The Obama administration is close to saying what sort of gas mileage it envisions for cars of the future.
Environmentalists are pushing for an average of at least 60 miles per gallon (25 kilometers per liter) for new vehicles by 2025, exceeding the mileage of the most fuel-efficient hybrids on the road today. But automakers argue that pushing gas mileage standards up that quickly could force them to raise prices higher than drivers can afford.
The administration is expected to give its view Friday in the form of early planning for mileage standards for model years 2017-2025. President Barack Obama has sought tougher fuel efficiency standards from the auto industry to reduce the nation's dependence on oil, and as part of his efforts to grow the economy through clean energy jobs.
Rules already in place will boost the fleet average to 35.5 mpg (15 kpl) by 2016, an increase of more than 40 percent over current requirements.
Environmental groups say a mix of gas-electric hybrids, electric vehicles and improvements to conventional vehicles could create a vastly more efficient fleet. A target of 60 mpg by 2025 would translate to about a 6 percent improvement each year.
Environmentalists also are pushing to limit tailpipe emissions to no more than 143 grams per mile of carbon dioxide by 2025, to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases spewed into the environment.
Environmental groups expect the government to initially lay out a range of potential fuel efficiency targets that would show annual improvements of 3 percent to 6 percent, or roughly 46 mpg (20 kpl)to 62 mpg (26 kpl) for the fleet of new cars and trucks by 2025.
The administration's "notice of intent" will be released by the Transportation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, laying the groundwork for a proposal to be issued next year and approved sometime in 2012. It will give automakers, environmental groups and states an overview of the possible standards, describe the technologies that would be needed to achieve those goals, and seek feedback from the public.
Charles Territo, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said many different factors must be considered to set the maximum feasible level of fuel economy and greenhouse gas reductions.
"The danger is that a standard is put forth that increases fuel economy too quickly, adding unnecessary cost and effectively pricing consumers out of the market," Territo said.
David Strickland, the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said the notice would lay out the game plan for the proposal but that the government would not make any decisions "until we have the data and the facts and the science behind us."
The time period in question, model years 2017-2025, may seem "like a long way away, but it isn't," Strickland said. "We're looking at a lot of technologies on the horizon that could be incorporated into the fleet."
The government is also expected to soon release a proposal for first-ever fuel efficiency and emissions standards for medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks beginning with the 2014 model year.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov/
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: http://www.nhtsa.gov/