DETROIT -- U.S. automakers, led by General Motors, have fired back at a federal proposal to raise fuel economy standards for trucks by 1.5 miles per gallon, claiming regulators overestimated the companies' ability to meet higher targets and that the costs of tougher rules outweigh the benefits.
In a 127-page filing with the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Friday, GM suggested that meeting the rules would cost it more than $1 billion, and could force it to cut weight from its trucks, a move GM has long argued would make them less safe.
"We believe that a more accurate assessment of our capabilities will show that the proposed standards are significantly too high," GM said in its comments.
In December, NHTSA proposed an increase in fuel economy standards for pickups, vans and SUVs, from 20.7 miles per gallon to 22.2 miles per gallon in model year 2007, starting with 21 mpg in model year 2005 and 21.6 in 2006. NHTSA chief Dr. Jeffrey Runge has said he would support even higher increases beyond 2007 to reduce dependence on imported oil, calling it an issue of national security.
The fuel economy proposal has garnered nearly 20,000 comments since December, many of them in support of higher standards. Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. told NHTSA they were in favor of the increase, while environmental groups have said the increases were not sufficient.
In its own analysis of automakers' confidential data, NHTSA found that GM's truck fleet would fail to meet the new standards by as much as 3 mpg, while Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler group would meet or be just below the standard.
But GM contends NHTSA's analysis was riddled with flaws, double-counting some improvements, skipping others and ignoring time and engineering constraints. In one case, GM said it didn't have a working version of a technology that NHTSA said it could use to improve fuel efficiency on several models in 2005.
"To develop such a design and apply it across the fleet would take many engineers and years of dedicated effort. Yet this is the change that NHTSA deemed the 'easiest to introduce by model year 2005'," GM said.
GM also said NHTSA's estimate that GM's costs for meeting the rules would total about $678 million was far short. While GM did not give a specific estimate, the tables in its comments suggest that GM's costs would be at least $400 million more than NHTSA's estimates.
And while GM was touting its plans to offer as many as 1 million fuel efficient gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles over the next several years, it warned NHTSA not to rely on hybrids for higher overall fuel economy.
"These programs are forecast to be a substantial economic burden, with costs far larger than any possible recovery through pricing," GM said.
GIVE AND TAKE
The Bush administration has whittled back proposed regulations whose costs were greater than their economic benefits. NHTSA's own estimates found that the societal benefits of its higher fuel economy standards surpassed the costs imposed on automakers and society as a whole by $824 million.
But the industry's lobbying group and the Big 3 all contend NHTSA underestimated the cost of improving fuel economy and overestimated the benefits.
"NHTSA's projections of cost-effective fuel economy technologies are economically infeasible," the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said in its comments.
GM went further, saying: "The reality is that the true costs of the proposed standards, if they could be adequately determined, would dwarf the benefits."
Other Detroit automakers did not follow GM's hard line, but still offered some complaints about the proposal. Ford called the levels "technically challenging," and warned NHTSA's cost estimates were low, but said it was committed to meeting the standards.
The Chrysler group offered the briefest comments of the Big 3, but suggested NHTSA lower its proposal to 20.9 mpg for 2005, 21.1 mpg for 2006 and 21.5 in 2007. It also said its costs for meeting NHTSA's proposals would be four times higher than NHTSA's estimate of $11 million.