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Bush Administration Could Redefine 'Car' and 'Light Truck'

March 25, 2003

While planning to overhaul federal fuel economy standards, the Bush administration is considering proposals that could redefine what the government considers a car and what it considers a truck, according to the New York Times (NYT).The newspaper said that current regulations let vehicles classified as light trucks use far more gasoline than passenger cars.According to the newspaper, environmental groups have long said that vehicle makers give some vehicles truck-like attributes — like the seats in Chrysler's PT Cruiser, which fold flat to create a truck bed — so they will qualify for the more lenient light-truck fuel economy standards. The NYT added that the first glimpses of the administration's plans also worry environmental advocates, who say details not yet disclosed will determine if new rules end up improving overall fuel economy.According to the administration official, who insisted upon anonymity, one possibility being considered is that some vehicles now considered cars for fuel-economy purposes, like station wagons, would be defined as light trucks, while some vehicles now called light trucks — a category that includes sport utility vehicles, pickups and minivans — would be counted as cars, the New York Times said.According to the newspaper, the official said another proposal would set up a variety of fuel-economy standards for light trucks of different weights or sizes. The administration may also propose bringing trucks that weigh as much as 10,000 pounds fully loaded under the light-truck standards. Currently, the rules exempt vehicles of more than 8,500 pounds, like the Hummer H2, meaning they are not subject to fuel economy minimums.The NYT said the official, a member of the interagency group preparing the administration's proposals, said that regulators were focusing on light trucks partly because they lacked the authority, without explicit Congressional authorization, to change rules governing passenger car fuel economy.According to the New York Times, some environmental advocates express concern that any rule that scrapped a fleet-wide mileage requirement for light trucks could lead to an increase in gasoline consumption overall. "One could create a weight-based fuel economy system that either increased or decreased our gasoline consumption," said Daniel Becker, the global-warming expert at the Sierra Club. "The fear is the Bush administration, with former auto and oil executives at the helm, will want to create one that increases our gas guzzling to please their friends in Detroit and Houston."The administration official told the NYT that the government's proposals were "aimed at achieving even greater fuel economy in model years 2008 and beyond while simultaneously protecting safety and American jobs."For the last few months, an interagency group including representatives from the Department of Transportation, the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency has been considering broad changes to federal fuel economy rules. The varying ideas are due to be presented in an initial proposal this spring covering the model years 2008 and beyond. It will be subject to a lengthy review process, the New York Times noted.
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