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BMW Calls for Single Fuel-Economy Standard

"Predictability," a sentiment not embraced often by the chairman of one of the world's most exciting automakers, was à la mode yesterday. During his keynote address to open the Washington Auto Show yesterday, Tom Purves, Chairman and CEO of BMW USA, called for predictability and consistency in U.S. fuel economy standards.

"There should be only one national authority on fuel economy standards," he said. Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, currently set by NHTSA, are a "blunt instrument" for controlling vehicles' fuel economy.

"Can you imagine each state with different fuel economy standards?" he asked, referring to several recent state laws to regulate emissions standards, and subsequently, fuel economy. At the end of the day, fuel economy standards should reflect consumer's wishes, and they want a national standard, too. "Just imagine the consumer who buys a car in one state and then finds that he cannot sell it in another just because of different CAFE standards."

Not only do consumers want national fuel economy standards, they want more fuel efficient vehicles too, said Purves.

"More than ever, consumers care about safety and the environment," he said. And that concern for the environment ? and their wallets ? is translating into concern for fuel efficiency.

BMW's U.S. fleet's fuel economy has improved 25 percent over the last 10 years ? and BMW is not a company to sacrifice a responsive, luxurious ride for the sake of a few more miles on one less gallon.

BMW has responded to growing consumer pressure for more fuel efficient vehicle by investing heavily in improving its fleet's fuel efficiency.

"Despite advances in hybrid, hydrogen, and diesel technologies, there is still much further to go on internal combustion engines," Purves said. "And BMW has been able to develop internal combustion engines that rival hybrids" in terms of fuel efficiency.

Why spend so much money on a relatively old technology? Because it works. The German automaker's basic premise seems to be: "Don't throw away 100 years of R&D on internal combustion engines, but do explore alternatives."

Moreover, with a handful of alternative fuel technologies juggling to take the dominant position, hedging bets and simply improving the current most popular technology is a wise strategy. That said, BMW also took a risk and has invested millions in developing its Clean Energy hydrogen engine technology, which adapts internal combustion engines to run on hydrogen. The automaker is projecting that by 2020, one-quarter of all globally registered vehicles will run on hydrogen.

Not all of Purves's remarks were geared towards the future of vehicles' energy use. Purves also touched on the automaker's investments and safety improvements.

"Despite all the improvements in safety features, the single most important safety feature remains the seatbelt," said Purves. "Of course, the best way to reduce accidents and fatalities is to not have accidents in the first place."

The solution: BMW's latest braking technology, which senses abrupt movement off of the accelerator and automatically applies the brakes before being depressed, "saving vital milliseconds."

The U.S. has played a major role in the rise of BMW to its highest global sales ever. BMW has invested $2.3 billion in its U.S manufacturing facility in Spartanburg, South Carolina, which produces the Z4 roadster and the X5 SUV. "Thus, it may not be a surprise that BMW is the largest exporter from any single U.S. plant to non-NAFTA countries," remarked Purves.

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