- The Washington Times - Friday, June 29, 2001

With existing technology, automakers could produce a fleet of cars and trucks that average 40 miles per gallon by 2012 without sacrificing safety or performance, according to a report released last week by environmentalists and consumer advocates.
That would be up from the current 24 mpg average fuel economy for the nation's fleet and could significantly lower U.S. dependence on foreign oil and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
The report by the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Center for Auto Safety, "Drilling in Detroit: Tapping Automaker Ingenuity to Build Safe and Efficient Automobiles," contends that by 2020 average fuel economy could be more than doubled to 55 mpg.
Technology improvements cited in the report include better aerodynamics, advanced tires to reduce rolling resistance, variable valve control and direct fuel injection engines, five-speed and six-speed automatic transmissions, and integrated starter-generators that eliminate idling and allow the use of more efficient electrical accessories to replace traditional belt-driven pumps and compressors.
These and other technologies are either on the road today in smaller volumes or can reasonably be expected to enter the market in the next few years, the report said.
But the improvements come at a cost an estimated fleetwide average of $1,693 per vehicle, the report said.
The cost varies depending upon the type and size of vehicle. For the Chevrolet Cavalier, a sedan, the estimated cost of fuel efficiency improvements is $1,125. For the Dodge Grand Caravan, a minivan, the cost is $2,134. And for the Ford Explorer, a sport utility vehicle (SUV), it's $2,087.
On the other hand, the report estimates that consumers would save $3,000 to $5,000 on gasoline over the lifetime of a car or truck, which is generally considered to be about 15 years or 170,000 miles.
"What we're not talking about is a fleet of small cars here," said David Friedman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, the lead author of the report. "These are cars that look very much like the cars we're driving today… . In terms of how different it would feel to the consumer, it wouldn't."
The report is part of a campaign by environmentalists and consumer advocates to persuade Congress and the Bush administration to boost average fuel-economy standards to 40 mpg from the current 27.5 mpg for cars and 20.7 mpg for "light trucks," which includes SUVs and minivans.
Current standards were set in 1975, but not fully phased in until 1985. For two decades, the auto industry has beaten back repeated attempts to raise the standards.
Automakers contend that it is simply not technologically possible to raise fuel-efficiency standards to the level environmentalists and consumer advocates want without sacrificing such things as size, performance or safety.
"Let them build it if they can," said Gregory Dana, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. "It's nice to sit in ivory towers and tell us how to build cars. We have to live in the real world."

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