Sport Utility Vehicles and Transportation

As vehicles on the road swell in number and size, a game of name-calling has ensued between environmentalists and the automotive industry. Both parties -- established adversaries -- accuse the other of playing "chicken little." On the one hand, automakers say environmentalists' dire predictions of global warming and charges of a dangerous addiction to a finite supply of oil are akin to saying "the sky is falling." Environmentalists counter by accusing the automakers of virtually the same thing: saying enviornmental regulations would devastate the industry. And consumers, caught in the middle, are ducking responsibility. The debate rages, in part, due to the soaring popularity of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and light trucks which now account for half of all new vehicles sold in the United States.

"We used to wonder when the SUV fad would peak," Martin Inglis of Ford Motor Company told the University of Michigan Automotive Conference in August 2000. "SUVs are not a fad; they are a deep-rooted trend." Indeed, SUVs have solidified a place in American culture, replacing the station wagon as the icon of suburbia and further cementing a dependence on oil. What has led to the preponderance of inflated vehicles clogging America's roads? Many point to Congressional hostility to modifying the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards established in 1975. These standards -- 27.5 mpg for cars and 20.7 mpg for light trucks -- were set in reponse to the oil crises of the 1970s. CAFE standards doubled the fuel economy of the nation's vehicles between 1975 and 1989 but have been stagnant since, creating what many call an SUV loophole.

The insatiable appetite of SUVS and light trucks and vans has sent the average fuel economy of new vehicles -- 23.8 mpg -- to its lowest level since 1980. Today's cars do go 50 percent farther per gallon of gas than in 1970, but vehicle miles have increased 90 percent since that time. Environmentalists want to raise CAFE standards -- to 45 mpg for cars and 34 mpg for light trucks -- arguing that higher mileage vehicles emit less carbon dioxide and guzzle less gas. Groups such as the Coalition for Vehicle Choice (CVC) continue to advocate for a freeze on CAFE standards to protect safety and consumer choice. Some auto manufacturers are taking fuel economy matters into their own hands. Last summer Ford pledged to increase by 25 percent the fuel economy of its SUV fleet in the United States by 2005 as part of the "Cleaner, Safer, Sooner" campaign.

You may be wondering if driving an SUV really makes a difference. According to the Sierra Club, drivers who switch from an average new car to a 13-mpg vehicle such as the Ford Excursion will use more energy in one year than leaving a color television set on for 28 years. If that doesn't matter to you, consider the following estimate from the Natural Resources Defense Council: switching from a 20-mpg vehicle to a 40-mpg vehicle will save $3,000 in fuel costs over the lifetime of that vehicle.


Check out the Sierra Club's Report on SUVs and Global Warming.

Environmental Media Services provides a great SUV facts page and links to information on gas prices and fuel efficiency.

See what the Coalition for Vehicle Choice has to say about cars and light trucks.

Go to the United States Council for Automotive Research site, the umbrella organization for DaimlerChrysler, Ford, and General Motors.

Go directly to the U.S.C.A.R. Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles information page.

Or try the official government site for the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles.

Learn about the Ecology Center's Auto Project.

Visit the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers site.

Read about the Clean Car Campaign as well as the Clean Car Pledge and Clean Car Standard.

Find and compare the fuel economy (miles per gallon) of new cars and light trucks at the Federal Fuel Economy Site.

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