The Big Dodge
Bush Fuel-Efficiency Standards Send Wrong Message
EDITORIAL / The North Jersey Record 25aug2005
Oil Prices Creep Higher, Test $68 Mark - AP 25aug2005
How's this for sending exactly the wrong message? At an event to announce the Bush administration's plan to overhaul federal fuel-economy standards for so-called light trucks, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta arrived in a gas-guzzling silver Lincoln Navigator.
Under the White House plan, the big SUV — which gets just 15 miles per gallon — would barely be affected by the slightly tighter fuel economy rules. The largest and least fuel-efficient SUVs, such as the Ford Excursion and the Hummer 2, would not be affected at all by the plan, which would begin with the 2008 model year.
"This plan is good news for American consumers," Mr. Mineta said in a statement, "because it will ensure the vehicles they buy get more miles to the gallon, requiring fewer stops at the gas station and ultimately saving them money at the pump."
In fact, the plan is bad news for American consumers, because it doesn't do enough in any of these areas. Many light trucks — minivans, SUVs and pickup trucks — are actually less fuel-efficient today than similar models of 10 years ago because of the trend toward larger engines and added amenities that make the vehicles heavier.
Under the White House plan, fuel economy standards for most SUVs and light trucks would be raised 8 percent over four years, with the smaller vehicles facing the greatest increases. In contrast, environmentalists have been urging the Bush administration to drop the light-truck category altogether and require SUVs and light trucks, like all passenger vehicles, to meet certain fuel-efficiency standards.
Vehicles in the light-truck category were allowed to have poorer fuel economy than passenger cars because they were typically used by farms and other businesses. By classifying SUVs and minivans as light trucks, Washington has enabled carmakers to get around tougher fuel mileage requirements.
Although carmakers say it is next to impossible to make SUVs and light trucks far more fuel-efficient, the National Academy of Sciences has found that these vehicles could easily meet those goals with currently available technology in engines, transmissions, and aerodynamics. The biggest roadblock to better mileage is the inertia of car manufacturers.
It should be noted that Mr. Mineta made the announcement at a gas station in California, where gas was selling for nearly $3 a gallon. Those soaring gasoline costs, not President Bush's plan, will be what force drivers to seek more-fuel-efficient vehicles — and put pressure on Detroit and other automakers to produce those vehicles.
But the Bush administration has not even been content to take a back seat in efforts to conserve fuel. Instead, it is putting up roadblocks to plans by California, New Jersey and eight other states to improve fuel mileage and curb pollution. Tucked away on Page 150 of the 169 pages of proposed regulations for the White House plan is a provision that preempts states from setting tougher pollution limits for vehicles — and, in the process, improving fuel efficiency.
Ironically, next Monday the Bush administration is convening the Conference on Cooperative Conservation, to encourage federal, state and local governments to work together to promote fuel efficiency. Apparently nobody told Mr. Mineta.
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Regulator Defends Fuel Exemptions For Large SUVs LAURA MECKLER / Wall Street Journal 25aug2005
WASHINGTON — The nation's top auto regulator defended Bush administration plans to continue exempting the biggest sport-utility vehicles and vans from federal fuel-efficiency standards.
Including these vehicles would put a disproportionate burden on one manufacturer, said Jeffrey Runge, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The company: General Motors Corp., whose Hummers and some other SUVs weigh more than 8,500 pounds.
Some, including a National Academy of Sciences panel, have called for a change in the rules so that SUVs and minivans that are used as passenger vehicles fall under the fuel-efficiency program. On Tuesday, NHTSA released a long-awaited overhaul of light-truck fuel-efficiency standards for model years 2008 to 2011. The proposal that the large SUVs remain exempt was included, although the agency asked for comments on the matter.
Dr. Runge said that only about 50,000 large SUVs are sold each year, out of more than 16 million light trucks, so regulating them wouldn't save much gas.
Including the biggest SUVs under the current system, where manufacturers have to meet a fleetwide average, would be complicated because it would require the agency to lower overall mileage targets in order to be fair to GM, he said.
But the agency said it would consider including the biggest vehicles beginning in 2011, when different mileage targets will be set for vehicles depending on their size.
Including these big SUVs could save 500 million gallons of gasoline over the life of the 2011 vehicles, according to NHTSA. That compares with projected savings of 10 billion gallons over the life of trucks bought from 2008 to 2011.
Other GM SUVs now exempt include some versions of the Yukon XL and the Chevy Suburban, as well as the GMC Express and GMC Savana vans.
Christopher Preuss, a spokesman for Detroit-based GM, said these vehicles are built for "very extreme environments" and deserve to be exempted.
Bush's SUV fuel standards released Environmentalists criticize proposal By MARGARET WEBB PRESSLER Washington Post Posted: Aug. 23, 2005 Washington — The Bush administration proposed higher fuel economy standards for SUVs and minivans Tuesday with a new regulatory system that sets different mileage goals for six sizes of vehicles, replacing the current single standard for all light trucks.
Administration officials say the regulations would result in more fuel savings than any previous increase in efficiency standards for larger vehicles. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said the rules would save 10 billion gallons of gasoline and "result in less pain at the pump for motorists, without sacrificing safety."
But environmentalists say the proposal adds up to little real change and continues to reward Detroit for building bigger vehicles. It also addresses the complaint of U.S. automakers that it's easier for foreign-owned manufacturers to meet existing standards because they sell fewer large trucks.
"The proposal is almost embarrassing in terms of its effect on fuel consumption," said Eric Haxthausen, an economist with Environmental Defense of Washington.
He called the 10 billion gallons of fuel savings a "weak yardstick" because it would be spread over as long as 15 years. Last year, for example, U.S. drivers consumed nearly 140 billion gallons of gasoline, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.
"We can and should do better," Haxthausen said.
The measure comes at a time when U.S. drivers are coping with skyrocketing gasoline prices and often blaming President Bush for their plight.
Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) said the Bush administration has made "a huge policy reversal" after blocking efforts in Congress earlier this year to tighten fuel economy standards.
"The administration and the leaders fought this in the energy bill," he said. "I'm happy to see them coming around to it now. Better late than never."
The plan would do away with the corporate average fuel efficiency — or CAFE — standard for vehicles classified as light trucks, which includes SUVs, pickup trucks, minivans and other models that now make up more than half of all new vehicles sold in the United States.
Instead, fuel economy would be calculated for six different segments of these vehicles, from the smallest, such as the Chrysler PT Cruiser and the Toyota Rav4, to the biggest, such as the GM Silverado and Nissan Titan.
Each automaker would also be given an average fuel economy goal for its particular mix of vehicle sales.
Under current standards, automakers must maintain an average of 27.5 miles per gallon for passenger cars and 21 mpg for light trucks. The light-truck standard is already scheduled to rise to 22.2 mpg for the 2007 model year.
The new regulations would start affecting light trucks in the 2008 model year, and all such vehicles would have to comply by 2011 models.
For the smallest category of trucks, the final fuel efficiency target would be 28.4 miles per gallon; for the largest SUVs and pickups, it would be 21.3 mpg.
The plan is submitted for public comment until Nov. 22, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hopes to issue a final rule by next April.
Fighting tough standards Big American automakers have historically fought tougher fuel standards, saying it is costly to re-engineer cars and trucks to comply.
"The higher we go (in fuel economy standards), the more difficult the challenge becomes because there is a lot of safety content that is adding weight to cars, as well as convenience features people want — so there are a lot of tradeoffs that pose challenges for us," said Christopher Preuss, a spokesman for General Motors Corp.
The industry has said that achieving better fuel efficiency often means producing smaller, lighter cars that are less safe to drive.
Tuesday's proposed rule change is aimed at discouraging automakers from building smaller vehicles unless the market demands it. The approach "lessens the incentive to design smaller vehicles to achieve a 'light truck' classification," the rule says, because smaller trucks will be regulated almost as stiffly as passenger cars.
Critics say the rule actually encourages companies to make bigger vehicles that are less fuel efficient.
For example, the Subaru Outback, which is in the smallest class of vehicles, could be made less than an inch wider and longer and move up into the next size grouping, thereby lowering its fuel economy requirement, said David Friedman, research director for the clean vehicles program of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
"One of the fundamental problems with the system is automakers can add size, in some cases only a tiny amount, and meet a dramatically lower standard," he said.
Other critics say the fuel efficiency increase being sought averages out to less than half a mile per gallon per year, with an average of about 24 miles per gallon slated for 2011 — a total improvement of 1.8 miles per gallon over four years.
Passenger cars and light trucks, a vehicle category that includes pickups, minivans and SUVs, account for about 40% of the nation's oil use.
But administration officials defend the new CAFE standards as far-reaching.
John Graham, administrator of Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget, said the new rules would result in a 15.9% improvement in light-truck fuel economy from 2004 to 2011.
"There is no administration with a better record" on the issue, he said.