Exposing an auto-industry rift, Japan's Honda Motor Co. presented a Senate committee with a new study challenging rival automakers' claims that safety would be undermined by higher federal fuel-economy requirements for sport utility vehicles and other trucks, according to a Wall Street Journal
story by Jeffrey Ball.The Senate Commerce Committee will probably propose a bill in the next two weeks that would require automakers to up the fuel economy of their cars and trucks so that, over about 10or 15 years, the average mileage of the total fleet rises from the current level of about 24 miles per gallon to somewhere in the 30s.Honda lent its backing to a recent report by a National Academy of Sciences panel that saidthe auto industry could significantly increase its vehicles' fuel economy over approximately 15 years. Honda went even further, disputing arguments that boosting fuel economy would make the vehicles less safe.Honda said that it had hired a consultant to study the issue, and that the study's preliminary conclusion is that reducing the weight of an average vehicle by 100 pounds has a "very small and not statistically significant" effect on the number of traffic deaths.In the hearing, the trade group representingmost other major automakers in the U.S. presented a different view about the feasibility of such an increase. The disagreement within the auto industry occurs as Congress and the Bush administration consider the details of how to up the federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standard for SUVs, pickups and minivans, known collectively as "light trucks."The trade group, the Alliance of AutomobileManufacturers, which doesn't include Honda but does include most other major companies that sell autos in the U.S., reiterated its view that Congress has no business toughening the CAFE mandate. The alliance wants the decision onCAFE to be made by the Bush administration, whose National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which oversees the standard, is considering recommending an increase.The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee is expected to vote by early February to significantly raise the mileage requirements for cars and sport utility vehicles, congressional sources said on Jan. 24, according to a Reuters report. The committee is working to finalize language on the new fuel requirements that will be added to a comprehensive Democratic-sponsored energy bill, which will be debated during the second week of February.The current Corporate Average Fuel Economy(CAFE) standards require passenger cars to average 27.5 miles per gallon (mpg) and light trucks to get 20.7 mpg.The new numbers have not been finalized, but a draft copy of the energy bill circulated last month called for increasing the fuel efficiency of cars built between 2007 and 2010 to 36mpg and to 27.5 mpg for light trucks. Those preliminary numbers were pulled from the final version of the bill, and left for the Commerce Committee to decide.