WASHINGTON (AP) - A behind-the-scenes tussle between nonunion Nissan Motor Co. and the United Auto Workers threatened to derail the Senate's energy bill.
Nissan, which has plants in Mississippi and Tennessee, won.
A version more favorable to Nissan, designating tougher fuel efficiency requirements for new cars, pickup trucks and SUVs, was adopted by the Senate late Thursday night over the union's complaints that it could cost U.S. jobs.
It was a compromise between more stringent legislation favored by most Democrats and a softer alternative sought by the UAW, Detroit's three U.S. auto companies and other foreign producers such as Toyota Motor Corp.
Democratic Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan—clearly in the UAW's and U.S. automakers' corner—scrambled afterward for votes to block the entire bill but came up short.
General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group all were counting on the UAW's clout with Democrats to prevail.
UAW officials charged in a letter Wednesday that the fuel economy compromise, partially crafted by Alaska Republican Senator Ted Stevens, was designed to help the Japanese automaker Nissan to the detriment of American workers.
Nissan was the only car maker to support the measure, which would require an average fuel efficiency of 35 miles per gallon for new cars, pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles by 2020.
Alan Reuther, the UAW's legislative director, wrote that the proposal ''would pose a serious threat to American automotive jobs and to efforts to promote the use of alternative fuels.''
Stevens, the ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, strongly rejected the UAW's arguments.
''There isn't anybody that's harmed in the long run. They all benefit by what we've done,'' Stevens said.
The UAW opposed the plan because it would assess fuel economy based on a vehicle's attributes such as size, requiring cars in similar classes to meet comparable standards. That approach would eliminate a provision requiring the standards for passenger cars to be calculated based on both a manufacturers' domestic and international fleet.
The provision was implemented to require automakers to maintain small car production in the U.S. Automakers typically sell small vehicles to comply with fuel efficiency requirements, offsetting the sales of more lucrative large SUVs.
The UAW had sought language in the bill to ensure that automakers keep making small cars in the U.S. Without it, Reuther wrote, 17,000 workers who assemble compact cars in Michigan, Ohio, California, Tennessee and Illinois would have their jobs threatened, along with thousands of auto suppliers.
The UAW also said Nissan opposed provisions to ramp up production of flexible-fuel vehicles capable of running on ethanol blends. Detroit's three automakers have produced more than 6 million of the vehicles and pledged to boost production while Nissan offers a more limited number.
The bill sets a goal of automakers making half of their vehicles capable of running on ethanol blends by 2015. The bill approved in committee would have set the goal earlier, in 2012.
Levin said ''the two Tennessee senators and Nissan were able to basically eliminate ... a very strong emphasis on flex-fuel vehicles.''
''I think the UAW took a real hit here tonight,'' he said.
Nissan spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan noted the issues face more consideration in the House. Nissan was ''pleased that we were heard. We know that there are a lot of changes to come and there are a lot of challenges,'' she said.