Obama Tightens Car Gas Standards, Targets Big Trucks

President Barack Obama directed the government to start work on raising fuel-efficiency standards for cars and, for the first time, large trucks, in an effort to curb pollution and reduce oil imports.

The higher standards for cars and other light vehicles, including pickups and sport utilities, would start with 2017 models and run through 2025. The new medium- and heavy-truck standard would begin with 2014 products and extend to 2018. Obama hasn’t yet decided what the new targets will be.

“It’s possible in the next 20 years for vehicles to use half the fuel and produce half the pollution that they do today,” the president said at the White House. “That’s only going to happen if we are willing to do what’s necessary.”

Obama’s announcement helps give automakers such as General Motors Co. the certainty they say they need to plan vehicle requirements years in advance. Involvement of states, including California, in crafting the federal plan gives manufacturers assurances they won’t face a patchwork of rules.

“The federal government was responsive to our calls for a long-range national program,” Dave McCurdy, chief executive officer of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said in a statement. The Washington trade group’s members include GM, Chrysler Group LLC, Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp.

Obama’s goal of fuel-economy and greenhouse-gas standards for medium and heavy trucks is “incredibly significant,” said Brendan Bell, Washington representative for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based environmental group.

Big Trucks

The government has never set such targets for the big trucks, which make up only 4 percent of U.S. vehicles and account for 20 percent of the oil consumed in auto transportation, Bell said.

Today’s action follows an April 1 announcement setting rules to boost U.S. automobile fuel-economy standards by about 30 percent over the next six years. Manufacturers must achieve an average of 35.5 miles per gallon for 2016 model-year cars and light trucks, up from 27.3 mpg in 2011.

“We need to seize the momentum,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters on a conference call. ‘President Obama’s announcement today does just that.” LaHood’s department, along with the Environmental Protection Agency, will set the new requirements.

Setting Deadlines

A memorandum signed by Obama sets goals of July 30, 2011, for issuing a big-truck rule, and Sept. 30 for releasing a timeline and potential targets for new light-vehicle standards.

The memorandum also includes a push for developing electric-powered vehicles, and it requires the government to diversify the mix of fuels available, such as bio-fuels and natural gas.

The vehicle standards are part of the administration’s broader energy strategy, Obama said. The oil spill from a damaged BP Plc well in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrates the need for developing alternative sources of energy, he said.

“We know that our dependence on foreign oil endangers our security and our economy,” Obama said. “The disaster in the gulf only underscores that even as we pursue domestic production to reduce our reliance on imported oil, our long-term security depends on the development of alternative sources of fuel and new transportation technologies.”

The president was joined at today’s announcement by executives from truck manufacturers, including Navistar International Corp. and Daimler Trucks North America LLC, environmentalists, members of Congress and labor leaders.

Car and truck makers endorse the effort for uniform requirements after California and 13 other states in recent years planned to impose a patchwork of state-specific greenhouse-gas limits.

“A year ago, automakers faced a regulatory maze,” McCurdy’s statement said. “By starting this process, we are clearing a single path to 2025.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Roger Runningen in Washington at rrunningen@bloomberg.net John Hughes in Washington at jhughes5@bloomberg.net.

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