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And I'm Melissa Block.
The Bush administration has unveiled its plan to revamp fuel economy standards for SUVs, minivans and pickup trucks. Those vehicles would eventually be required to go slightly farther on a gallon of gas. As NPR's Kathleen Schalch reports, critics say it's the administration's plan that doesn't go far enough.
KATHLEEN SCHALCH reporting:
Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta announced the plan on a rooftop in Atlanta, Georgia, overlooking a busy freeway. He said the CAFE, or corporate average fuel economy, standard is out of date.
Secretary NORMAN MINETA (Department of Transportation): In the 1970s, when CAFE was created, the SUV, as we know it today, did not exist. No one dreamed that we would be buying trucks to transport the family.
SCHALCH: Today more than half the vehicles sold in the US are classified as light trucks. And because they're so popular, fuel economy in the US is actually falling. The existing CAFE standard lumps all light trucks together. The new one would divide them into six categories according to their size. The smaller ones would have to get better gas mileage than the bigger ones. Jeffrey Runge, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, says this will prod automakers to improve the efficiency of their entire fleet.
Mr. JEFFREY RUNGE (Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration): If a company produces a small minivan, that small minivan should be as fuel efficient as technology will allow. If they produce a large pickup or an SUV, then those trucks should be also as fuel efficient as possible.
SCHALCH: And, Runge says, the new system would erase the incentive automakers now have to scrimp on some cars' size and safety in order to meet government requirements. The plan would tighten standards for new light trucks between 2008 and 2011. The Bush administration says that will save about 10 billion gallons of gas. David Friedman, research director for the Clean Vehicles Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, isn't impressed.
Mr. DAVID FRIEDMAN (Research Director, Clean Vehicles Program, Union of Concerned Scientists): It sounds big, but that's effectively talking about saving less than one month's worth of gasoline over 15 years. It's a drop in the bucket.
SCHALCH: He says the proposal would increase fuel economy by less than one-half of one mile per gallon per year through 2011.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Engineering data shows that we could double or even triple that improvement. If we did that, consumers would be driving around in SUVs and minivans that get the same fuel economy as today's cars.
SCHALCH: Friedman says he also worries carmakers will try to game the system by making cars a bit larger so they can be less fuel efficient. Gloria Bergquist is vice president of the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers. She views things differently.
Ms. GLORIA BERGQUIST (Vice President, Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers): Today's announcement represents six straight years of higher fuel economy standards. And that's going to be a challenge to automakers, even with all of the fuel-efficient technologies on sale today.
SCHALCH: Bergquist says automakers are at the mercy of consumers who, up until now, have had other priorities.
Ms. BERGQUIST: They don't want to sacrifice passenger room, comfort, safety, utility performance for fuel economy.
SCHALCH: Of course, with gasoline ranging up to $3 per gallon, that could change. Kathleen Schalch, NPR News, Washington.
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