Going the extra mile ...

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AUTOMOTIVE TECHNOLOGY reaches new heights all the time, yet the fuel economy standard for passenger cars -- 27.5 miles per gallon -- is the same as it was 30 years ago. Backward as that is, congressional negotiators hammering out the woeful energy bill have killed two amendments that would have required a measly one extra mile per gallon each year over several years.

Existing technology could bring auto fuel economy close to 45 mpg on average. It would add a couple of thousand dollars to the cost of a car, which is why automakers have been resisting it. That’s outmoded thinking. When gas was a dollar a gallon, consumers might have looked askance at the higher sticker prices. At upward of $2.50 a gallon, fuel economy is again a selling point that Detroit hasn’t fully recognized. And the extra cost would decline with time.

At a minimum, negotiators could have agreed on more humble fuel economy gains. Even the most modest improvements would make a significant dent in national energy consumption. A few miles extra per gallon would save more oil than is thought to lie beneath the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.


At this point, it is up to President Bush to make it happen. The administration is set to announce new fuel standards for SUVs and other light trucks in August. Those vehicles make up slightly more than half of new car sales to consumers, and under current rules their average gas mileage must be brought to only 22.2 mpg by 2007.

Bush administration officials have hinted in recent months that they are ready to reconsider fuel standards for passenger cars as well. Given the failures of Congress, Bush is the last chance for fuel economy sanity.