The European Union is moving toward mandatory standards that will replace voluntary targets for limiting vehicle greenhouse-gas emissions. That's because most automakers are likely to miss the targets by the 2008-09 deadlines.
Those targets would produce fleet fuel economy equivalent to more than 40 mpg, according to a study done for the nonprofit Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
Japan already has rules requiring fleet fuel economy equivalent to more than 45 mpg, the study says. And China's rules will require the equivalent of about 37 mpg by 2008.
Because fuel prices are higher in Europe and Asia, the argument goes, motorists there are more willing to accept the kinds of vehicles that use less fuel.
In any case, the United States - which began lamenting its dependence on imported oil in the 1970s - is trailing the pack in fuel economy.
And the United States, with a truck standard this year of 22.2 mpg and a car standard of 27.5 mpg, would remain behind even if the federal government were to adopt increases of 4 percent a year through 2017, as suggested by President Bush last month in his State of the Union speech.
In the book accompanying An Inconvenient Truth, his documentary on global warming, former Vice President Al Gore engages in some taunting hyperbole:
"We're told that we have to protect our automobile companies from competition in places like China, where, it is said, their leaders don't care about the environment.
"In fact, Chinese emissions standards have been raised and already far exceed our own. Ironically, we cannot sell cars made in America to China because we don't meet their environmental standards."
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