Automakers are starting to make some noise about raising the bar on fuel economy.
Such a move may be long overdue.
The Corporate Average Fuel Economy law was passed by Congress in 1975 after considerable discussion.
I remember when Ed Cole, president of General Motors from 1967 to 1974, admitted that General Motors vehicles were getting about 12 mpg and that GM voluntarily was going to raise the level 50 percent during the next decade, to 18 mpg.
Congress, though, heard Cole's boast and raised his number another 50 percent to 27 mpg by 1984, a standard for cars that basically remains today.
Obviously, it's time to get realistic CAFE numbers for the half of the market that didn't exist 25 years ago.
No one had heard of a sport-utility or a minivan then, and pickup trucks were used by contractors and construction employees.
The idea that trucks someday would capture almost half the U.S. market would not have been believed.
But it's time to make sure that safety and CAFE are equalized for cars and trucks. (The truck CAFE standard is 20.7 mpg.)
The auto companies might have the right idea by creating some sort of carrot to encourage consumers to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles. CAFE and incentives might be the right combination to increase fuel economy.
The surprise is that anyone in Detroit will admit publicly that maybe raising the fuel-economy standards of vehicles is a good idea. For a long time, Detroit automakers lived in fear that if they suggested something might be a good idea, the U.S. government would jump on the bandwagon and beat them over the head with an expanded agenda - not unlike what happened with Ed Cole.
Maybe the auto companies have more faith in the new administration. They understand that with a White House chief of staff, Andrew Card, who understands the industry, the time is right for a modest change in attitude without fearing they will get hit over the head with their new ideas.
It's amazing that after eight years of the Clinton administration - when you would have thought that CAFE would be revisited - now there is movement in discussing the possibilities.
The auto industry should be applauded. Considering the many times it has found itself on the wrong end of a public relations program, it's refreshing to see a more progressive attitude. Let's hope it pays off for the automobile companies and the nation as well.