieve by 2025, per new government regulations. And it's all the talk this week among automotive leaders at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
"The burden of complying with the new CO2 regulations is enormous," said Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne.
Fuel efficiency is expected to go up 5 percent every year over the next decade and beyond.
Some analysts call it an unthinkable fantasy. But the decision makers like Ford's Chief Operating Officer, Mark Fields, find themselves between a rock and hard place: Customers and the federal mandate.
"Ford has a history of figuring out solutions for our customers that meet their needs and also meet the regulatory requirements. Our aim is to do exactly that," Fields said.
Ford's new concept Atlas F-150 bring the next generation of eco-boost engine and louvered grille to squeeze every ounce of mileage increase they can. And every maker is showing new materials like aluminum and lightweight but strong carbon fiber materials in the new Corvette.
Polk analyst Tom Libby says that's just the beginning.
"They will take more and more material things out and will look at every single component of the vehicle and take every ounce out they can," he said.
The government's 54 requirement will limit consumers' choice in vehicles.
"Are we gonna do the ‘Cuda or the Challenger? Every time you do things like this it imposes a huge burden on the rest of the portfolio to make sure you make up that sin," Marchionne said. "Because technically in the new CO2 world you are committing a sin when you build one of those new cars."
The sin Marchionne is referring to is about a couple of things: First, greatly reducing the number of engines larger than a V6. He says for everyone of those he builds, he will not be able to build five V6s or lower. That will reduce the number of what car buffs would call "fun cars." They'll be replaced with smaller more "practical" cars.