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Rewards for Pollution (1999)

In the past, we've written about the goofy American CAFE rules - the ones which set acceptable fuel economy standards for cars and trucks sold in the US. Briefly, automakers must ensure that all the cars they sell have an average gas mileage of 27.5 mpg (combined city/highway), and that all the light trucks have an average gas mileage of 20.5 mpg. We thought that was foolish enough, because it only encourages the sale of light trucks, which generally get at most 27 mpg on the highway, at the expense of cars. As a reminder, here are the advantages of having a nation driving cars rather than light trucks:

Do we need to say that if there was a single, unified CAFE standard, say of 25 mpg for all vehicles sold, that there would be more cars on the road and fewer trucks?

Recently, when testing out heavy duty trucks for a magazine article, we learned something that amazed us. Even though light truck fuel standards are lax enough as it is, many of the light trucks you see on the road are exempt from any kind of fuel economy standards. Here are some examples:

Pretty much any truck with a V-10 or diesel engine is exempt from any kind of gas mileage standards. Same goes for the largest GM V-8s. What's more, as a result of the way the government exempts vehicles based on payload, there have been reports that GM will quietly up the payload of its popular Yukon models so they are exempt from the CAFE regulations, which all three makers are in danger of violating. (In the past, violations have been irrelevant, as Reagan arranged to have the standards "rolled back" temporarily. However, it is considered to be a public relations no-no.)

That means that those who buy large trucks as commuter cars will not be subject to the same laws as those who buy smaller trucks, or even those who buy cars. Think that makes sense?

Meanwhile, some environmental organizations still don't get it. A couple of years ago, Sierra was suggesting a 40 mpg CAFE goal for cars. That would only encourage makers to emphasize the truck market even more than they are now. What we need is a single unified standard of 27.5 mpg for both cars and trucks, and for that standard to cover all readily available pickups and SUVs - much like California's CARB has finally agreed that pollution standards should be the same for light trucks, minivans, and cars, rather than giving minivans and light trucks an undeserved break.

As a nation, we cannot continue to squander our resources, and even to tap our national oil reserves just to keep gas prices down. It is "politically correct" to do whatever it takes to reduce gas prices, thereby artificially preventing inflation, but it is not smart.

Since this is Chrysler Central, let us bring in the benefits for drivers: smaller, better-handling cars with better acceleraton, better visibility on the road, and more time to spend behind the wheel before we suddenly discover that we do not have enough oil for both national security and the national pasttime of driving big cars and trucks.

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