WASHINGTON Congressional allies of major automakers put forward a proposal on Thursday challenging the leading Senate plan to force the industry to make vehicles that go significantly further on a gallon of gasoline.
The bipartisan alternative offered by Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, and Christopher Bond, a Missouri Republican, would require cars, sports utilities and pickups to get better mileage over time, but is weaker than the chief plan approved by the Commerce Committee in May.
Financially struggling carmakers, including General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., and Chrysler Group, have lobbied fiercely against the commerce measure, arguing that it would break their backs.
Environmentalists, some major companies outside auto industry and the Bush administration believe tough efficiency measures are the most effective and fastest way for the nation to reduce gasoline consumption and cut dependence on oil imports.
The commerce bill would raise fuel standards for all vehicles by 10 miles per gallon over 10 years -- from an average of 25 mpg now to 35 mpg by model year 2020.
Automakers would have to achieve additional gains of 4 percent annually until 2030. It would also mandate fuel standards for trucks for the first time and, according to proponents, cut tailpipe emissions by 18 percent.
The Levin/Bond plan would require passenger cars get at least 36 mpg by 2022 and SUVs, pickups and vans achieve 30 mpg by 2025.
Unlike the Commerce Department proposal, the Levin/Bond plan does not include provisions or "off ramps" to allow industry to escape efficiency targets if the technology was not feasible or too expensive. The Levin/Bond proposal also does not include standards for trucks.
The Senate is expected to vote on the alternate proposal next week.
The Levin/Bond plan would also set targets for production of gasoline/electric hybrids and a range of gasoline alternatives, like ethanol, biodiesel. It also would increase funding for research and development of advanced batteries for electric cars and hydrogen fuel cells.
The commerce proposal also provides funding for fuel saving technologies.
The leading trade group for Detroit automakers, Japan's Toyota Motor Corp. and other companies said the Levin/Bond proposal was "tough on industry." The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers called the commerce plan "wildly extreme."
The House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee is working on a fuel efficiency mandate as part of climate change legislation.