GAS mileage hits 20-year low

Friday, May 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Americans are snapping up model year 2001 cars and light trucks with an average fuel economy of 24.5 miles a gallon, the worst since 1980, the government says.

The finding, in a Transportation Department report released Friday, reflects a trend reported by the Environmental Protection Agency last year.

President Bush in his energy plan called for improving fuel efficiency without harming the auto industry and for $4 billion in tax credits to spur the sale of hybrid gas-electric vehicles and fuel cells. Environmentalists say Bush should move to increase federal requirements for fuel efficiency.

The 2001 estimate, based on March figures, is the same as in 1999 and less than the 24.7 miles a gallon in the 2000 model year. The highest level was in 1987, 26.2 miles a gallon.

The drop in fuel economy mirrors a surge in sales of ``light trucks,'' which include vans, pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles and account for nearly half all U.S. passenger vehicle sales. They tend to be heavier than cars and get fewer miles to the gallon.

For model year 2001, cars are getting an average fuel economy of 28.7 miles a gallon but light trucks are getting only 20.9.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers that lobbies on behalf of 13 automakers has said that manufacturers are providing fuel-efficient cars but few consumers buy them. Environmental groups say automakers spend much of their advertising on profitable lower-mileage vehicles.

Each automaker is required by federal law to produce cars with 27.5 miles a gallon fuel economy and light trucks that get at least 20.7 miles a gallon.

But two manufacturers, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler, were unable to meet that standard for light trucks. The average fuel economy of G.M.'s 2001 light trucks is 20.6 miles a gallon and of DaimlerChrysler's 2001 light trucks is 20.5 miles a gallon.

Both companies have exceeded the credits in past years and plan to use credits to avoid paying millions in fines for not meeting the standard.