Our U.S. government finally made a move yesterday to alter Corporate Average Fuel Economy requirements for the first time in three decades. At a press conference in Atlanta Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Minetanew introduced a system that would divide the category of light trucks, which includes pickups, minivans and SUVs, into six categories based on size, with the smallest vehicles being required to get better gas mileage than larger ones. The NHTSA website says in its press release that each category's requirement will rise above the current standard of 21 mpg and 22.2 mpg in 2007. Much criticism has already been thrown at the plan, which would raise the fuel mileage requirement more for lower volume vehicles like small pickups and minivans and less for larger SUVs and large pickups, the latter of which is the best selling vehicle segment in the industry. The plan doesn't apply to cars, whose CAFE requirement currently stands at 27.5 mpg, nor the largest of SUVs like the Hummer H2.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has endorsed the plan because it believes that the new system
will increase highway safety. Jeffrey Runge, administrator of the NHTSA, is quoted by the Detroit News as saying that
automakers respond to current standards by making lighter and less sturdy vehicles. While we understand the point of
Mr. Runge?s statement, it also sounds as if the NHTSA is endorsing automakers to build ever larger and heavier vehicles
in the interest of collision safety. Would the NHTSA have us all drive Escalades so that we each had an equal chance of
surviving a collision with one another? Obviously the NHTSA?s main concern is safety, which is valid and appreciated to
a point, but the way to increase safety on our nation?s roads is not to arm each citizen with the largest and most
substantial vehicle possible.
Since no real details of the new CAFE requirements were released, it?s impossible to speculate exactly how it will affect the vehicles in each of the six new categories. Mineta did give the example that minivans would be required to average 23.3 mpg by 2011, up from the current standard of 21 mpg. The auto industry has been fighting vehemently for a long time against any attempt to simply raising the CAFE standards as a whole for light trucks, so if they allow these changes to become law without a fight then we may find in the end that the new requirements were ultimately designed to marginally increase the average fuel economy of the light truck segment in the interest of not bankrupting the automakers.