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DOT tightening SUV fuel rules

The proposal requires car makers to increase the fuel efficiency of light trucks and SUVs by 1.5 miles per gallon by model year 2007.
The proposal requires car makers to increase the fuel efficiency of light trucks and SUVs by 1.5 miles per gallon by model year 2007.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Manufacturers of gas-guzzling sports utility vehicles, minivans and light trucks will have to increase the fuel efficiency of their products beginning in the 2005 model year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced Friday.

The final rule proposed by NHTSA requires manufacturers to increase the fuel efficiency of light trucks and sports utility vehicles by a total of 1.5 miles per gallon by model year 2007. The reduction is incremental -- manufacturers must increase the fuel efficiency by a half-mile per gallon beginning in 2005.

This is the first change to fuel economy standards since Congress froze NHTSA's rule making ability in 1996. The freeze was lifted in 2001 as part of President Bush's overall national energy policy.

"The Bush administration is committed to improving vehicle fuel economy while protecting passenger safety and American jobs," said Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.

The phasing-in of the increase in fuel economy will require the new federal CAFE standard (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) to be 21.0 mpg for model year 2005, 21.6 mpg for model year 2006 and 22.2 mpg for model year 2007. The current standard is 20.7 miles per gallon.

"The proposal to establish new fuel economy standards for light trucks is just one component of the administration's comprehensive approach to improving vehicle fuel economy," said NHTSA Administrator Dr. Jeffrey Runge.

NHTSA estimates the increase in the CAFE standard will cost consumers $14 per vehicle in 2005, $28 in 2006 and $47 in 2007. Factoring in benefits such as lower emissions, fuel savings and energy security, the agency estimates benefits per vehicle to equal $29 in 2005, $66 in 2006 and $100 in 2007. The agency also estimates the change will save approximately 2.5 billion gallons of gasoline over the life of the vehicles.

The CAFE standard for other passenger vehicles will not change. It has held steady at 27.5 mpg since 1990.

'Virtually nothing'

The Sierra Club calls the proposed CAFE standards for the light truck class "weak" and says they will do "virtually nothing to improve fuel economy."

"This increase shortchanges American consumers and national security because automakers already have the technology to raise fuel economy much more significantly," said Daniel Becker, director of Sierra Club's Global Warming and Energy Programs.

The Sierra Club says if automakers were to use existing technology, the manufacturers could achieve a fuel economy of around 34 miles per gallon.

Automakers have urged the government to allow the industry to voluntarily move to improve fuel efficiency, but say they can meet the administration standards. If they do not, they face government fines.

NHTSA considers four factors in setting fuel economy standards: technological ability, economic impact, effects of other federal motor vehicle standards on fuel economy and the need to conserve energy. The agency also takes into account some safety and environmental issues.

The government began setting CAFE standards for the light truck class, which includes pickup trucks, minivans and SUVs, in 1978.

NHTSA will issue a final ruling on the proposal by April 1 next year.

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