- The Washington Times - Friday, December 13, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Bush administration approved a modest increase yesterday in fuel economy for sport utility vehicles and small trucks, beginning with the 2005 model year, administration sources said.
The change is the first since 1996, when Congress imposed a freeze on the federal fuel-economy requirements on automakers.
The Transportation Department will require fuel economy for SUVs, pickup trucks and minivans to increase by about 1.5 miles per gallon over three years beginning with the model 2005 vehicles that arrive in showrooms in late 2004, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Automakers now must meet a fleet average fuel economy of 20.7 mpg for the "light truck" category, which includes SUVs, minivans and pickups. The schedule for the phased-in increase between the 2005 and 2007 model years was not immediately known.
The mileage requirement for other passenger vehicles will remain at 27.5 miles per gallon, where it has been since 1990.
The final rule mirrors a proposal sent to the White House for review last month by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Transportation Department agency that administers the program.
Spokesmen for the automakers said a 1.5 mpg increase was "a significant increase" and a "daunting" challenge if producers are to continue to provide customers with a wide range of SUVs, including the larger models.
"Achieving this standard depends on consumers buying our fuel-efficient vehicles in large numbers," said Gloria Bergquist, spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents the major automakers.
Environmentalists scoffed at the increase.
"It's a minuscule number compared to what's needed and what's technically achievable," said Daniel Becker, a fuel-economy analyst at the Sierra Club.
Overall passenger-car fuel economy has retreated in recent years, largely because of the growing popularity of SUVs, minivans and pickups that are subject to less-stringent fuel-economy requirements. That has led to a growing demand for fuel-efficiency increases among SUVs.
Passenger vehicles use about 40 percent of the 19 million barrels of oil consumed in the United States each day, and they produce about one-fifth of the carbon dioxide linked to climate change.
The Senate this year debated stiff increases in mileage requirements. A proposal offered by Sens. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, and John McCain, Arizona Republican, would have required overall vehicle fuel economy to rise to 35 mpg by 2015, but it was defeated.
Automakers contended such an increase would force them to sell nothing but small cars and SUVs, and require the shutting of some manufacturing plants. The administration also strongly opposed the Kerry-McCain proposal.
The industry has made pledges to improve fuel economy.
Ford announced two years ago that it would increase the fuel economy of its SUV fleet by 25 percent by the 2005 model year, from 18 mpg to 23 mpg. GM responded by pledging to keep the fuel economy of its light-truck fleet better than Ford's.

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