* Proposal would set a 54.5 mpg target for automakers
* Consumers would save at pump, but pay more for cars
* Congress scrutinizing plan, impact not clear
By John Crawley
WASHINGTON, Nov 16 The Obama administration
proposed on Wednesday doubling auto fuel efficiency to 54.5
miles per gallon by 2025, a White House energy priority that
has come under scrutiny in Congress.
The plan grew out an uneasy agreement last spring between
the administration, automakers and environmental groups to
reduce U.S. dependence on oil imports and cut tailpipe
Regulators hope to finalize the proposal by summer
following a 60-day public comment period. The administration
wants to give industry five years to further develop
fuel-saving technologies and plan products before the rule
would start taking effect in 2017.
"We expect this program will not only save consumers money,
it will ensure automakers have the regulatory certainty they
need to make key decisions," Transportation Secretary Ray
LaHood said in a statement.
Current standards require automakers to raise efficiency
from 27 mpg today to 35.4 mpg by 2016.
Targets beginning in 2017 would require a 5 percent annual
fuel efficiency improvement for cars and yearly gains of 3.5 to
5 percent for light trucks, which include SUVs, pickups and
Thirteen major automakers, including General Motors Co , Ford Motor Co , Fiat SpA affiliate
Chrysler Group LLC, Toyota Motor Corp and Honda Motor
Co Ltd , have signed onto the fuel deal.
President Barack Obama has made auto fuel efficiency a
signature environmental and energy priority since cars and
trucks account for 20 percent of carbon emissions and more than
40 percent of U.S. oil consumption.
But the role of federal environmental regulators and the
state of California -- a leader in efforts to reduce emissions
-- in developing auto standards has rankled the Republican-led
House of Representatives.
Republican members of the Oversight Committee, who are
scrutinizing Obama's "green economy" agenda, have challenged
administration assumptions on who can regulate gas mileage and
emissions under federal law.
It is unclear whether the panel's investigation would slow
or derail the regulation, especially should Obama fail to be
reelected next November.
Automakers -- especially truck-heavy U.S. vehicle producers
-- consider the 54.5 mpg target ambitious and would rely on
numerous conventional engine, transmission and component
technologies and lighter vehicle designs to meet it even though
Obama is pushing electric car development.
Fuel efficiency improvements would save consumers an
average of up to $6,600 in fuel costs over the lifetime of a
model year 2025, but they would pay up to $2,200 on average for
more fuel efficient vehicles, according to the proposal.
Because the regulation looks more than a decade into the
future and automakers are pursuing a number of approaches to
save fuel and reduce emissions, a mid-point review is required
to determine whether the standards should be changed.