Auto fuel economy on the rise

The average prices in San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland are all up a fraction this Tuesday. It may come as some relief that the government ordered new fuel efficiency standards for all new cars and trucks sold in the U.S.

Cars on the road in the U.S. right now average 25 miles per gallon. New fuel efficiency standards signed into law in December require an improvement of 10 miles per gallon between 2010 and 2020.

Now, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters is proposing that at the halfway point, the year 2015, vehicles are more than halfway to that final goal. Her more aggressive rule would require an average of 31.5 miles per gallon in 2015, breaking down to 35.7 miles per gallon for passenger cars and 28.6 for light trucks.

Rod Diridon is the director of San Jose State's Mineta Transportation Insitutute. He says American car manufacturers can meet that goal.

"The technology is there. It's a matter of them coming forward now with that technology on a mass produced basis to bring the unit costs down so that the American public can buy what they want."

The 2015 standards will save consumers an estimated $100 billion in fuel costs, by saving 55 billion gallons of gas, while removing an estimated 521 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Diridon feels the U.S. has been lagging on preventing global warming.

"It's time for the U.S. to take a very aggressive position and the Secretary of Transportation has begun that process."

Diridon says the new standards will accelerate electric and hybrid technology and manufacturing. Many of those cars already meet or exceed future fuel efficiency goals.

So do small cars, like the Mercedes-Benz Smart Car.

At 108 inches and 1,800 pounds, the 3-cylinder 2-seater averages 36 mpg. Here, tougher fuel standards are good for business.

"It's good for everybody. It's not just good for the company. One of the reasons the car sells well is because a lot of people feel they need to do their part, save fuel, save energy, smaller carbon footprint as they say," says Smart Car spokesperson Bill Scott.

The plan is expected to be finalized by the end of President Bush's term in office.

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