Will Loopholes in Obama’s Much-Heralded Fuel Standards Bring Back SUVs?

Mike Licht, Notions Capital via Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Most greens are pretty happy with the deal that Obama brokered with the auto industry to enact tough new fuel efficiency standards on cars from 2017 and beyond. The standards will effectively double the fuel efficiency of light vehicles on the road today, greatly reducing smog and greenhouse gas emissions.

But some groups remain concerned that because the standards only target light vehicles, the auto industry may again turn to promoting still-more-lucrative SUVs and pickup trucks.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, for example, largely applauded the Obama administration’s new standards, but issued the following warning:

Standards for the largest trucks, meanwhile, don’t increase in the first year of the program and remain almost stagnant through 2021. As proposed, the standards will give automakers a perverse incentive to sell more large vehicles and increase the size of previously smaller ones to qualify for weaker standards. The same kind of incentives helped drive the development of egregious gas guzzlers such as the now-defunct Hummer.
It seems doubtful that the U.S. auto industry would return to the disastrous business model that almost bankrupted them just a few years ago -- and rising oil prices alone will give them incentive to focus on smaller, more fuel efficient cars. But it’s certainly worth acknowledging the possibility, and making sure efficiency incentives are being properly applied.

The last thing we need right now, after all, is a redux of the SUV bonanza of the 90s, or, god forbid, the return of the Hummer.

Tags: Barack Obama | Fuel Efficiency | Transportation

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