Porsche may be on the endangered species list - but not because (like, say, Chrysler Corp.) people aren't buying Porsches. No problem on that score. Porsche is actually selling more cars than ever, thanks in part to a market-savvy diversification of its model lineup to include the affordable entry-level Boxster, the mid-range Cayman and the Cayenne high-performance SUV.

No, the extinction facing Porsche is man-made.... and made by specific men (and women) known as "congresspersons." These are the people who supersede the market and impose their will on us.

And in this case, it is their will that all cars achieve 35 mpg by 2012.

The problem for Porsche is that none of its cars can do that - and unlike say, Toyota, Porsche doesn't sell half a million econo-boxes each year to compensate for the less fuel-efficient vehicles it sells.

Under CAFE (the bureaucratic acronym for the government's Coporate Average Fuel Economy requirements), an automaker's fleet average fuel economy must reach "x" or else the government imposes "gas guzzler" fines on the cars that don't make the cut, which are then passed on to consumers.

These fines can be several thousand dollars per car.

Right now the "x" value is 27.5 MPG for passenger cars - but that goes up to 35 mpg by 2012, courtesy of recently passed legislation. Moroever, the revised CAFE rules will no longer allow for a less stringent requirement for so-called "light trucks" - the category that includes pick-ups and SUVs like the Porsche Cayenne.

All vehicles must achieve an average fuel economy of 35 mpg - or it's bring on the ruinous fines - and possibly other sanctions, too.

Scan through Porsche's current lineup and you'll discover that the most fuel-efficient model Porsche sells - the $45,800 Boxster roadster - is rated by the EPA at 20 MPG in city driving, 29 mpg on the highway. Its average fuel efficiency is thus 24.5 mpg. The mid-level $59,100 Cayman S (equipped with a larger, 3.4 liter six-cylinder engine) is rated at 18 city, 26 highway - 22 mpg average. The $73,500 911 Carrera - Porsche's trademark sports car - also rates 18 city, 26 highway. For the standard rear-drive model, that is. The $89,700 Carrera 4S (with AWD) drops to 17 city, 23 highway.

Then there's the Cayenne - Porsche's range-expanding sport SUV. It has brought into the Porsche family literally thousands of families - people who love the idea of a sexy two-door, two-seater sports car but who have to have four doors and room for five. The base '08 Cayenne with the 3.6 liter six-cylinder engine ($43,400) manages 14 mpg city, 20 mpg highway - which is actually not half-bad for a 5,000 lb. mid-sized 4WD SUV. But it's not even close to the pending 35 mpg edict, either. Then there's the V-8 equipped version of the Cayenne. Holy OPEC, Batman! It slides in at 13 mpg city, 19 mpg on the highway - 16 mpg on average.

To meet the 35 mpg CAFE requirement Congress has imposed, Porsche will have to find some way to double the gas mileage of the current Cayenne V-8. It will have to squeeze another 10 mpg out of most of its other offerings, too.

Doable?

Doubtful. At least, not without one or more unpleasant things happening.

The first is a major down-tuning of Porsche vehicles. You make fewer hp, you burn less gas. Easy enough. Go back to the four-cylinder Porsches of the early '70s - add modern engine management, EFI and overdrive - and you could probably hit 35 mpg. But it's not likely you'd be hitting the current horsepower or performance levels. Instead of getting faster, new Porsches would become slower. Hurrah for progress!

As for the Cayenne, things get darker. It's a lot easier to make an already small/lightweight sports car more efficient - provided you're ok with losing a few steps, 0-60. But it's very difficult to keep a mid-large SUV roadworthy and capable of 35 mpg, too. Moving 5,000 lbs. of metal and 4WD hardware pretty much requires a large six-cylinder engine - at the very least. And even then, it will likely still be either dangerously underpowered or lose much of its capability. The current Cayenne V-8 may only get 13 mpg, but it can tow close to 8,000 lbs. If you need that level of capability, you need a V-8.

Of course, Congress thinks otherwise.

These new CAFE rules, well-intended though they may be, spring from stupefying ignorance of the engineering and economic realities automakers must deal with. In Porsche's case, we have a specialty car maker that does not specialize in fuel efficiency. Is that a bad thing? People who want 40 mpg cars have a wealth of choices available to them. Why must Porsche be prodded and punished for not matching the fuel economy numbers of Corollas and Civics?

Porsche is also a small automaker. It does not have the Deep Pockets of a big player like Toyota - or even GM. Punitive CAFE taxes might give Toyota a minor cough; they could very well kill Porsche - which depends for its survival not on volume but rather on profit per car. If it ends up having to drop the Cayenne, it loses a major portion of its product portfolio - and one of its best sellers. If the quasi-affordable Boxster becomes unaffordable due to onerous gas guzzler levies, that leaves Porsche with just one or two models left to sell.

Hard to make a buck that way.

Congresspeople believe they are doing the Right Thing by passing laws like CAFE in the name of "conserving energy." In reality, this new CAFE bill may just seal the doom of otherwise successful automakers, who have no problem building cars that people are eager to buy - but which face daunting, perhaps insuperable problems when it comes to building the kinds of cars the government thinks you ought to be driving instead.

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