Subaru Outback to Become “Light Truck” to Avoid Fuel Economy Rules

As of next year, Subaru’s Outback sedan will be classified as a “light truck,” thanks to some technical modifications to its ground clearance and back bumper position. The revised classification will place the car … er, truck in a category requiring (as of 2005) 21.2 miles per gallon; in contrast, each automaker’s fleet of standard passenger cars must average 27.5 mpg. More than semantics are at stake: Since the regulatory categories were put in place in the 1970s, the automotive industry has developed the minivan and the SUV, both wildly popular and both classified as light trucks, meaning that well over half of all passenger vehicles sold in the U.S. are held to less stringent fuel economy standards. As a result of this loophole, average fuel economy is lower than it was two decades ago, despite a variety of advances in fuel-saving technology. The move is particularly ironic for Subaru, whose vehicles are popular among SUV-disdaining enviros in college towns across the U.S.