Will New Fuel Rules for SUVs Cut U.S. Oil Use?

March 30, 2006

The Bush Administration on Wednesday announced new fuel economy standards for light trucks that it says will save 10.7 billion gallons (40.5 billion liters) of fuel over the lifetime of vehicles sold between 2008 and 2011.

For the first time, the standards will apply to some of the largest sport utility vehicles (SUVs) on the road, such as the Hummer H2 and the Ford Explorer.

"Just by including these large sport utility vehicles, we have increased fuel savings by 10 percent, more than 250 million gallons [945 million liters] a year," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta at Wednesday's announcement in Baltimore, Maryland.

(Read National Geographic magazine's "The End of Cheap Oil.")

The new standards aim to raise the average fuel economy of light trucks to 24 miles per gallon (10.2 kilometers per liter) by 2011. This is up from 21.6 miles per gallon (9.2 kilometers per liter) on 2006 models.

The new rules do not apply to passenger cars, which are already required to meet a 27.5-mile-per-gallon (11.7-kilometer-per-liter) average.

Environmental groups and advocates for more efficient vehicles say the changes will do little to wean the U.S. off of foreign oil, a goal outlined by President Bush this January in his State of the Union address.

"This is about the most minuscule thing they could possibly do and claim credit," said Daniel Kammen, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.

Not Keeping Up

According to Kammen, the new fuel efficiency standards barely keep up with new fuel-efficient technologies such as hybrid engines, which use a mix of electricity and gasoline to power cars.

Using such technologies with clean-burning ethanol—an alternative fuel derived from agricultural crops and waste—may soon reach efficiencies of at least 100 miles per gallon (42.5 kilometers per liter), he said.

Kammen hoped the new fuel economy standards would spur U.S. automakers to adopt fuel-efficient technologies. But he said the new rules are likely too little too late.

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