Dealers report lower SUV sales as government increases mileage standards
Tom Costello – NBC News – March 29, 2006
WASHINGTON - At South Towne Motors in Atlanta, Adam Merlin sells everything from Hyundais to Hondas to Hummers. In the last few months, there's been a dramatic customer shift away from the gas guzzlers.
“The need hasn't changed for the big SUV,” Merlin says. “The issue is that people's pocketbooks have changed and they're not interested in spending the money for the fuel any more.”
Now, for the first time ever, the government is ordering light trucks, including SUVs, minivans and smaller pickups to comply with new gas mileage standards.
“Just by including the large vehicles,” explains U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, “we have increased fuel savings by 10 percent — more than 250 million gallons a year.”
By 2011, light trucks and pickups must average 24.1 miles per gallon, an increase of 1.8 miles per gallon from 2007 gallons.
But that’s only the average. The longer the distance between the front and rear axles, the lower the mileage requirement. The Honda CR-V will be required to get 27.4 miles per gallon by 2011, while the Ford Explorer can get buy with 25.2. The Jeep Wrangler will be required to get 28.3 miles per gallon, but the H2 Hummer will only have to show 22.3 and the Chevy Suburban will need to get 21.8.
Passenger cars will still be required to meet a 27.5 miles-per-gallon average.
But environmental groups complain the biggest gas guzzling pickups on the road are still exempt, and mileage standards for both cars and light trucks should be much tougher ’ 40 miles per gallon, not 24.
Proposed vs. final CAFE rules
Proposed CAFE Light Truck Rule (August 2005) ** Final CAFE Light Truck Rule (March 2006)
"Six" size categories with their own miles per gallon target** Stronger Miles Per Gallon Target for all Light Trucks
Largest SUVs Not Included ** Largest SUVs Included
Average Miles Per Gallon: 24 ** Average Miles Per Gallon: 24.1 (24 with Largest SUVs included)
9 Billion Gallons of Fuel Saved* ** 10.7 Billion Gallons of Fuel Saved
* Original estimate in the August proposal of 10 billion gallons saved was revised based on computer modeling changes made in response to comments to the NPRM.
Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
“What the president is proposing will only save two weeks of oil over a four year period of time, not very impressive.” says Daniel Becker, the director of the Sierra Club's global warming program.
American automakers have opposed previous attempts to raise the standards, arguing they aren't fair. This time, they're going along.
“We are committed to being a part of the solution and we are already doing some things and we are going to keep doing more,” says Gloria Berquist of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
The new standards will add about $200 to the average stick price, but environmentalists wonder what the country is getting for the money.