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Lawmakers Push Alternative Fuel Efficiency Proposal

Automakers strongly opposed a plan in a Senate energy bill that would establish stronger fuel economy requirements.

WASHINGTON (AP) - A group of lawmakers close to the auto industry on Thursday put forward an alternative to proposed fuel efficiency requirements in the Senate that would give automakers more time to reach the new standards and advance alternative vehicles.

Automakers have strongly opposed a plan in a Senate energy bill that would establish stronger fuel economy requirements.

The plan would require passenger cars to meet a fleet-wide average of at least 36 miles per gallon by 2022 and 30 mpg for pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles and vans by 2025.

The Senate is expected to vote next week on a proposal to require manufacturers' fleets average 35 miles per gallon for cars and trucks by 2020, an increase of about 10 mpg over current levels. From 2020 to 2030, automakers would face 4 percent annual increases in the efficiency requirements.

Automakers have said the Senate plan would cost billions of dollars and force them to alter their offerings of larger vehicles. While the industry has traditionally opposed fuel economy increases, company officials indicated their support for the alternative.

Dave McCurdy, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said the Pryor-Bond plan would be ''the greatest technological challenge this industry has ever faced'' but represented a vast improvement over the current Senate plan.

But they will face a considerable fight. The current proposal sailed through the Senate Commerce Committee and backers of the plan say they have broad support.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., one of the chief proponents of the Senate bill, said the alternative was a ''major step backwards'' because it would accomplish less than half of the fuel savings, greenhouse gas reductions and savings for consumers as outlined in her bill.

Under the approach, each auto manufacturer would need to produce and sell 50 percent advanced technology vehicles, such as hybrids or clean diesels, or flexible fuel vehicles by 2015. That would appeal to Detroit's automakers, which have pledged to boost production of flexible-fuel vehicles, and Toyota Motor Corp., which is aggressively pursuing hybrids.

It would also call for about $950 million in funding, or twice what the Bush administration has requested, to jump-start research and development of advanced vehicle technologies, such as batteries, hybrids, diesels and hydrogen storage. The plan would also attempt to increase the availability of biofuels.

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