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Kerry vows to up US fuel economy

US democratic presidential nominee John Kerry is pledging to lobby for higher fuel economy standards if he wins power in the November elections – but Europe still leads the way for green transport.

Kerry wants to increase the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements for vehicles in the US. He wants the average mpg on vehicles to reach 36mpg by 2015, a 50% increase on current US limits.

Under current CAFE standards, vehicles must average 27.5mpg, but manufacturers know how to work around these rules, experts claim.

To meet buyer demand, they build thirsty, heavy SUVs. They then offset the low fuel economy by producing large numbers of small cars, which raise the average fuel economy of vehicles produced.

However, popular opinion suggests that by doing this they are producing large numbers of cars people don’t want. Any changes in fuel requirements would be certain to put more pressure on General Motors and the Ford Motor Company, two of the US’s largest vehicle producers.

Toyota and Honda already produce hybrid vehicles in the US and Toyota is planning to have 300,000 hybrid vehicles on the road worldwide by the middle of this decade.

Any changes to fuel economy in the US could spur some of the world’s largest motor manufacturers to opt for a greener stance, but even major changes are unlikely to meet the green standards set by European fleets.

The problem seems to be that Americans love big cars, such as the Hummer and off-roaders, don’t like diesels and generally avoid small engines. The biggest selling vehicle in America is the Ford F150, a large pick-up truck.

Kerry has been a leading campaigner for forcing manufacturers to improve their fuel efficiency.

Speaking to US journalists earlier this month, he said: ‘We are open to working with the auto industry in order to find a reasonable standard over a reasonable period of time.’

Standards on mpg were last raised in the US in the 1980s and on his pre-election website Kerry outlines the benefits of improving fuel economy.

He said: "The Government should be pursuing policies that provide greater fuel economy. A conversion tax credit will encourage automakers to convert existing facilities to the production of advanced technology vehicles that will have much higher fuel economy.

"Through these new technologies – hybrids, diesel, fuel cells – we can produce a new generation of automotive vehicles that have much higher fuel economy. This would lead to enormous benefits for our environment and reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil."

North America is the main advocate of hydrogen fuel and is the country where most work is being carried out on its development.

The US needs a hydrogen economy to avoid being fully dependent on Middle Eastern oil resources. If a new president is elected who is keen on hydrogen and willing to pump dollars into research, decent hydrogen models will emerge.

This could mean that the UK will have access to quality hydrogen vehicles sooner rather than later.

The opposing view...

George Bush’s view on fuel economy

  • He is proposing to increase average fuel economy by 1.5mpg to 32.5mpg by 2007
  • He says he will plough $1.2 billion into research funding for hydrogen-powered vehicles
  • He is planning to introduce the ‘Clean Air Interstate Rule’ to slash emissions
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