Automakers agreed Thursday to revise their resistance to federal gas mileage standards, focusing instead on promoting incentives to buyers of fuel-efficient, high-tech vehicles.
Industry representatives said Thursday they would support the
kind of credit proposed last year by Energy Secretary Spence
Abraham and Attorney General John Ashcroft while they were in the
Senate. The proposal called for as much as $3,000 for
gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles and $4,000 for those powered by
fuel cells, which make electricity in a chemical reaction with
little or no pollution.
Environmental and safety advocates said they would not support
the credits unless they led to significant reductions in emissions.
Jason Mark, director of the clean vehicles program for the
Union of Concerned Scientists, noted that "Tax incentives are a way to get
new technology on the road, but they are not a way to get the fleet
to better fuel economy."
For the past six years, the industry successfully lobbied
Congress to stop the Clinton administration from even studying
whether the government should require vehicles to go farther on a
gallon of gas. The new focus on the tax credit was reached during a
private meeting in Washington attended by representatives of 13
Carmakers say the market should determine fuel economy. They
also contend that the government standards are costly and force the
industry to sacrifice safety to gain mileage.
Automakers remain opposed to the standards but will no longer
fight for a freeze, said Gloria Bergquist, spokeswoman for the
Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
She said the industry will work with the National Academy of
Sciences as it studies fuel economy and prepares a report due to
Congress by July 1.
Environmentalists said lifting the freeze would be an important
step toward reducing emissions. But they noted that President Bush
said during the campaign that he thought current standards were
A White House spokesman said the president is waiting for the
academy's study and a report by an energy policy task force he
formed before taking a position on the standards.
The standards, unchanged since 1975, are set at 27.5 miles per
gallon on new passenger cars and 20.7 mpg for light trucks,
including pickups, minivans and sport utility vehicles. The
automakers do not have to meet the standard for each vehicle but
for their entire fleet.
The Ashcroft-Abraham plan supported by the industry was not tied
to performance, so that a hybrid vehicle with only a small
improvement in gas mileage would still qualify.
The Associated Press contributed to this report