New push for higher mpg makes the Saudis nervous

Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News.

In case you missed this bit of news over the past weekend, Saudi Arabia is very, very concerned about the auto industry’s technology breakthroughs. In particular, the Herculean efforts by American and European auto industry to reduce gasoline consumption drastically.

Those hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles apparently are scaring the royal family. And so is President Obama’s corporate average fuel economy and emissions proposal, which is aimed at boosting dramatically the fuel economy of future vehicles.

Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal appeared Sunday on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” on cnn.com. You can read about the interview at autonews.com/saudiprince.

During an interview, Al-Waleed said the price of oil should be in the neighborhood of $70 to $80 a barrel. Today it’s trading around $102 a barrel.

"We don't want the West to go and find alternatives, because, clearly, the higher the price of oil goes, the more they have incentives to go and find alternatives," Al-Waleed said on the CNN program.

I guess the news finally reached Saudi Arabia that Obama is serious about this petroleum issue. As I have mentioned in previous stories and blogs, new federal fuel economy and emissions rules took effect Jan. 1 that require automakers to achieve a corporate average fuel economy of 35.5 mpg by the 2016 model year.

Additionally, automakers and regulators are debating a tougher proposal initiated by Obama last October. That plan calls for a CAFE range of 47 mpg to 62 mpg by the 2025 model year. A decision will be announced at the end of 2012.

Why is Al-Waleed concerned?

It could be that with lower petroleum consumption in the coming decades he will be required to make a lifestyle change -- gosh, even downsize.

After all, according to Forbes, he’s only the 26th-richest man in the world.

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