- The Washington Times - Friday, March 15, 2002

The Senate's defeat of a proposal that would have effectively forced Americans to buy smaller, more fuel efficient cars by compelling the automakers to build them via mandatory federal fuel-economy standards is a victory for common sense and for consumer choice.
Proponents of bullying the auto industry into manufacturing cars and trucks that get nearly 40 miles per gallon did their best to cast this as a fight between the evil car industry and a car-buying public that craves hyper-efficient cars. In fact, extremely fuel-efficient cars have been available for decades it's just that not many people are interested in buying them. Americans inexplicably tend to prefer larger, roomy vehicles with greater capability and performance not to mention superior crashworthiness than the subcompact models favored by the likes of Arizona Sen. John McCain and Massachusettes Sen. John F. Kerry. Messrs. Kerry and McCain were the co-sponsors of the Senate proposal that would have bumped-up federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) levels to 36 mpg for passenger cars, a figure that only the smallest economy-type cars are currently able to achieve. A 36-mph CAFE requirement would have effectively outlawed large and mid-size sedans, and V-6 and V-8 engines, and most SUVs, pickups and minivans would have been retired.
In order to make the mpg cut, the automakers would have had to downsize vehicles and their engines with grave consequences for occupant safety and crashworthiness. The National Academy of Sciences issued a report recently that confirmed earlier data that several thousand people die every year solely as a result of the CAFE-forced downsizing of cars. Proponents of higher CAFE rules argue that the mpg improvements they seek could be achieved through technology and do not necessarily entail downsizing or diminished consumer choice. However, that is an argument without foundation in fact. The dramatic gains in fuel-efficiency demanded by Messrs. McCain and Kerry would almost certainly mean smaller, lighter and thus less safe vehicles. No advanced technology yet exists that can deliver an economically viable 40-mpg V-8 SUV or full-size passenger sedan.
"This is still America," Sen. Trent Lott noted after the 62-38 defeat of the McCain-Kerry CAFE proposal. "We should be able to make our choices. We shouldn't have the federal government saying you're going to drive the purple people eater," he added pointing to a photo of a European micro-car. In Europe, exorbitant gas taxes and other punitive, anti-car measures have rendered driving all but unaffordable and most Europeans have little choice but to cram themselves into tiny deathtraps that offer extreme fuel economy as their sole virtue. The Senate is congratulated for saving Americans from this fate.


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