WASHINGTON - Despite growing demand for bigger vehicles with more power and features, average fuel economy for both cars and light trucks edged up slightly in 1998, a new federal report says.
The report, to be made public by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration this week, also shows that Mercedes-Benz of North America Inc. and BMW of North America Inc. paid fines of nearly $12 million each for missing fuel economy standards in 1997.
Other significant 1997 fines were paid by the makers of Volvo, $5.2 million; Land Rover, $4.2 million; and Porsche, $2.5 million. Fines are calculated at the rate of $5.50 for each 0.1 mpg off the standard, multiplied by the number of vehicles sold. For example, a company selling 1 million vehicles that average 0.1 mpg less than the standards would owe $5.5 million.
All U.S.-based manufacturers continued to avoid penalties, even though some occasionally fell short of the standards. Ford Motor Co. and the former Chrysler Corp. both missed the truck standard in 1998, for example, the report says.
However, companies are able to claim credit for exceeding standards for as many as three years in the past and for promising fuel-saving steps for as many as three years in the future.
Car fleets are required to average at least 27.5 mpg, and the standard for trucks below 8,500 pounds gross vehicle weight is 20.7 mpg. At the request of automakers, Congress has frozen the standards at those levels for four straight years.
In 1998, corporate average fuel economy - or CAFE - numbers for Ford and Mazda North American Operations were combined for the first time. Ford increased its stake in Mazda to a controlling interest in 1997.
Ford and Mazda's 1998 joint car CAFE number was 27.6 mpg. The year before, without Mazda cars, Ford's average was 27.2 mpg, a bit short of the requirement.
All 1998 cars, domestic and imported, averaged 28.7 mpg, up 0.1. Trucks averaged 20.9 mpg, up 0.5.
Despite the increases, the 1998 averages still lag historical highs. Cars were at 28.8 mpg in 1988. Trucks hit 21.7 mpg in 1987.