Big Auto pleads for smaller gains in fuel efficiency

The heads of Ford, GM, and Chrysler returned to Washington, D.C., yesterday to try to convince Congress not to hike fuel economy standards. Next week, the Senate will consider a proposal to raise average fleet-wide mileage to 35 miles per gallon by 2020 from the current 25; several bills have sprung up to float more modest increases. At least two, including one cosponsored by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), contain escape clauses for car companies if the new standards prove too difficult to achieve. While the industry acknowledges that some increase in efficiency is due — mileage requirements for cars have not changed since 1983 — GM CEO Rick Wagoner said the current proposals “don’t look achievable.” There’s that American can-do spirit! Faced with the usual litany of industry concerns, including health-care costs and trade woes, reps were less than receptive. “I think the issue is over,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.). “I think you’ve lost that issue. I think your position is yesterday forever.”