U.S. carmakers will get break in new fuel rules
Harry Stoffer - Automotive News - March 27, 2006
WASHINGTON -- Heavy-duty pickups are eluding government bureaucrats once again.
Bush administration officials, putting final touches on new light-truck fuel economy rules for 2008-11, reportedly have considered extending standards to the largest light trucks. They have gross weights above 8,500 pounds.
But pickups in that range -- regarded as favorites of tradesmen, farmers and cowboys -- would continue to be exempt, say interest groups monitoring the deliberations over the rules.
So, for example, the largest Chevrolet Suburban SUV would have to meet a standard for the first time, but a Silverado 2500 or 3500 pickup would remain exempt.
Such a decision is based on "false logic," argues Eric Haxthausen, economist with Environmental Defense. The nonprofit group says it favors science-based, cost-effective fixes for environmental problems.
Environmental Defense says a survey conducted for it by a market research firm showed heavy-duty pickups no longer are just work trucks. Researchers queried primary drivers of 300 late-model pickups of various sizes.
Refining the fuel rules
Bush administration officials have considered these changes to fuel economy regulations for 2008-11, say interest groups monitoring the deliberations.
- Requiring light trucks to average more than 24 mpg by 2011
- Extending fuel economy standards to some trucks over 8,500 pounds
- Setting a fuel-economy target for each model based on its dimensions
Among the findings: Heavy-duty pickups are used primarily as passenger vehicles, for commuting and family activities.
Eighty percent of the vehicles in the 8,500 to 10,000-pound range are pickups, Haxthausen added. So extending the standards without including pickups would miss a big energy-saving opportunity, he argued.
Defenders of heavy-duty pickups say they need extra power -- and the resulting extra fuel consumption -- to do their jobs.
The administration faces a Saturday, April 1, deadline for unveiling the final rules.
Automakers, who view fuel-economy standards as their biggest regulatory headache, already know it's going to be a bit more painful and a lot more complicated.
The administration plans for the first time to set different targets for light trucks of different sizes, based on dimensions rather than weight.
As a result, each automaker by 2011 would have its own unique fuel-economy standard, determined by product mix. Companies with more small vehicles would have higher standards than those with more big vehicles.
The move is a break for General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler group, which rely more on larger light trucks for sales and profits than import brands.
Overall, the administration is expected to seek a light-truck fleet average of slightly more than 24 mpg by 2011, up from 21.6 mpg for 2006 and 22.2 mpg for 2007. The car average stays at 27.5 mpg.
The addition of a size factor would be the biggest structural change in the Corporate Average Fuel Economy program since its inception in 1975.