DETROIT - A key Big 3 executive has ventured to estimate where federal fuel economy standards are headed - to about 22.5 mpg for light trucks by 2008.
The estimate came from John Goodman, fuel economy implementation manager for Ford Motor Co. He made it after an appearance in an automotive and petroleum industry forum Tuesday, April 9, in Dearborn, Mich.
Goodman's estimate of where regulators will set the standard is about 9 percent higher than the existing 20.7 mpg for light trucks but well short of the level that environmental groups say automakers are capable of reaching.
Goodman emphasized the estimate is his own and not Ford's. But he has extensive experience on fuel economy issues. He also shares responsibility for meeting the company's goal of improving sport-utility fuel economy by 25 percent over five years, made in 2000 by former CEO Jacques Nasser.
Since that promise, automakers have resisted using figures out of concern that regulators or lawmakers will seek standards higher than whatever number the companies expect or what they say they can achieve.
The resistance has sometimes reached extreme levels. At a Senate hearing in January, Greg Dana, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, declined to answer when asked if automakers could improve fuel economy by even 1 mpg over 10 years.
Subsequently, the Senate considered but rejected a proposal to boost corporate average fuel economy standards, or CAFE, for vehicles by 50 percent in a decade.
Instead, the Senate added to a comprehensive energy bill a requirement that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration set standards within two years or Congress will take the job back. That bill is pending in the Senate.
In the meantime, NHTSA has given notice that it intends to use rule-making authority to set new light-truck standards for the 2005-10 model years.
Goodman expects Congress to further revise the energy bill so that NHTSA has a clearer indication of the CAFE increases lawmakers want. He believes government will boost CAFE more for light trucks than cars, for which the standard is 27.5 mpg.
Goodman said automakers can achieve "moderate" improvements in fuel economy without altering vehicle performance significantly. The gains would require technology, which adds cost, but because of intense competition, automakers probably will not pass the cost to customers, he added.