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Automakers Fall in Line on New Fuel Standards

LCT Staff
Posted on December 12, 2007

DETROIT — As recently as six months ago, Congress’ new proposed fuel standards had one auto industry trade group ready to fight. But this week, after a deal on proposed legislation to raise fuel economy by 40% to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, the companies in the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers declared the higher standards would be “good for both customers and energy security.”

The reversal was more than a simple matter of the carmakers accepting the inevitable. Despite the all-for-one, one-for-all sound of the alliance’s new stand, the industry has in fact been divided in its response to growing calls to produce more efficient vehicles.

Nissan and Honda, for example, bought in early to the idea of higher fuel economy. They did not join the alliance, which includes Detroit, German and other Japanese car companies, which fought bigger increases until it was clear they would lose.

In return for its early support, Nissan preserved a unique exemption that makes it easier to meet current fuel-economy standards.

“We’re not whiners,” Dominique Thormann, a senior vice president at Nissan North America, said in Washington during a lunch with reporters last week, in a thinly veiled jab at competitors that originally fought fuel economy increases. “We never went into this with the intention of challenging what the objective was,” Thormann said. “Tell us where we need to get to. We’ll get our engineers cranking.”

Last May, before the Senate action, the auto alliance ran newspaper and radio ads urging passage of a smaller fuel economy increase. Automakers currently must attain 27.5 mpg for cars and 22.2 mpg for light trucks, including minivans, sport utilities and pickups for their corporate average fuel economy, known as CAFE.

David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., said that, since companies are falling in line over the new standards, “You’re going to see people trying to kill each other over how green they can be.”

SOURCE: New York Times

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