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New fuel rules favor Big 3

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Link: http://www.detnews.com/2005/autosinsider/0.../A01-291043.htm

New fuel rules favor Big 3

Fed proposal will make it easier for Detroit to meet mileage goals on high-profit trucks, SUVs, minivans.

By Lisa Zagaroli / Detroit News Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Against a backdrop of spiking gasoline prices, the federal government proposed boosting the fuel economy of popular light trucks like SUVs and pickup trucks by a projected 8 percent to about 24 miles per gallon by 2011.

Regulators said the most sweeping changes to the nation's fuel economy requirements since they were established in the early 1970s will help conserve oil while minimizing financial harm to the auto industry and maintaining passenger safety.

Automakers that sell the widest variety of light trucks, primarily U.S. companies that sell large pickup trucks and SUVs, may end up with an advantage because of the new method used to set fuel economy targets. The proposal also excludes some of the biggest SUVs marketed by Detroit automakers, such as the Hummer H2, Ford Excursion and certain models of the Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Yukon XL that weigh more than 8,500 pounds.

Light trucks must now average 21.6 miles per gallon across an automaker's product lineup, and the new rules would require that figure to climb by a modest 1.8 miles per gallon by 2011.

The proposed rule by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration could have a dramatic impact on the way auto companies price vehicles, as well as the mix of minivans, pickup trucks and SUVs they offer for sale, industry analysts say. And the agency says it may end up making highways safer. Passenger cars aren't affected by the change.

Environmentalists attacked the proposal for doing too little to reduce the country's dependence on oil, a problem first highlighted by the Arab oil embargo that sent gas prices soaring and government officials dictating a standard for corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, in 1975.

"This plan will save gas and result in less pain at the pump for motorists, without sacrificing safety," said Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, who announced the plan at a press conference in Atlanta.

NHTSA estimates the benefits of fuel savings would outweigh the per-vehicle costs of complying with the more stringent standard. For example, in model year 2010, the total cost is projected to be $1.8 billion, compared to $2 billion in savings.

General Motors Corp. spokesman Chris Preuss said it was too early to estimate how much the proposal might cost companies.

"Given the volumes particularly of pickup trucks we sell, any substantial increase in the CAFE standard is going to pose technical and financial challenges, no question," Preuss said.

By 2011, the new rules would be fully phased in for all manufacturers. There is an optional phase-in period, from 2008-2010, that would allow automakers to stay in the current program after assessing which system they would fare better under.

An important difference between the current fuel economy calculation and the new one is how vehicles must comply. Now, the entire class of light trucks offered by an automaker is averaged together to achieve a predetermined target, 21.6 mpg now and 22.2 mpg for the 2007 model year.

Under the new system, fuel economy would be set based on a vehicle's size -- wheelbase multiplied by track width. Smaller vehicles would have to achieve better mileage than larger ones. The targets would be phased in over four years beginning in 2008, with small SUVs required to achieve an average of 28.4 mpg, and the largest pickups required to average 21.3 mph gallon, by 2011.

"Our proposal asks automakers for the first time to focus their technology on increasing fuel efficiency across their entire fleets, rather than only in their least economical models," NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey Runge said. "Under our proposal, every pickup, SUV and minivan purchaser will benefit by buying vehicles that are as fuel-efficient as possible, regardless of who makes it or how big it is."

In its proposed rule, which NHTSA hopes to make permanent by April 2006, the agency said it had taken into account the financial troubles facing some automakers such as General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co.

"We recognize that financial difficulties currently exist in the motor vehicle industry and that a substantial number of job losses have been announced recently at large full-line manufacturers," the agency said.

"Accordingly, we have carefully balanced the cost of the rule with the benefits of conservation. We believe that ... (the proposal) would enhance overall fuel savings while providing vehicle makers the flexibility they need to respond to changing market conditions. (It) would also provide a more equitable regulatory framework by creating a level playing field for manufacturers, regardless of whether they are full-line or limited-line manufacturers."

Critics say the long-awaited rule fell short of its intent to save oil.

Brendan Bell of the Sierra Club's energy program said the savings -- 10 billion gallons of gas over three years -- amounts to only 11 or 12 days of fuel consumption in the United States at current rates.

"This is very small, and basically we need to be running a marathon to cut our dependence on oil, and the Bush administration is quitting after the first 100 yards," Bell said.

Bell said automakers have admitted they can build more fuel-efficient cars by agreeing to stricter emissions and fuel economy regulations in Canada.

"Unfortunately, if you want a clean car, you have to go to Windsor," he said.

Automakers say they are working to enhance fuel efficiency on several fronts, including the development of more gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles, the commercialization of fuel cells, cleaner diesel engines, and more efficient gasoline engine technology.

Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said the new standards are "too meager to affect oil prices now or in the future."

"But they are carefully designed to appease automakers, who resist innovation, and the oil companies, which are raking in record profits," she said. "The fact that the largest SUVs, including Hummers, will be exempt from any fuel standards speaks volumes about this administration's priorities."

Large SUVs such as the Hummer H2 aren't included in the current standard either because they weigh more than 8,500 pounds.

The new changes are also designed to make vehicles safer by reducing incentives that encourage some automakers to sell smaller and lighter vehicles to boost overall fuel economy.

"The agency believes that the manner in which fuel economy is regulated can have substantial effects on vehicle design and the composition of the light vehicle fleet," the proposal said. "Reforming CAFE is important for vehicle safety because the current structure of the CAFE system provides an incentive to manufacturers to reduce the weight and size of vehicles, and to increase the production of vehicle types (particularly pickup trucks and SUVs) that are more susceptible to rollover crashes and are less compatible with other light vehicles."

The agency acknowledged, though, that weight reduction might still be used by some automakers to comply with the new rules, though it chose to base its CAFE measurement on size instead of weight.

"The safety ramifications of downweighting -- especially downweighting that is not achieved through downsizing -- will need to be examined on a case-by-case basis in future rulemakings," it said. "Historically, the size and weight of light-duty vehicles have been so highly correlated that it has not been technically feasible to fully disentangle their independent effects on safety.

"Fortunately, it is possible that some of the lightweight materials used in a downweighting strategy may have the strength and flexibility to retain or even improve the crashworthiness of vehicles and the safety of occupants," it added.

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Hold on... The Equinox is a small SUV yet the Vue is a midsize one... WTF? :huh: That really caught me off guard... now what was the original topic? New fuel rules... Gotcha... I just hope this doesn't lead to a Deja Vu of the '70s... Otherwise, these new rules are good. Fuel economy needs to increase. The new hybrid systems that are to be offered on the GMT900s as well as DOD should definitely help achieve that. But GM already has some of the most fuel efficient trucks and SUVs... It's cars (yes, cars) that need the work. Look at the G6 GTP, for example... Poor, utterly poor...

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Look at the H3. How can it be Greater than 65 sq.ft catagory? It would be in the mid-size SUV section being that it is right around 50 sq ft. I'm a fan of basing fuel economy on the vehicle's size rather than the cut and dry light trucksegment.

It will be interesting to see what will happen to the mileage for cars in the near future.

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So that size in sq. feet measurement is length x width? I would think curb weight would be a better measurement for classifying vehicles, since obesity is one of the big factors in poor gas mileage... Edited by moltar

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So that size in sq. feet measurement is  length x width? I would think curb weight would be a better measurement for classifying vehicles, since obesity is one of the big factors in poor gas mileage...


I said that on the old forum and someone jumped down my throat about it, saying it would work because of something. I think weight would be the better choice too, seeing how weight is the bigger factor in gas mileage. But this is a step in the right direction.

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