Minivans, SUVs Face Tougher Efficiency Standards
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
CAFE standards are corporate average fuel economy standards, C-A-F-E. It's the number of miles per gallon an automaker should get for the range of vehicles the company sells. One anomaly of the CAFE standards is that they don't include the entire range. Back in the 1970s, when the system began, the thought of a family driving around in something the size of a Hummer II was about as ludicrous as watching television on a 50-inch screen or owning your own computer at home. Well times have changed and, according to the Wall Street Journal, the Bush Administration is considering including some of the biggest vehicles, ones that weigh between 8,500 and 10,000 pounds, in new CAFE standards. Journal reporter Laura Meckler writes about this today. Welcome to the program, Laura.
Ms. LAURA MECKLER (Reporter, Wall Street Journal): Thank you.
SIEGEL: First, as you point out in the newspaper today, this wouldn't affect a tremendous number of vehicles, what's being considered.
Ms. MECKLER: No. There really aren't that many vehicles that fall into this class. Specifically what we're talking about is the very, very largest SUVs and passenger vans.
SIEGEL: Some model names that we would recognize?
Ms. MECKLER: Well, of course, you mentioned the Hummer, and that's the poster child for this group. And then you've got the Yukon XL, the Chevy Suburban, as well, and then there are some passenger vans as well, such as the Ford E Series, some of the bigger ones.
SIEGEL: Now, some context here. Why is the administration considering their inclusion in the standards now?
Ms. MECKLER: Well, I think that they're looking at it and saying that, yes, these are vehicles that are being used by families. They are being used on the road in a regular way. And they may not deserve the exemption that was justified back when these rules were written. And because they're sort of taking a big look at the whole CAFE standard for light trucks, this is an opportunity for them to revisit this issue.
SIEGEL: Well, taking this idea, who's for it and who's against it?
Ms. MECKLER: Well, the allies and opponents are pretty predictable. The people who are for it are the environmentalists. Also groups like AAA have weighed in for it. Opposing it are the car companies, especially, for instance, GM, which already has a lot of problems and says they can't really afford to deal with another one.
SIEGEL: Well, we've already heard about some of GM's other problems, but in this case, they just happen to have more of the models in this group.
Ms. MECKLER: Exactly. The administration estimates that this particular change would affect GM more than any other manufacturer by far.
SIEGEL: Well, let's say you make the Hummer II and a new regulation comes out and says that that class of vehicles has to get more miles per gallon. What does the carmaker do to the car, presumably, to try to meet new standards?
Ms. MECKLER: Well, the carmaker would have a bunch of different options, depending on exactly how the rule was written. One thing that they could do is they could improve the engineering of the vehicle. They could use different technology, maybe a hybrid technology, or something that would help increase the mileage. They could also use more expensive but lighter weight materials, maybe more aluminum in the vehicle, and that would make it lighter and therefore would make it more fuel-efficient. They also could...
SIEGEL: Well, it wouldn't have the same feel, I should think, as the current Hummer II.
Ms. MECKLER: Perhaps not. I'm sure, though, that they would, it would be important to them to keep that feel the same, because that's obviously what's attracting buyers. But they would have a variety of options of how to deal with it. They also, depending on how the CAFE program is written, they might be able to balance that out if they didn't quite meet the standard with some of their other vehicle sales.
SIEGEL: Now what's interesting to me here is that the category of vehicles we're talking about is rather small, but in fact the category of pickup trucks is very large. And no one's proposing that they be included in the CAFE standards within the administration.
Ms. MECKLER: Right. I mean, that is theoretically on the table. They could do that if they wanted to. But the thinking is that they probably won't do that, because generally speaking, pickup trucks that are that big are often being used for a business or for a farm, and they don't want to do anything to really depress that market.
SIEGEL: Well, Laura Meckler, thank you very much for talking with us.
Ms. MECKLER: My pleasure.
SIEGEL: That's reporter Laura Meckler, of the Wall Street Journal.
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