With gas prices setting records, the Bush Administration has proposed an overhaul of fuel-economy standards. Instead of one overall rule for light trucks, SUVs and minivans, there would be six, with a sliding scale of m.p.g. requirements. What it means:
How would the new rules benefit the environment? They would toughen fuel-efficiency standards on such popular SUVs as the Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee. The Bush Administration claims that would save 10 billion gal. of gas over the life of vehicles built from 2008 through 2011.
Any environmental downside? Groups like the Sierra Club say the rules would have the perverse effect of encouraging carmakers to bulk up vehicles so they would fall under more lenient m.p.g. standards. Automakers such as Ford and GM might even be tempted to give up building small cars altogether because they would no longer need them to improve their overall fuel-efficiency numbers.
Who would be the winners? Big vehicles like the new Dodge Mega Cab would have a relatively lenient standard of 21.3 m.p.g. And some of the largest guzzlers on the road, like the Hummer H2, would continue to be exempt because they are classified as commercial.
And the losers? Carmakers such as Subaru and Suzuki would be forced to raise the fuel efficiency of their small SUVs 28%. Also not happy: nine states, including California, that are proposing to cap emissions of greenhouse gases from cars and trucks.
What's next? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is seeking public comment on the rules until Nov. 22. Hearings will follow, and the standards could take effect starting with 2008 models. --By Joseph R. Szczesny