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Automakers seek more lead time for CAFE boosts

Harry Stoffer From| May 04,2007

WASHINGTON -- Automakers need much more lead time to adapt their vehicles to future increases in fuel economy standards, an industry leader told Congress today.

Mike Stanton, president of the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, said car companies should have at least three years to prepare for expected, more stringent increases in standards.

Federal law provides 18 months of lead time. Regulators had to give notice by April 1, 2006, for an increase in the light-truck standard to take effect in the 2008 model year, which begins officially Oct. 1, 2007.

Stanton made his request in testimony prepared for a Senate Commerce Committee hearing today. His proposal was among the suggestions for and criticisms of legislation that would raise car and truck standards by 10 mpg over 10 years.

In his prepared testimony, Dave McCurdy, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said the alliance "opposes legislation that is not technologically feasible." It also opposes standards "that are not based on a balance of objective criteria," McCurdy said.

The hearing reportedly was scheduled at the request of Michigan's two U.S. senators. It was widely viewed as a last-ditch attempt to slow a congressional rush to vote on sharp increases in the corporate average fuel economy program, or CAFE.

A committee vote is scheduled for Tuesday, May 8.

The Michigan senators, Democrats Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, were scheduled to speak first to the committee. They are not members of the panel.

Also on the witness list was Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. She is prime sponsor of the bill that would raise car and truck CAFE standards by 10 mpg in 10 years.

McCurdy said the bill effectively would require that by 2019, cars average almost 40 mpg and light trucks average nearly 32 mpg. Current standards are 27.5 mpg for cars and 22.2 mpg for trucks.

He said the added costs, especially for trucks, would be hard on small businesses, tradespeople, farmers and others who rely on vehicles for their livelihoods.

AIAM's Stanton and the alliance's McCurdy echoed comments from other industry leaders on government's escalating interest in reducing petroleum consumption and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

They said automakers are already more regulated than other sectors of the economy. Car companies have been making big investments in advanced technology to reduce emissions and want to contribute to solutions, they testified. But automakers alone should not be expected to solve global warming, they added.

The alliance represents the Detroit 3, Toyota and five other automakers.

AIAM's 14 automaker members include Honda, Toyota, Nissan and Hyundai.

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