Bush Administration Sets New Fuel Standards

By Dave Porter

Atlanta GA - The Bush administration set new fuel standards for vehicles sold in the United States, ordering automakers to boost gas mileage to offset energy consumption and lower consumer costs at the pump.

What it means for consumers is better gas mileage that is estimated to improve current standards by 8 percent over the next four years.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said the current rule, which requires all 2006 light trucks to get 21.6 miles per gallon, will be replaced with six size-based standards. These will range from 21.3 for the largest 2011 light truck models to 28.4 for the smallest.

Automakers are required to boost the gas mileage of minivans, pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles in the first overhaul of fuel-consumption rules for vehicles by the Bush administration.

Automakers said the standard would be a challenge.

Though environmental advocacy groups were behind President Bush's cabinet in improving the efficiency of vehicles, which itself was a rare occurrence.

The rules would replace 1970s regulations enacted when light trucks accounted for 20 percent of U.S. vehicle sales.

Now, SUVs and minivans dominate the US light truck market accounting for 56 percent of sales.

Consumers are already reeling from ever-increasing gasoline costs which have risen three weeks in a row to a national average of $2.61 a gallon, 6.2 cents in the last week alone.

Mineta said that the move will save consumers 10 billion gallons of fuel at a news conference in Atlanta.

Ford, GM, Chrysler, and Japan's Honda Motor Co. said it was too early to comment. But auto manufacturers felt the rule favored Japanese automaker Toyota, that already breaks vehicles into groups and has moved faster than the other top auto manufacturers to produce economic vehicles.

The new rule "distributes the cost among all manufacturers rather than on our U.S. domestic manufacturers," Mineta said.

For 2008 through 2010 models, automakers can choose to be governed by the fleet-wide average requirement or the differing standards of the six classes, Mineta said. Starting in 2011, automakers must meet the standard in classes, he said.

The proposal continues to exempt the heaviest U.S. vehicles, such as GM's Hummer H2.