Wed, Feb 28, 2001 EST
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Auto Industry Modifies Attitude Toward
Fuel Economy Standard

   Fox Market Wire
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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 automakers.

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 adequate.

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

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