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Washington Watch

Keeping Up With The Chinese?

Ask Your Senator To Support Higher Fuel Mileage Standards

This week, the Senate is likely to vote on the first improvements to vehicle mileage standards in more than two decades. The increase is long overdue and deserves the support of your Senators.

Congressional inaction on fuel economy has taken a heavy toll on both consumers and domestic automakers, which are losing market share partially because of their failure to meet rising demand for higher mileage vehicles.

At just above 25 miles per gallon, the average vehicle sold in the U.S. today is less efficient than it was 20 years ago. The Senate bill would raise standards to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, a target the National Academy of Sciences has found to be feasible, safe and cost-effective.

The auto industry, however, is pushing an alternative proposal that would weaken and delay those improvements, and create new loopholes that let automakers avoid the standards altogether. That's a formula for another two decades of falling market share and rising costs at the pump.

The Detroit automakers don’t want you to know a dirty little secret: they are already making vehicles that comply with European standards of 37.5 miles to the gallon. That’s not 37.5 miles in the year 2020. That’s 37.5 miles today.

They are also competing in the world’s second largest car market, China, where the current fuel standard is 30.2 miles per gallon and is scheduled to rise to 36 miles next year. Again, not in 2020, but in 2008.

So, Detroit doesn’t think Americans should keep up with the Chinese? It isn’t 1987 anymore. Apparently, the American automakers are committed to losing more sales to Toyota and Honda.

If this were only about the price of gasoline, maybe many consumers could shrug and adjust their budgets. But it’s about a lot more than that. It’s also about the risk to our economy from another spike in oil prices, the state of the environment, and national security. (Do you know what Middle Eastern oil barons are doing with your gas money?)

It’s also about the United States competing in a “flat” world. A few years after Toyota pioneered hybrid vehicles--yet before Detroit had produced even one--I told a Toyota rep of my surprise at the U.S. lagging Japan. He informed me that Toyota had just sold its first generation hybrid technology to Ford. Then he winked and laughed.

If globalization isn’t going to undermine US standards of living, don’t we have to be the technological leader in most major industries? Tell your Senators to demonstrate that you don’t want to see America made the subject of ridicule--or dead-end economics--by supporting higher mileage standards.