The United States government proposed the largest increase in automotive fuel economy in more than a decade, calling for a 7 percent improvement in the performance of sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks and minivans, the New York Times
(NYT) reported.However, the newspaper said that critics, including many environmentalists and top Democrats, claimed the proposal demanded no more of the vehicle industry than it had already committed itself to achieve on its own.The plan was however praised by some moderates, and auto executives called it a challenge, the NYT added.The New York Times said the proposal would require vehicle makers to increase the average fuel economy of so-called “light trucks” by 1.5 miles per gallon, to an average of 22.2 miles per gallon, by the 2007 model year. The administration said that would reduce US petrol consumption by 2.5 billion gallons to the end of that year, the NYT said.The New York Times noted that Ford has pledged to improve the fuel economy of its sport utility vehicles by 25 percent by mid-decade while General Motors and DaimlerChrysler have said they will be competitive with Ford.The administration plan calls for three annual increases in light truck fuel economy beginning in the 2005 model year, the New York Times said. Suggestions will be accepted for 60 days, and then the regulators can impose the change without Congressional approval, the report added.According to the newspaper, light trucks sold in the US are now required to average 20.7 miles per gallon, though there is some flexibility to carry over credits year to year, while cars must average 27.5 miles per gallon. The industry takes advantage of the split standard by designing vehicles that resemble cars, like Chrysler's PT Cruiser, yet qualify as light trucks because they have attributes like a rear seat that can be folded down to form a flat bed, the newspaper added.An official involved in regulatory deliberations told the New York Times that the administration was considering more steps after the 2007 model year and might revise the definition of a light truck so that car-like vehicles are not included while light truck standards might be extended to include the biggest sport utilities, such as Hummers, which are not now subject to fuel economy rules.