Chevrolet Volt  (Source: General Motors)

Honda FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicle  (Source: Honda Motors)

2009 Dodge Challenger SRT-8 Concept
New energy bill calls for 35 MPG CAFE, increased ethanol production and more efficient appliances

The calls for more efficient vehicles in the United States amidst rising gasoline prices have not fallen on deaf ears. A bill destined to raise the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) average to 35 MPG by 2020 passed the House of Representatives 235-181 earlier this month.

The measured cleared again yesterday with a 314-100 vote. President Bush will sign the energy bill today.

The energy bill calls for a 40 percent increase in fuel economy from the current 25 MPG to a loftier 35 MPG. The bill also provides provisions to increase E85 ethanol production from six billion gallons a year to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022 -- this is despite opposition to the increased production of the alternative fuel.

Automobiles aren't the only consumer products targeted by the energy bill. Household appliances such as refrigerators and microwaves will also need to become more efficient while commercial and government buildings will be required to use more efficient lighting including fluorescent-based technology.

Energy companies dodged a bullet with regards to a provision included in the bill that passed the house earlier this month, but stalled in the Senate. It called for over $13.5 billion USD in tax breaks to be rolled back for the United States' five largest oil companies.

President Bush said that he would veto the bill if the $13.5 billion USD rollback was included -- the money would have gone to ignite the development of alternative energy sources like wind and solar energy.

"You are present at a moment of change, of real change," said House speaker Nancy Pelosi. "It could have been stronger," added Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer. "It’s really unfortunate that we didn’t have the renewable electricity standard or the incentives for wind and solar. But we’ll fight for those another day."

House Representative Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas, offered a counterpoint; "This legislation is a historic turning point in energy policy."

Not surprisingly, representatives from America's Big Three were quick to voice their support for the new energy bill.

"Ford has worked with lawmakers to enact nationwide requirements that provide a significant increase in fuel economy while protecting consumers' choices of cars, SUVs and light trucks," Ford Motor Company said in a statement. "We are working to do our part to help reduce greenhouse gases and U.S. dependence on foreign oil."

"We commend the Congress for passing an energy bill today and we fully support it being signed into law. Chrysler is committed to meeting the fuel economy standards of the bill and doing our part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and our country's reliance on foreign oil," said Robert Nardelli, Chairman and CEO, Chrysler LLC. "We continue to devote significant resources to develop quality, fuel efficient products that our customers expect."

"GM commends the Congress and President for passage of an energy bill. The new fuel economy standards within the bill set a tough, national target that GM will strive to meet," said General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner. "We will focus our engineering and technical resources to attain these standards and we remain hard at work applying the innovation and developing the advanced technologies that will power tomorrow's cars and trucks."

Earlier this month, GM Vice Chairman "Maximum" Bob Lutz said that the 35 MPG CAFE average would require "massive restructuring of the product plan" and that GM would "start raising prices as we introduce the new technology."

All of the major players in the American auto market are looking to hybrids, fuel cell and all-electric vehicles to increase fuel economy across the board. Toyota has even gone so far as to say that all of its vehicles will be gasoline-electric hybrid by 2020.

Other manufacturers like Honda, Nissan and Volkswagen are looking to bring more diesel engines to passenger vehicles to increase fuel economy. Americans have been hesitant to accept diesel engines in cars and light-duty trucks in recent years, but newer technology may change many opinions.

One thing is for sure, however, we may start to see less vehicles like the upcoming tire-shredding 2009 Chevrolet Camaro and 2009 Dodge Challenger SRT-8 and more vehicles like the Toyota Prius and Honda Accord Diesel.

"So if you want to save the planet, feel free to drive your Hummer. Just avoid the drive thru line at McDonalds." -- Michael Asher

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