WASHINGTON — The federal government announced Friday that it does not plan to require 2004 model year light trucks — pickups, minivans and sport utility vehicles — go farther on a gallon of gas.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it has not had enough time to study the impact of a higher standard.
Congress, under pressure from the auto industry, has blocked the agency from studying an increase in fuel economy since 1996. Automakers have argued that a higher standard would result in a smaller vehicle fleet that is less safe.
The freeze on studying fuel economy standards was lifted last month when a new transportation spending bill was signed into law.
By law, NHTSA must issue a final rule establishing a fuel economy standard for 2004 model year light trucks by April 1. On Friday, NHTSA proposed a standard of 20.7 mpg, the same level that has been in effect since 1996.
The public has 30 days to comment on the proposal before a final rule is drafted.
NHTSA administrator Jeffrey Runge told a congressional panel last month not to expect a significant increase until at least the 2005 model year.
Corporate average fuel economy standards were set by Congress in 1975 at 27.5 miles per gallon for cars. A lower standard for light trucks was introduced in 1979.
Automakers do not have to meet the standard for every vehicle, but as an average for their entire fleet.
At the time, light trucks were a small part of the U.S. vehicle sales and used more for work purposes. Now, SUVs, pickups and minivans are about half of new vehicle sales and are mostly used as family vehicles.
The result is that the average fuel use of new passenger vehicles — both cars and light trucks — averages 24 mpg, the lowest level since 1980.
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