WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration faces a challenge in uniting disparate groups behind a single national program of fuel economy and tailpipe-emission standards for 2017-25 models -- especially in light of recent conflict between automakers and California state regulators.
Private talks are under way among the EPA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the California Air Resources Board and automakers in the hope that the administration can propose a rule by September and approve it by July 2012.
The starting point has been a preliminary proposal by the Obama administration for fuel economy standards rising 3 to 6 percent a year, culminating in a target of 47 to 62 mpg by the 2025 model year.
The administration is hoping to reach a four-way agreement as it did in 2009 in initiating a single national program with standards for 2012-16 models that culminated in a 35.5 mpg target for the final year.
That agreement was brokered by White House climate adviser Carol Browner, who left the government in March. Browner's former deputy, Heather Zichal, has assumed her duties.
Automakers have said more analysis of costs and consumer benefits is needed before a 62-mpg corporate average fuel economy standard can be considered.
"Prematurely calling for a 6 percent annual increase and resulting 62 mpg standard in 2025 is without merit at this point," the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers -- whose members include Toyota, General Motors and Ford -- said in an April letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Auto groups -- the alliance and the Association of Global Automakers, whose members include foreign-based automakers and suppliers -- want a single national program, as before, and intermediate reviews of the 2017-25 program so adjustments are possible.
Feinstein and 17 other senators said in an April 4 letter to the administration that 62 mpg "is both technically feasible and cost-effective."
Environmental groups also are pushing for a 62 mpg standard.
While California regulators have not sought a particular target, they engaged in a brief public scrap with automakers in January.
When CARB said it would release its plan in March 2011, six months earlier than the administration, automakers complained that California was unilaterally pursuing its own standards. Differences were patched up by the administration, and California agreed to defer to the federal timetable.
"We've been working far more cooperatively with the automakers, and we take them at their word that they'll work cooperatively with us," CARB spokesman Stanley Young said last week.
Alliance spokeswoman Gloria Bergquist said: "California is engaged, and we cannot imagine a scenario where the state would see a benefit in undermining that process, which was successful previously."