SEMA eNews Vol. 10, No. 20, May 17, 2007

U.S. SENATE COMMITTEE APPROVES CAFE HIKE

The Senate Commerce Committee approved legislation (S. 357) to dramatically raise the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. If enacted into law, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would be required to increase the combined CAFE standards for passenger cars and light trucks by 4% a year. The current standard is 27.5 miles per gallon for cars and 21.6 miles per gallon for light trucks. The combined average would jump from 25 mpg to 35 mpg by 2019. NHTSA would retain authority to restructure the CAFE program in a manner which achieves maximum fuel savings while still ensuring the safety and stability of the automotive industry. The full Senate is expected to take up the bill this summer. The House of Representatives has not yet tackled CAFE legislation.

Prior to the Committee vote, SEMA sent a letter to members of the Senate Commerce Committee urging Congress to let NHTSA determine achievable CAFE standards. SEMA believes the NHTSA, rather than Congress, has better expertise in establishing the CAFE standards that take into account the impact on jobs, safety, consumer choice and technological feasibility. 

The Senate legislation also contains several unrelated safety measures. One would require the NHTSA to issue a vehicle compatibility standard to restrict the height differences between light trucks/SUVs and passenger cars. SEMA argued that this is unnecessary since the auto industry is already redesigning vehicles to address the issue. 

Lawmakers also included a requirement that the NHTSA establish a tire fuel-efficiency program. It would be a point-of-sale initiative which provides buyers with information about a tire’s fuel efficiency based on a rating system. Information provided to the potential customer would also stress the importance of maintaining proper tire inflation pressure. The legislation is similar to a law passed in California three years ago that includes a SEMA provision exempting limited-production tires (15,000 or less annually) and other specialized tires from the program. (California officials are expected to begin implementing regulations later this year.)  Although SEMA has been reluctant to focus consumer attention on tire fuel efficiency since it may distract motorists from more important safety issues such as tire pressure, performance and handling, the legislation is preferable to other Congressional proposals that would mandate onerous tire testing and labeling rules without providing any meaningful consumer benefits. The federal legislation would also have the benefit of establishing a national consumer education program on tire fuel efficiency rather than state-by-state rules. For more information, contact Stuart Gosswein at stuartg@sema.org.

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