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They came from as close as the General Motors headquarters across the street and as far away as Santa Fe, New Mexico.

They represented groups as diverse as automakers and the military, steel manufacturers and religious organizations.

And nearly all of the 90 or so people who testified on a proposal to raise the nation's fuel economy standard to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 offered support for the plan before a joint government panel in downtown Detroit.

Noting that the Obama administration's proposal had won the diverse support of auto industry insiders, labor unions, consumer watchdogs and environmental groups, Congressman John Dingell said, "this is an event that ranks with the loaves and fishes."

Tuesday's hearing, held by the Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, was the first of three that will give members of the public opportunity to comment on the joint-proposed Corporate Average Fuel Economy rules. Further hearings are set for Thursday in Philadelphia and Tuesday, January 24, in San Francisco.

But it was in downtown Detroit, the heart of the nation's auto industry, that government leaders were offered widespread support for the 54.5 mpg standard Tuesday. Proponents said the U.S. would benefit in the form of increased automotive jobs, consumer savings and enhanced national security.

"The auto industry is coming back strong, and one of the reasons we are so confident about the industry's future is green technology," said UAW president Bob King. "The drive to bring fuel efficient cars to the market is transforming existing jobs and creating new ones. ... These are the automotive jobs of the future."

The EPA estimates the 54.5 mpg standard will save more than 4 billion barrels of oil between 2017 and 2025 and cut carbon emissions by more than 2 billion metric tons. Based on an average fuel price of $3.53 per gallon, it estimates consumers will save a net of $4,400, even with a higher upfront sticker price for new models.

While stating that they supported the proposal, that was the top source of reluctance among automakers and dealers.

More than worrying about meeting what they saw as aggressive deadlines, executives representing U.S. domestic automakers were more concerned with whether enough mainstream customers had the desire and financial means to purchase new cars.

Even as carmakers unveiled more than a dozen new electric vehicles and hybrids at the North American International Auto Show taking place down the street at the Cobo Center, they feared trying to peer at consumer purchasing trends more than a decade into the future left too much leeway for error.

"We must not lose sight of the most important question, and that is, 'Are they buying the product,'" said Jay Wilton, Chrysler's vice president of engineering and regulatory compliance. "Measuring even next year is challenging. Speculating 13 years into the future brings risk."

Because of that, the U.S. automakers said their support for the 54.5-mpg proposal was contingent upon the EPA and NHTSA agreeing to a midterm review that would assess whether early estimates on government figures were accurate, whether they could develop fuel-saving technology in time and, primarily, whether customers were buying fuel-efficient cars.

A November survey conducted by Consumer Reports revealed 80 percent of consumers said they supported the 54.5-mpg target and that 83 percent said they would be willing to pay more for a car that offered better fuel economy.

That may not necessarily mean they can afford a more fuel-efficient car. While several car dealers testified Tuesday they supported the CAFE proposal outright, other dealers were concerned about the costs fuel technologies would add to new vehicles.

Don Chalmers, speaking on behalf of the National Automobile Dealers Association, said the new standards would limit financing options for some customers, potentially decreasing new car sales and shifting borderline customers into used cars instead.

Although the EPA estimated that fuel savings of $6,600 over a decade would pay for the $2,200 increase in upfront vehicle cost, he said that financing departments would not factor the long-term savings into a customer's loan application.

"I can't quite get around the affordability from a finance standpoint and whether you can get qualified for a loan in the first place," said Chalmers, who said he would have lost several sales this fall had the proposal been in place.

"The bankers don't get a chart and compare fuel savings. They're looking at payments versus disposable income, and that's the reality of vehicle financing today."

Chalmers was the most tepid of supporters in Detroit. Overall, the increased regulation enjoyed wide support. In the afternoon, a group of women broke out in song while supporting the new rule. Nurses hoped the new standard would decrease asthma and NCAAP officials said it would create jobs for black workers.

And if the CAFE proposal brought together groups more disparate than auto industry insiders and environmentalists, it was pacifists and Marines nodding in agreement.

Alex Cornell Du Houx, a Marine and Iraq War veteran, said the Department of Defense was the nation's single-largest purchaser of gasoline and is attempting to reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent within the next eight years. The Air Force, he said, will use as much as 50 percent biofuels by 2016.

"This is the single best step we can take right now to curb our dangerous addiction to oil," said Du Houx. "This will have a tremendous impact, and make us less vulnerable to unfriendly and unstable regimes.

The Rev. Peggy Garrigues, a pastor from Clawson United Methodist Church in suburban Detroit, agreed.

"War is incompatible with Christian teaching," she said. "The less we depend on foreign oil, the less incentive we have to go to war. These proposed standards will help people of faith live out their values and create a better world for God's children."


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 91 Comments
      • 3 Years Ago
      **breathe
      • 3 Years Ago
      We are DOOMED. The only way we'll get such ridiculously high MPG is if we're all driving these: http://youtu.be/rAqPMJFaEdY -- The 2012 Pelosi GTxi SS/RT Sport Edition. Makes a SmartCar look like a Lincoln Town Car. H/t Iowahawk.
        Kai F. Lahmann
        • 3 Years Ago
        Or get a Mercedes E 300 BlueTech Hybrid. Makes todays US top seller (the Corolla) look like a Smart.
      Nick
      • 3 Years Ago
      FoxNews will spin this story on its head, and claim 1) no-one wants to raise fuel efficiency 2) it's being "forced upon us but the govt!".
        EZEE
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Nick
        Why not just look and then paste the link?
        EZEE
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Nick
        Ironically, the government would be setting mandates to...dare I say...force the automakers to do this. So are you saying that Fox News would be reporting...the news?
      Dave
      • 3 Years Ago
      Does anybody know if the following CAFE treatment of alternative fuels is still true????? "Alternative fuel vehicles use something other than gas or diesel, which includes natural gas, hydrogen, propane, ethanol, bio-diesel etc. The CAFE standard for these is determined by dividing the fuel economy in equivalent miles per gallon of fuel (gas, diesel) by 0.15. Thus a 15 mpg alternative fuel vehicle would be rated as 100 mpg." http://www.cars101.com/cafe.html
        Roy_H
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Dave
        I can't confirm that, but I do know they have done some pretty crazy math in the past to promote alternatives. I personally think this is a big mistake, as they are lying about the actual performance. Can't they stick to the factual numbers and promote the alternatives another way?
        Letstakeawalk
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Dave
        That's the info currently posted on the CAFE FAQ page. http://www.nhtsa.gov/cars/rules/cafe/overview.htm OTOH, I have noticed that US Government websites are often terribly out of date... That page refers to 2002 several times as if it is present day, and that certain 2003 data may be different. "In March 2002, NHTSA issued an NPRM proposing to extend the availability of the CAFE credit incentive for dual-fueled vehicles for four years, through the end of the 2008 model year. A final rule will be issued in 2003."
          cwerdna
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          There's a newer CAFE page at http://www.nhtsa.gov/fuel-economy.
      PR
      • 3 Years Ago
      Don Chalmers and his car dealer buddies may have to sell a few cars with a few less high-profit options jammed into them (like pin stripes, VIN etching, stain-guarding, and under-carriage coating) in order for their customers to afford some of these early cars. Cry me a river. But the long-term answer is very clear. The higher costs don't suddenly appear, they are ramped in over a full decade, right along with the CAFE requirements. So the extra $2,200 for a car over a decade from now comes from a higher down payment due to all the fuel savings from all the incremental higher mpg cars bought between now and then. For some reason, he seems to think the costs will all come up-front, and the savings will all come after. That just isn't true. The savings and the costs both are phased in over more than a decade. The REAL threat to car sales in the future is the MPG of new cars being way too lousy for new car buyers to be able to afford to fill them with ever-rising gas prices. If their lots are full of cars with the MPG we currently have and the price of gas skyrockets yet again, new car sales will tank. And I'm not just speculating, I'm just describing exactly what happened just a few years ago when gas prices hit their last record high. If he is worried about people not being able to afford to buy a new car, wait until people have to pay so much more in gas that they can never afford to buy a new car again because all their extra cash is being burned out their tailpipe. Frankly, he's coming off as a selfish whiner who can't do math. I'd be embarrassed to have him represent me if I were a member of his group. He's on the wrong side of history, and he seems blind to our unavoidable future of higher and higher fuel prices.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @PR
        Wouldn't lower fuel prices be a good thing too? Increased domestic oil production (along with Keystone XL) would result in lower gas prices and we wouldn't have to drive around in super light (and less durable) automobiles.
          PR
          • 3 Years Ago
          I envy your bliss that comes with your unexamined life.
      HollywoodF1
      • 3 Years Ago
      Ha! NCAAP! Is that a new black athletes' union formed by cooperation between the NCAA and the NAACP?
        Dave D
        • 3 Years Ago
        @HollywoodF1
        meh....sounds too close to a racial joke. No thanks.
          EZEE
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Dave D
          I wasn't sure the point but it made my brain hurt.
      Yegor
      • 3 Years Ago
      Here is my suggestions on CAFE: 1. Eluminate all loopholes: a) CAFE should be measured in EPA real world test numbers otherwise manufactires would continute to learn tricks to show even higher CAFE numbers whcih do not translate to real world numbers. Right now, for example, CAFE 54.5 MPG in real world is only 40 MPG. Otherwise in 2025 CAFE 54.5 MPG could become EPA 35 MPG only. b) There should be one target for everyone (by 2025 it will be CAFE 54.5 MPG which is equal EPA 40 MPG). Every new car that does not meet the target should pay a penalty of $500 per every MPG under the standard. If one wnats to buy a huge 20 MPG gas guzzler he will pay a $10,000 penalty for air pollution and oil dependency. c) Introduce gas tax that will gradually grow to $2 per gallon by 2025 to reduce USA dependence on oil. Otherwise with high MPG cars will just drive more.
        EZEE
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Yegor
        Yes, make the loopholes brighter....(just re-read, I am making a funny)
      JD
      • 3 Years Ago
      I think too many people are unaware that the fuel economy is dependant on weight as well as engine and design. Our less than brilliant legistlatures will continue to add mandatory "additions" to vehicles and also continue to wonder why they cost more. They should pick a MPG number that is realistic .
        PR
        • 3 Years Ago
        @JD
        The gov't has calculated down the the pound exactly what all their mandates have added to cars. And it all adds up to just a fraction of the weight gain in cars over the last decades. Luxury items and bigger everything is the largest cause of automotive weight bloat. There was a story about it right here on ABG within the last few months if you are interested in learning more.
        Dave D
        • 3 Years Ago
        @JD
        Come on PR, don't ruin a good rant with facts.
          PR
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Dave D
          Sorry, it's compulsive. The facts just force their way out in my typing no matter how hard I try to hold back. =)
      • 3 Years Ago
      Rev. Peggy Garrigues is an idiot. Christians have spent 2000 on just war theory and philosophy because they know that wars do happen. The sad and hopefully occasional necessity of war is well understood in Christian teaching.
      • 3 Years Ago
      How many engineers were at this meeting? Oh, just politicians and union leaders? It must be feasible then!
        Yegor
        • 3 Years Ago
        What is not feasible about EPA 40 MPG (CAFE 54.5MPG)? Toyota Prius get EPA 50 MPG today (20% more). Nissan Leaf get EPA 100 MPG today (150% more). These techoligies exists today! In 2025 with new technoligies we will 500 miles range electric cars for $25,000.
      Dan Frederiksen
      • 3 Years Ago
      not enough
      Dave D
      • 3 Years Ago
      LOL I knew this article would bring out the nut jobs. Thanks for the laughs.
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