The impending Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations are set to have a major impact on the types of vehicles both sold and produced in the United States, as carmakers resort to changing the composition of their lineups to meet the tough new standards. The stringent guidelines set by the CAFE standards and the short amount of time given to achieve them means it’s unlikely manufacturers will be able to meet the demands without a dramatic shift in distribution.

This means that traditional gas-guzzling SUVs and pickups will continue to dwindle as hybrid vehicles and compact cars continue to thrive. It could also mean customers will be faced with much higher vehicle prices as carmakers have already revealed that any costs of the new regulations will most likely be passed on to consumers.

The new regulations will require vehicle fleets to average at least 35mpg (6.7L/100km) by 2020, but increases in the standard are set to take place every year from 2011. Between 2011 and 2015, the CAFE standards will rise by 4.5% each year, and by 2020 deadline the required fuel economy standard will be 40% higher than it is today.

Already the results of CAFE standards and other government regulations can be seen in the vehicle distribution shift in North America, reports Automotive News. The Detroit 3 are dialing back their SUV and pickup truck production, while increasing the number of smaller and more fuel-efficient vehicles they sell. Another category that will become crucial is the zero-emissions vehicle segment, as these models will help carmakers reduce their fleet-wide emissions levels significantly.

On top of this, industry materials experts are predicting the composition of vehicles to change drastically in the lead up to 2020. Representatives of the American Chemistry Council estimate that the amount of plastic in vehicles could double by 2020 in order to make cars lighter and more fuel efficient. Plastics currently make up 8 to 12% of vehicle content by weight.