Sport utility vehicle sleight-of-hand
provided by the Sierra Club
he increasingly popular sport utility vehicles and light trucks are starting to cause problems for the auto makers and our environment according to a 4/3/98 New York Times article. The auto makers are scrambling to meet the fuel economy standards set forth by the federal government.
Congress passed current Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards in 1975, and they require that new cars average 27.5 miles per gallon and light trucks average 20.7 m.p.g. Since CAFE is an average standard, auto makers can produce vehicles which fail to meet the standard, as long as enough vehicles exceed the standard to balance it out.
While chasing profits with gas guzzlers, the Big 3 have backed themselves into an environmental corner. According to Keith Bradsher, "The popularity of big sport utilities and pickups that manage only 15 miles or less per gallon has created serious problems for the Big Three auto makers." Both Ford and Chrysler are close to falling below the federal guidelines and will be required to pay a fine of "$5 per vehicle for every tenth of a mile per gallon that a company's average fuel economy falls below the standard." For GM this could mean close to $10 million dollars, although this is next to nothing compared with last year's sales of approximately $200 billion.
Auto makers are trying to squeeze out of this jam, but not by doing the right thing. So that they do not count against GM's 1998 CAFE averages, the company is declaring that gas guzzlers built after January 31 are actually 1999 models. This raises the fleet-wide average mile for GM's light trucks, and on paper it looks like they are not violating CAFE standards. In addition, GM strengthened the suspension on some of the smaller Surburbans and made them heavier so heavy that they are no longer classified as light trucks.
The Big Three may be avoiding the fines that SUV may generate, but they are not avoiding the cost to our environment.