At South Towne Motors in Atlanta, Adam Merlin sells everything from Hyundais to Hondas to Hummers. In the last few months, there's been a dramatic customer shift away from the gas guzzlers.
“The need hasn't changed for the big SUV,” Merlin says. “The issue is that people's pocketbooks have changed and they're not interested in spending the money for the fuel any more.”
Now, for the first time ever, the government is ordering light trucks, including SUVs, minivans and smaller pickups to comply with new gas mileage standards.
“Just by including the large vehicles,” explains U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, “we have increased fuel savings by 10 percent — more than 250 million gallons a year.”
By 2011, light trucks and pickups must average 24.1 miles per gallon, an increase of 1.8 miles per gallon from 2007 gallons.
But that’s only the average. The longer the distance between the front and rear axles, the lower the mileage requirement. The Honda CR-V will be required to get 27.4 miles per gallon by 2011, while the Ford Explorer can get buy with 25.2. The Jeep Wrangler will be required to get 28.3 miles per gallon, but the H2 Hummer will only have to show 22.3 and the Chevy Suburban will need to get 21.8.
Passenger cars will still be required to meet a 27.5 miles-per-gallon average.
But environmental groups complain the biggest gas guzzling pickups on the road are still exempt, and mileage standards for both cars and light trucks should be much tougher ’ 40 miles per gallon, not 24.
“What the president is proposing will only save two weeks of oil over a four year period of time, not very impressive.” saysDaniel Becker, the director of the Sierra Club's global warming program.
American automakers have opposed previous attempts to raise the standards, arguing they aren't fair. This time, they're going along.
“We are committed to being a part of the solution and we are already doing some things and we are going to keep doing more,” says Gloria Berquist of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
The new standards will add about $200 to the average stick price, but environmentalists wonder what the country is getting for the money.