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New fuel economy rules unveiled

GM, Ford get lift from new fuel standards that splits light truck segment into six sub-categories.

August 23, 2005; Posted: 2:09 p.m. EDT (1809 GMT)

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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The Bush administration announced new fuel economy rules Tuesday that require improved mileage for the sport/utility vehicles and other light trucks that have captured a majority of U.S. auto sales.

Speaking from Atlanta, Department of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and Jeffrey Runge, the current administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said that under the new plan, the light truck segment will be broken into six different categories based on weight and vehicle type, with the smallest vehicles forced to get better mileage than larger ones.

Minivans, which are currently bound by federal standards to get 21 miles per gallon, will be required to have a fuel efficiency of 23.3 miles per gallon by the time the program is fully implemented in 2011.

The fuel economy of small SUVs would improve by as much as nine miles per gallon from their current standard of 19 miles per gallon, Mineta said.

"This plan is good news for American consumers because it will ensure that the vehicles that they buy will get more miles to the gallon and ultimately save them money," said Mineta.

The current rules, which were last updated when fuel economy rules were instituted in the late 1970s, consider the fuel economy of the entire fleet of light trucks as a whole.

A final rule must be published by April 1 if it is to apply to the 2008 model year.

Environmentalists already are criticizing the proposal, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. Eric Haxthausen, an economist with Environmental Defense, told the newspaper the rules are "woefully inadequate."

The paper reported Tuesday that environmental lobbyists are looking for the fuel economy target to be raised about 1.5 miles per gallon over three years, beginning with the 2008 model year.

The newspaper reported that the new rules seem likely to help General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co.. The fleet-wide average for light trucks is a disadvantage for auto manufacturers that have a large portion of their light truck sales among the biggest pickup trucks and SUVs, a category that Ford and GM dominate.

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