Separate, not equal

Aug. 17, 2007
"The foolish and the dead alone never change their opinions." --James Russell Lowell There's movement afoot in Congress to slow down and modify efforts to improve corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards and I think that's a good thing, the ...

"The foolish and the dead alone never change their opinions." --James Russell Lowell

There's movement afoot in Congress to slow down and modify efforts to improve corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards and I think that's a good thing, the reason being that cars and light trucks are very different animals and trying to get them to meet the same fuel economy standards via federal mandate would've been catastrophic to domestic automakers.

Representative Ed Markey (D-Mass.) got the CAFE ball rolling this year with a proposal to make cars and light trucks both meet a 35-miles per gallon standard by 2019 -- which would've required manufacturers to improve overall vehicle fuel economy by 4% a year. That's incrediably steep and would've forced automakers to eliminate whole ranges of models -- especially rear wheel drive V8 sports cars, according to Motortrend magazine, in order to save just some (not all) of their light truck lines.

Then Representatives Baron Hill (D-Ind.) and Lee Terry (R-Neb.) stepped into the breech with their bill, H.R. 2927 (dubbed, appropriately, the Hill-Terry Bill) to instead call for two separate standards -- 35 mpg for cars and 32 mpg for light trucks -- to be met by 2022. That's still a big increase the current standards of 27.5 mpg for cars and 22.5 mpg for for light trucks and it gives automakers a little more time so they don't have to pull a fuel economy rabbit out of the hat every year, as they would've been forced to do under Markey's plan.

Over 138 fellow legislators signed on to support the Hill-Terry Bill in just 11 days, showing it's got some serious legs, but more importantly this bill recognizes that cars and trucks are just plain different kinds of vehicles -- and need to be treated as such. Now, sure, plenty of regular folks (me included) buy trucks and never use them as work vehicles -- their primary function. But under Markey, improving fuel economy would've thrown a lot of truck models out -- ones fleets use to get myriads of jobs done.

There's other issues at work here, too, that we need to address -- the role government and consumers alike play in managing our fuel consumption. Mass transit development, for example, has lagged tremendously in this country, yet it's what gets commuters off the road. Giving people viable alternatives to using their cars to drive two and from work is a big fuel saver and one we could make cost efficient if managed better. I think about my own experience here in Washington D.C., where the Metrorail subway cars are Italian made and pricey, where monies get spent on artistic displays and expanding the legal department library to the tune of $250,000. The focus on transit needs to be on moving people safely and quickly, day in and day out.

Then there's every day driving -- trips that don't need to be taken, wasteful idling, the whole smash. If trucking fleets can be rigorous about their fuel expenditure, so can the average car driver (me included). Less driving equals less fuel so the more of that, the better.

Finally, we must remember light trucks are around for a reason -- they go places and do things cars can't. Yes, Detroit makes them cheaper and made a huge (and devastating) bet that light truck sales would keep on clmbing back in the late 1990s, leaving car development behind just as oil prices exploded. But that is the past -- we can't change it. What we can do is make reasonable fuel economy improvements at a sustainable pace that keeps the mix of vehicles we need for daily life on the road.

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr 1 | Senior Editor

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