Automakers Push Fuel Economy Bill Harder

By: Anthony Fontanelle

Automakers are strengthening their lobbying efforts ahead of a House debate on fuel economy standards, which is expected this fall. After failing to stop a Senate bill passed in June that would significantly increase efficiency standards, automakers are exerting more rigorous efforts to ease fuel economy demands.

In a pair of e-mails sent last week, the Chrysler Group urged employees and dealers to support an alternative fuel economy bill in the House. The automaker also prods the elected officials to do the same especially at Fourth of July events.

"If you see or visit your Representative this week for an Independence Day Parade or other event, ask him/her to support and co-sponsor H.R. 2927, the Terry-Hill bipartisan fuel economy bill," John Bozzella, Chrysler's vice president for external affairs and public policy, wrote in a Tuesday e-mail.

U.S. Reps. Baron Hill, D-Ind., and Lee Terry, R-Neb., have proposed raising corporate average fuel economy standards to 35 mpg for passenger cars by 2022 and 32 mpg for light trucks by 2022.

The Senate bill would increase CAFE standards to an average 35 mpg by 2020 for cars and trucks combined. "The Senate bill undermines several longstanding elements of the CAFE program that balance increasing standards with safety, consumer choice and the continued viability of automobile manufacturing," Steven Landry, Chrysler's executive vice president for sales and marketing, wrote to dealers. "This was obviously not the result we wanted."

Another proposal to the Terry-Hill legislation by U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., would require automakers to meet the combined 35 mpg standard by 2018. The Senate and Markey bills make domestic automakers spend at least $85 billion, adding as much as $5,000 to the cost of every vehicle. The mandates could also compel automakers to discontinue selling the largest vehicles, minimize the power of engines and build more hybrids.
Automakers and the United Auto Workers union have endorsed the Terry-Hill proposal, which is more stringent than an alternative, promoted by Michigan's senators and others, that failed in the Senate. "The Hill-Terry bill calls for fuel economy standards that are very challenging, and would require the entire industry to make a giant leap forward," Bozzella said Friday. "However, most importantly, the bill respects the functional differences between passenger cars and light trucks, which is critical to our company and to our customers."

Automakers initiatives are accelerating without the aid of . General Motors Corp. spokesman Greg A. Martin said the company also planned to communicate with its dealers, suppliers and employees "about the implications of extreme CAFE measures." The Detroit automaker also is planning to bring dealers to Capitol Hill. Also, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is considering another advertising campaign on fuel economy, but with a more positive message, officials said.

"We've put together some talking points and explanation to our dealers about what we feel is the best solution," Toyota Motor Corp. spokeswoman Martha Voss said Friday. "The (Terry-Hill bill) is the best chance for us to achieve a reasonable achievable fuel economy standard that moves us closer to energy security." Voss added Toyota was considering bringing company officials and dealers to Capitol Hill to urge them to support the alternative.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not ruled out considering fuel economy legislation as part of a package of energy measures expected to be considered the week of July 16. But U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, wants to wait until September, and that seems more likely, officials said. It is not apparent whether the Markey or Terry-Hill bills or a different bill will materialize.

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