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The Quest for the Fuel Efficient Car
Published on Friday, August 9, 2002 by CommonDreams.org
The Quest for the Fuel Efficient Car
by Ralph Nader
 

Once again the Congressional toadies for the auto industry have beaten back efforts by legislators such as Democrat, Senator John Kerry and Republican John McCain to gradually increase fuel efficiency standards from the abysmally wasteful levels now inflicted on your pocketbook. Instead of choosing the path of reduced pollution, consumer savings, efficiency of engines and less reliance on imported oil, these indentured lawmakers turned their back on automotive engineers who know how to do the job but are not allowed by their bosses.

The Sierra Club has decided to stop spinning its wheels on Capitol Hill and go directly to the people. In surveys of likely voters in Missouri and South Dakota, 79 percent of the people wanted the auto industry to be required to increase fuel efficiency and that included light truck owners. The voters do not buy the auto company propaganda that more fuel efficient vehicles means less safety. Sixty percent of these voters say they would pay more for a higher mileage vehicle in return for its much larger dollar savings.

Long time car owners know that fuel efficiency overall is no better than what vehicles did in 1980! They are wary of the sudden spikes in gasoline prices. They also know that the companies spend lots of money on engine hyper-performance rather than on engine hyper-efficiency. Despite massive advertising by the auto companies to the contrary, they do not believe them.

Bolstered by public opinion, the Sierra Club announced a three year campaign to pressure automakers to improve fuel economy. Executive Director, Carl Pope, said "The technology exists today to allow the automakers to continue offering their most popular models, but with significantly improved fuel economy. These new safe, fuel-saving SUVs and pickups could be on the shelf very soon." (see www.sierraclub.org for specific examples)

The Sierra Club is publicizing a "Freedom Option Package", which is a set of fuel-saving components that could be added to most standard models and that, taken together, could put the fleets of the Big Three on the road to 40 miles per gallon.

Dan Becker, the Club's Clean Energy director says that "Detroit wants to sell option packages featuring seat warmers and cup holders" instead. He is mobilizing the Club's 700,000 members across the country to hold events at local auto dealers. Becker has enlisted a prominent Chevrolet dealer, Chuck Frank in support of this initiative.

The Sierra Club, once enthralled by Bill Ford's environmental statements and assurances of major increases in Ford's SUV's is now so disappointed with his company's joining the other auto giants to lobby against fuel-efficiency laws that it has singled him and Ford Motor Company for special pressure by motorists.

Soon to come (September 17th) is the most jolting book against the auto company executives since Unsafe at Any Speed came out in 1965. I am referring to New York Times reporter, Keith Bradsher's devastating expose of the SUVs which he calls the world's most dangerous vehicles and how they got that way. Titled The High and Mighty, this book explains how the auto industry's grip on Congress got these SUVs (hoked-up, over-priced light truck) exempted form safety, fuel efficiency and pollution requirements that were imposed on automobiles. That was accomplished when these vehicles were a small percentage of overall sales. Now they are a large part of sales; they kill their occupants in roll overs three times the rate of cars; areuniquely dangerous to other motorists and will become more serious when drunks, teenagers, typically the worst drivers on the road, start buying the older used SUVs, Bradsher says.

With an impressive attention to detail and special documentation, Bradsher reports on the enormous advertising money ($10 billion spent since 1990) to deceive their customers and persuade Americans to switch from cars to the very profitable SUVs. While, he declares, "Gas-guzzling SUVs emit one-third more global-warming gases per mile than cars, and up to 5.5 times as much smog-causing nitrogen oxides per mile."

If the media grasps the importance of this book, September will be a hot month for the high and mighty in Detroit's executive suites. And long overdue.

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