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GM Balks at Tougher Fuel Standards

Automaker leads charge against improved mileage proposal, citing cost and safety issues.

February 19, 2003|From Reuters

U.S. automakers, led by General Motors Corp., have fired back at a federal proposal to raise fuel economy standards for trucks by 1.5 miles per gallon, claiming that regulators overestimated the ability of the companies to meet higher targets and that the costs of tougher rules outweigh the benefits.

In a 127-page filing with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, GM suggested that meeting the rules would cost it more than $1 billion and could force it to cut weight from its trucks, a move GM has argued would make them less safe.

"We believe that a more accurate assessment of our capabilities will show that the proposed standards are significantly too high," GM said in its comments.

In December, NHTSA proposed an increase in fuel economy standards for pickups, vans and sport utility vehicles from 20.7 mpg to 22.2 mpg in model year 2007, starting with 21 mpg in model year 2005 and 21.6 mpg in 2006.

NHTSA chief Jeffrey Runge has said he would support even higher increases beyond 2007 to reduce dependence on imported oil, calling it an issue of national security.

The fuel economy proposal has garnered nearly 20,000 comments since December, many of them in support of higher standards. Japanese carmakers Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. told NHTSA they were in favor of the increase, while environmental groups have said the proposed tougher standards were insufficient.

In its own analysis of automakers' confidential data, NHTSA found that GM's truck fleet would fail to meet the new standards by as much as 3 mpg, while Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler would meet or be just below the standard.

But GM contends that NHTSA's analysis was riddled with flaws, double-counting some improvements, skipping others and ignoring time and engineering constraints.

In one case, GM said, it didn't even have a working version of a technology that NHTSA said it could use to improve fuel efficiency on several models in 2005.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers -- the industry's lobbying group -- and Detroit's Big Three automakers all contend that NHTSA underestimated the cost of improving fuel economy and overestimated the benefits.

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