Biggest SUVs May Face Fuel Economy Standards

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A motorist pumps gas into her Hummer. Credit: Tim Boyle/Getty Images. i

A motorist pumps gas into her Hummer in Illinois. The government is considering creating fuel economy standards for vehicles like the Hummer H2. Tim Boyle/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Tim Boyle/Getty Images
A motorist pumps gas into her Hummer. Credit: Tim Boyle/Getty Images.

A motorist pumps gas into her Hummer in Illinois. The government is considering creating fuel economy standards for vehicles like the Hummer H2.

Tim Boyle/Getty Images

The Bush administration is considering a requirement that some of the biggest SUVs meet fuel economy standards for the first time. Vehicles weighing between 8,500 and 10,000 pounds have been exempt from the standards. If regulators change the rules, automakers would likely have until 2011 to meet the new targets.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In addition to cutting costs, automakers may soon need to boost fuel economy, at least a little. Up until now, corporate average fuel economy standards have exempted the very vehicles that guzzled the most gas.

Now, as NPR's Kathleen Schalch reports, that could change.

KATHLEEN SCHALCH reporting:

I'm sitting in a General Motors Yukon XL. It's an SUV, and it weighs more than 8,500 pounds. Back in the 1970's, when the government started regulating gas mileage, no one imagined a creature like this. In those days, the only vehicles this heavy were commercial, and they were exempt.

Even last summer, when the Bush Administration proposed slightly tightening gas mileage requirements for vans, pickup trucks, and SUVs, it left the behemoths, the ones above 8,500 pounds, out. Now, though, it's preparing to release its final rule, and it's considering adding those big vehicles to the list.

Mr. ROLAND HWANG (Vehicles Policy Director, Natural Resources Defense Council): And this is something which is long overdue.

SCHALCH: Roland Hwang is vehicles policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Mr. HWANG: We believe that they are, in fact, obligated to cover such vehicles under our fuel economy laws.

SCHALCH: Because, he says, they're being used the same way as all the other passenger cars and light trucks that are covered.

Environmentalists like Hwang say it's a modest proposal. They do not believe the plan, as it stands now, would cover pickup trucks.

Mr. HWANG: Pickup trucks make up the vast majority of the vehicles in that category.

SCHALCH: Even so, the change could mean more trouble for domestic automakers, especially Ford and General Motors. They dominate the market for the largest vans and SUVs. Over half of the biggest SUVs, including the Yukon XL, the Chevy Suburban, and the Hummer H2 are GM products.

No one knows what exactly the new regulations will require, or whether the loophole for the biggest vehicles will stay or go. For that reason, the Alliance of Automobile Manufactures and General Motors declined to comment.

But things will be clearer soon. The National Highway Safety Administration is supposed to issue the final rule by April 1st.

Kathleen Schalch, NPR News, Washington.

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MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

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