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Bush Administration to Reconsider Fuel Efficiency Rules for Large SUVs

December 29, 2003

The Bush administration will consider applying fuel efficiency standards to extra-large sport/utility vehicles, which are now exempt, as part of a broad review of fuel mileage requirements for all trucks and SUVs, according the Washington Post. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said that it will examine several changes to fuel outdated economy regulations. Current policy, known as corporate average fuel economy (CAFE), was drawn up in the 1970s and bears "little resemblance to today's motor vehicle market or the current and emerging vehicle fleet," the agency wrote in a notice of proposed rulemaking. The agency is not proposing changes to specific mileage requirements; instead, it wants to revise the way the policies apply to vehicles. As of next year, for instance, new cars are supposed to average 27.5 miles per gallon and light trucks must average 20.7 miles per gallon. But the truck requirement only applies to vehicles up to 8,500 pounds. Now, NHTSA is considering setting a standard for vehicles up to 10,000 pounds, which would cover trucks such as General Motors' H1 Humvee. The agency also proposes reconsidering the definition of what constitutes a light truck. The policy now allows Chrysler's PT Cruiser, which many consumers consider a small station wagon, to count as a truck, meaning it doesn't have to meet stricter fuel economy standards. Consumer advocates have argued that the government's looser definition and gentler treatment of trucks led to the rise of the minivan over the station wagon and the SUV over the passenger car in the last two decades. Several groups praised NHTSA for reconsidering the issue but said they were not convinced the agency would make substantive changes. NHTSA also plans to consider creating various classes of light trucks based on weight, size, or a combination of qualities. The agency seeks to prevent automakers from meeting mileage standards by simply making lighter vehicles, because agency-commissioned studies have found that decreasing weight often makes vehicles more dangerous to occupants in a crash. The public and the auto industry will have 120 days to comment on NHTSA's proposals. The agency could draft new policies by this time next year, a spokesman said, but any regulations would not take effect until the 2008 vehicle model year. "This marks the beginning of an important national dialogue on how best to reform CAFE," Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said. The agency noted that current policies are so out-of-date that automakers pay an average of $33 million a year in fines rather than meet the fuel economy standards. A new system "might induce more vehicle manufacturers to innovate with fuel-saving technologies rather than pay fines for noncompliance," the agency said in its proposal. Automakers reacted to the announcement with caution, noting that NHTSA has not yet decided how to address the many topics it raised.
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