Automakers Take a U-turn and Welcome Tighter Emission Standards

Companies hope action will free up research funds and simplify regulations

Cash-strapped U.S. automakers took a U-turn on Jan. 26 and welcomed a move by President Barack Obama to potentially tighten emissions standards in the hope that it will free up research funds and simplify a patchwork of U.S. regulations.

Obama ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its rejection of an attempt by California to impose new emissions regulations which are significantly more restrictive than federal standards.

Obama also ordered the Transportation Department to produce the guidelines to enforce a 2007 law which requires U.S. cars to reach average fuel efficiency of 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

"Our goal is not to further burden an already struggling industry; it is to help America's automakers prepare for the future," Obama said. "As we move forward, we will fully take into account the unique challenges facing the American auto industry and the taxpayer dollars that now support it."

California has for years had tougher standards and twelve other states follow its lead. Automakers began fighting the rejected rules before they were even written and claim they would require a wholesale downsizing of the U.S. automobile fleet. But on Jan. 27, they greeted Obama's announcement without complaint and said they were ready to work with his administration.

General Motors said it is working aggressively on technology that "matches the nation's and consumers' priorities to save energy and reduce emissions."

"We look forward to contributing to a comprehensive policy discussion that takes into account the development pace of new technologies, alternative fuels and market and economic factors," GM said . Privately GM officials said that they hope the review ultimately leads to a comprehensive U.S. energy policy in which automotive fuel-economy is only one element.

The review should also help free up money for additional research and development, they said.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents 11 different Asian, European and U.S. carmakers, said it hopes the review leads to one nationwide standard. "The Alliance supports a nationwide program that bridges state and federal concerns and moves all stakeholders forward," president Dave McCurdy said. "We are ready to work with the Administration on developing a national approach."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

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