It's high time to establish fuel economy standards for big SUVs, passenger vans and pickups.
For three decades, passenger trucks weighing 8,500 to 10,000 pounds have been exempted from corporate average fuel economy standards. That is because they didn't account for much volume when the standards were established. Back then, no one thought trucks that heavy would become fashionable substitutes for family cars.
But they have become just that, which makes it appropriate -- and in keeping with the spirit of the law -- that they be required to meet fuel economy standards.
So it is welcome news that the Bush administration is at least studying again whether to make big passenger vans and SUVs subject to CAFE standards as soon as 2011.
Most of the SUVs and passenger vans in that class are produced by General Motors, which means that the beleaguered automaker would have to spend sorely needed capital to upgrade the trucks or sell fewer of them to avoid penalties.
Still, those big trucks are the mother lode, and over the years GM has pocketed the profits, some of which it will have to reinvest in fuel economy. It's only right, even if it comes at an inopportune time.
But why stop there? In this age of rising fuel prices and the need to reduce the nation's dependence on imported oil, pickups in that weight class should be included, too, even the ones legitimately used as work trucks.
Some of the fuel economy gains likely would come from taking weight out of the big SUVs and passenger vans. But some of the incremental mileage will come from improvements in powertrain technology. That technology might be used in pickups, too.
Automakers should avoid the kicking and screaming they have resorted to in the past to oppose CAFE increases. The public won't buy it, and making big trucks meet fuel economy standards is in the public interest. That's why the Bush administration must find the courage to do it.
Who knows? It might even help sell a few more of the big trucks the next time fuel prices spike.