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If I Were Dictator … Oh, Wait, I Am!

China establishes its first-ever fuel-efficiency standards for cars Attempting to combat its growing dependence on oil imports, China is set to establish fuel-efficiency standards for cars, SUVs, and vans for the first time. The standards are identical to those in a draft circulated last November, about which the auto industry strenuously complained, claiming they were too strict. One thing about a communist dictatorship, though -- it's not particularly responsive to criticism. So the industry is more or less resigned to meeting the standards; Volkswagen, which dominates the Chinese car market, even went so far as to say that it "views …

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When You Wish Upon a Car

Car-Free Day: A good idea, but not without its difficulties Yesterday was Car-Free Day. Couldn't you tell? Some 1,500 municipalities, the vast majority in Europe, participated, but the idea hasn't really caught on in the U.S., outside of a few scattered cities. Reading the European news does not give one great hope that it ever will. Hundreds of cities blocked off streets or entire districts to non-essential traffic. However, the bicyclists and pedestrians that descended on said districts complained that too many commercial and residential vehicles were allowed in, while streets outside the car-free areas were, ironically, clogged with traffic …

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Umbra on whether to leave the engine running

Dear Umbra, I have a question that has been nagging me for a while, and I would really like to have it answered once and for all. You see, I deliver pizzas for a living right now, and so I make many frequent stops and starts at people's houses during a shift. I always turn off my engine whenever I make a delivery or am waiting at the store for the next order to come up, because I believe in doing my part to keep our air clean and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. But I keep hearing the argument that turning …

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Umbra on choosing the least evil gasoline company

Dear Umbra, Every week I scan the gasoline signs looking for the cheapest deal, while knowing that what I pay in rock-bottom prices may come at the expense of environmental integrity and social justice. I'd like to choose my brand of gas with more conscience. Would you help? I'd love to see a ranking or rating system of the major gasoline brands. It could let us know which ones are meaningfully pursuing renewable energy sources, protecting indigenous political and property rights at the source, and making efforts to minimize the environmental impact of their oil extraction and refinement. Are any …

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Coming Soon to a Rap Video Near You

Navistar Introduces the Commercial Extreme Truck For the driver who enjoys his or her Hummer H2 pickup but just wishes it were a little bigger, a little less fuel-efficient, and a little more obnoxious, the answer has arrived: This week Navistar International introduces the CXT, short for commercial extreme truck. The CXT is 21.5 feet long (4.5 feet longer than the Hummer!) and nine feet tall (more than two feet taller than the Hummer!). It weighs seven tons empty, gets six to 10 miles per gallon of diesel gas, and will cost between $93,000 and $115,000. "We can see it …

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The Wicked Switch

Automakers Rapped for Pollution From Mercury Switches With recent revelations that just about all freshwater fish in the U.S. are contaminated with mercury, concern over the heavy-metal pollutant has regulators carefully examining every source. The fourth largest, as it happens, is automobiles, specifically the mercury switches in auto lights and brakes. Last year a record 18,000 pounds of mercury pollution were traceable to scrapped cars, according to the Clean Car Campaign. Since the beginning of 2003, automakers no longer use mercury to make the switches, but controversy remains over who should be responsible for proper disposal of existing switches. A …

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That Smarts

Cute, Tiny Smart Cars to Come to U.S. and Get Big The tiny, fuel-efficient, two-seater Smart cars (named after their manufacturer) that are so popular in Europe are coming to the U.S. Sort of. Convinced that a tiny car -- even one that gets 60 miles per gallon and has been repeatedly proven safe for drivers -- will offend Americans' sense that bigger means better and safer, Smart U.S.A. will be introducing a Smart SUV to U.S. streets in 2006. If you think that introducing another SUV to a crowded American market would be not only financially silly, but a …

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Smears of a Clown

Auto Industry-Backed PR Firm Claims California Emissions Regs Will Kill A new ad campaign by the Sport Utility Vehicle Owners of America uses "Squeezy the Clown" to warn that proposed carbon-dioxide emissions regulations in California would force automakers to (gasp!) build smaller cars, which in turn will lead to increased traffic fatalities. (You see, they argue, the regs would force people to squeeze into smaller cars. Like clowns. Funny!) Though the group's name implies a grassroots citizens' effort, in fact SUVOA was bought two years ago by Strat@comm, a Washington, D.C., PR firm with extensive ties to big automakers. Critics …

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Sunflower Power

Scientists Create Hydrogen Fuel from Sunflower Oil British scientists have discovered a way to power cars with sunflower oil. While biodiesel cars that directly burn cooking oil are fairly common, researcher Valerie Dupont and her colleagues have something else in mind, as they reported this week at an American Chemical Society conference. They've figured out a way to use catalysts to extract pure hydrogen from a combination of air, water vapor, and sunflower oil. Hydrogen is frequently hailed as the clean fuel of the future, but most current methods of creating hydrogen burn the very fossil fuels responsible for pollution …

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Whining Is Job One

Ford Battles Hybrid-Friendly Legislation, Destroys Electric Cars Ford Motor Co. CEO Bill Ford's vocal attempts to position his company as eco-friendly are sounding a little hollow this week. As the California legislative session nears its end, Ford has ramped up lobbying efforts to kill a bill that would allow drivers of fuel-efficient hybrids to drive solo in the state's carpool lanes. Ford said the measure -- sponsored by Assemblymember Fran Pavley (D) and backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) -- is a "buy Japanese" bill "intended for almost exclusive use by Toyota Prius drivers." Ford took issue with the bill's …