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U.S. delays plan for fuel mileage rules


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U.S. delays plan for fuel mileage rules

As debate heats up, details pushed back until Sept. 2011

David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington— The debate over the next round of automotive fuel efficiency increases is heating up as regulators delay for more study an Obama administration plan that a possible new House committee chairman promises to scrutinize.

Late Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said they would delay offering more concrete details until September 2011, when they will unveil a specific proposal for 2017-25.

The agencies said they were delaying offering more details so they could further study the costs and safety effects. They initially planned to give some details by the end of last month.

In October, the Obama administration said it was considering annual increases from 3 percent to 6 percent in fuel efficiency, which equates to a fleetwide average of 47 miles per gallon in 2017 and 62 mpg by 2025. The range of costs per vehicle is $770 to $3,500.

Automakers question the cost estimates, and some Republicans are wary of the new increases.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, a front-runner to become the next chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, pledged Wednesday to carefully review gas mileage hikes.

"We are going to examine every regulation — particularly with an impact on jobs," Upton said in an interview.

Autos "are a stone that will not be left unturned," he said. "We'll be on it like a dog on a Frisbee."

Regulators say under all scenarios, the proposal under review would help consumers save money over the lifetime of vehicle ownership. Under the 6 percent increase, owners would see fuel savings of $5,700 to $7,400, which would cover the higher up-front costs within four years, they say. It would save an estimated 1.3 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the vehicles.

But automakers contend that, in some situations, consumers wouldn't save money because of higher up-front vehicle costs.

In a 35-page supplemental notice published late Tuesday night, NHTSA and the EPA said they are re-evaluating their cost estimates of the higher standards — in part because they still needed to meet legalities such as analyzing separate car and truck fuel economy standards. The agencies still hope to finalize specific requirements by July 2012.

In early 2009, automakers, including Detroit's Big Three, agreed to a sweeping increase in fuel economy standards because Califonia and a dozen other states were poised to go forward with their own rules.

Now, automakers are taking a tougher stance in opposing the highest increases. This is due in part to the upcoming shift in House power from Democrats to Republicans, who are more sympathetic to complaints about the cost to automakers of meeting higher fuel economy rules.

Automakers filed comments suggesting much of the government's analysis of the proposed fuel rules is seriously flawed and argue that they underestimate the technology costs.

The agencies also have not analyzed safety effects of proposals that assume vehicles will become 15 percent to 30 percent lighter by 2025 depending on how tough the requirements are.

In the past, automakers and some scholars have argued that higher fuel economy standards lead to downsized and lighter cars, which in turn result in more injuries and deaths in crashes.

NHTSA and EPA are conducting an analysis of the impact of the proposed standards on vehicle safety.

A separate study is looking at whether future vehicle design that incorporates high levels of mass reduction complies with vehicle safety standards.

A third study by NHTSA focuses on what would be a feasible mass reduction based on a mid-size car platform, and the effects of several advanced mass reduction design concepts on the safety of a fleet of vehicles.

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20101202/AUTO01/12020374/U.S.-delays-plan-for-fuel-mileage-rules#ixzz16xqDWJQt

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