Big carmakers say fuel rule plan too strict

1/07/2008 - 18:27

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The world's biggest auto companies told the U.S. government on Tuesday its leading proposal to boost annual fuel efficiency targets through the middle of the next decade is too aggressive.

Global sales leader Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T>, General Motors Corp Ford Motor Co Chrysler LLC and other manufacturers complained in a regulatory filing that a planned 4.5 percent yearly increase between 2011-2015 is unworkable.

"This goes beyond what it is technologically feasible and economically practicable," the companies' trade group, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said.

"It would require manufacturers to expend resources at a pace that is excessive given the fact that the auto industry is already under economic stress," the companies said.

The Transportation Department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is drafting a rule that would set annual targets for satisfying a new law mandating a 40 percent jump in fleet-wide average fuel efficiency to 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

Congress required the agency to set yearly targets in rules covering five-year periods. The proposal is more ambitious than even congressional supporters of the 2020 standard expected.

Regulators had no comment on the automakers' concerns.

The Bush administration wants to complete the first efficiency rule before it leaves office in January, more than 18 months before the start of the 2011 model year.

Automakers said the "most important problem" is that regulators underestimate the costs and overestimate the benefits of fuel saving technologies.

They complained the plan to "front-load" efficiency gains for the fleet in the first years of the program -- nearly 32 mpg by 2015 -- especially penalizes sport utilities, pickups and vans because they are more expensive to make than cars.

Between 2011-15, new cars would have to get 35.7 mpg, while light trucks, including sport utilities, pickups and vans would need to reach 28.6 mpg.

The government estimated it would cost manufacturers about $16 billion to meet the 2015 standard for cars and $31 billion for light trucks.

(Reporting John Crawley; Editing by Andre Grenon)

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