Automakers Unveils $1m-worth Fuel Ads

By: Anthony Fontanelle

After being trounced in their effort to prevent a Senate fuel economy bill, Detroit's Big Three and the Toyota Motor Corp., are trying a gentler approach to lobby the Congress.

This summer the automakers unveiled aggressive ads that implied new fuel economy standards would keep soccer moms from hauling their kids in larger, safer cars and prevent truck owners from buying new pickups.

A $1 million print and radio ad campaign which strikes a far different tone has started Monday. "We don't have all the answers to questions about reasonable fuel economy standards. No one does. Together, we can find the answers America deserves," the campaign from the Automobile Manufacturers, which represents Detroit's Big Three, Toyota and other automakers.

The decision of unfolding a new approach comes after an exhaustive lobbying effort by the automakers failed to avoid a Senate bill passed in June that requires a 40 percent raise in corporate average fuel economy to 35 miles per gallon for cars and trucks combined by 2020. The said requirement could cost domestic automakers $85 billion.

The automakers are lobbying the House, which is set to tackle fuel economy this summer or in the fall. "We are the first to voice a mea culpa," Gloria Bergquist, the alliance's vice president, said Friday.

"CAFE has become a screaming match, and we are trying to move beyond the political rhetoric of rallies with dinosaur heads and TV actors testifying on technology. There are serious policy issues at stake here that will affect millions of jobs and the daily lives of consumers nationwide, and we need a serious dialogue," Bergquist noted.

Starting Monday, the campaign will be run in print and on web sites for Capitol Hill publications including Roll Call, National Journal, the Weekly Standard, The Hill, and The New Republic.

Starting Wednesday, the alliance will run radio ads on WTOP in Washington that feature queries like: "Will $6 a gallon make you shift?" or "What pump price puts you in a four-cylinder auto?" Both print ads are headlined: "America deserves answers" and will run at least through the August congressional recess.

One radio ad had two men discussing purchasing a pickup. "You might want to do that fast," one said, adding the new fuel standards are "going to really jack up the price." The second ad stressed that people could lose the ability to pick larger and safer vehicles if rules pass. A woman in the ad worries that "Automakers are going to be forced to build smaller and smaller cars."

The shows the end of pickups. Are the effects as grave as that? "It will not take your pickup truck away," Sen. Byron Dorgan told auto executives last month. "I think your position is yesterday forever." Meanwhile, environmentalists said that tougher standards would not cost consumers anything, eliminate jobs or force automakers to build smaller vehicles. They argued the benefits of lower gas prices outweigh the short-term vehicle price raises.

Automakers said that the facts do not bear that out. "Even if every auto sold was a hybrid and SUVs were eliminated, the auto industry still could not achieve a combined 35 mpg in the time frame directed by the Senate Energy bill," Bergquist said. "Eliminating all SUVs from the market only raises the fleet fuel economy by about one mpg."

About 100 dealerships from the Big Three and Toyota were on Capitol Hill Monday and Tuesday to seek support for a new legislation proposed by Reps. Baron Hill, D-Ind., and Lee Terry, R-Neb., which would increase requirements to up to 35 mpg by 2022, and a minimum of 32 mpg for vehicles.

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