WASHINGTON - Bush administration officials, trying to prepare for fresh transportation challenges, are hearing from automobile industry leaders about a persistent, time-worn problem: fuel-economy standards.
Three people with industry ties, who are among President Bush's transition advisers on transportation, all said they brought up the standards as a top issue for the new administration.
'Some government regulations are perceived as helping the consumer, but they really don't,' said Roger Williams, chairman of Roger Williams Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge-Jeep of Weatherford, Texas. 'You can't keep piling these restrictions on these vehicles.'
Williams, who worked on Bush's gubernatorial and presidential campaigns and considers him a friend and a customer, is on a 52-member panel advising the incoming administration on transportation issues.
Others include Josephine Cooper, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, and Diane Steed, president of the industry-supported Coalition for Vehicle Choice.
Cooper, representing 13 automakers, said she made these points:
Car companies are concerned about implementation of a new safety law, authorizing a raft of new rules from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The rules will require that tire and car companies produce far more safety data for regulators, and that vehicles be tested for rollover tendencies.
Automakers are installing advanced airbags in vehicles, but the rules requiring systems that adapt to different kinds of occupants and crashes will be reviewed soon by lawmakers.
Car companies favor a long-term answer to the fuel-economy question instead of yearly battles.
Steed, an outspoken critic of the 25-year-old fuel economy rules, known as CAFE, said she didn't make a specific recommendation to the administration but merely advised that CAFE is an issue it will face. Her personal objective is to prevent 'any substantial increase' in standards.
Despite industry support for alternatives, such as tax credits for advanced-technology vehicles, proponents of higher CAFE standards have been gaining ground in Congress, which remains in GOP hands but has more Democrats this session.
For six years, Congress and the Clinton administration froze the standards at 27.5 mpg for cars and 20.7 mpg for trucks, but in October they asked the National Academy of Sciences for a new study of the issue. A study panel, formed by the academy, will hold hearings today, Feb. 5 and Tuesday, Feb. 6. Completion of the study, set for July, will undoubtedly revive the CAFE debate.