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Subaru car to be 'truck' to sidestep fuel rules

Danny Hakim The New York Times
Tuesday, January 13, 2004

DETROIT The Subaru Outback sedan looks like any other midsize car, with a trunk and comfortable seating for four adults.

But Subaru is tweaking some parts of the Outback sedan and wagon this year to meet the specifications of a light truck, putting them in the same regulatory category as pickups and sport utilities. Why? Largely to avoid tougher U.S. fuel economy and air pollution standards for cars.

It is the first time that an automaker has planned to make relatively minor changes in a sedan - like raising its ground clearance by about an inch and a half, or 3.8 centimeters - so it can qualify as a light truck. But it is hardly the first time an automaker has taken advantage of the nation's complex fuel regulations, which divide each manufacturer's production of vehicles into two categories. In the 2005 model year, light trucks will have to average 21.2 miles per gallon, or 9 kilometers per liter. By contrast, each automaker's full fleet of passenger cars must average 27.5 miles per gallon.

The move will let Subaru sell more vehicles with turbochargers, which pep up performance but hurt mileage and increase pollution.

"It was difficult to achieve emissions performance with the turbos," said Fred Ad****, executive vice president of Subaru of America.

Subaru's strategy highlights what environmentalists, consumer groups and some politicians say is a loophole in the fuel economy regulations that has undermined the government's ability to cut gas consumption. The average fuel economy for new vehicles is lower now than it was two decades ago, despite advances in fuel-saving technology.

"This is a new low for the auto industry and it would make George Orwell proud," said Daniel Becker, a global warming expert at the Sierra Club.

It is particularly striking that Subaru wants to call the Outback a light truck because many of its owners see the wagon version as a rugged alternative to a sport utility, and the Outback sells best in those parts of the country, like college towns, where many people think it unfashionable to own an SUV.

"I probably can't count my friends with Outbacks on one hand - I'd have to use feet and toes," said Elizabeth Ike, 29, a college fund-raiser in Virginia.

"I don't want to speak for my friends, but I think they probably don't want to be that person in the Excursion," she said, referring to Ford's largest sport utility.

Subaru, a unit of Fuji Heavy Industries, says the new Outback, which will go on sale this spring, will retain its not-an-SUV image because the changes being made are technical in nature. Further, the base model will be more fuel efficient than the current version.

They said that calling the Outback a light truck will also let them offer the option of a tinted rear window not allowed on passenger cars. Subaru executives noted that the sedan version of the Outback accounts for only about 8 percent of the model's sales, or about 3,500 vehicles a year; the rest are wagons. But critics say the numbers are less important than the precedent that the reclassification would set.

"If they can do it with a sedan, then anyone can do it with a sedan," said John DeCicco, a senior fellow at Environmental Defense. "It's almost like anything goes at this point."

Federal regulations originally set less-stringent fuel economy and emissions requirements for light trucks to avoid penalizing builders, farmers and other workers who rely on pickups. But the exemption opened the way for automakers to replace sedans and station wagons with vehicles that fit the definition of a light truck, notably sport utility vehicles and minivans. Light trucks account for more than half of all passenger vehicles sold in the country, up from a fifth in the late 1970's.

The Transportation Department oversees corporate average fuel economy regulations and fines companies that do not comply with the rules.

Companies that change a borderline vehicle can benefit in two ways, because a big wagon that can sink an automaker's car average may improve its truck average. That, in turn, makes it possible to produce more big trucks and still meet the overall truck standard.


Full Article Here

 

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Wait, this is news? I mean.. GM and Ford are both painfully bad with doing this kind of thing. This is one of the main reasons the SUV is such a big factor in the automotive market. It's done so that manufacturers don't have to produce efficient vehicles. I think the light truck classification needs to be revised big time.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Originally posted by awalbert88@Jan 13 2004, 09:38 PM
Wait, this is news? I mean.. GM and Ford are both painfully bad with doing this kind of thing.
Yeah, one could say that the Highlander and Pilot are 2 examples of "trucks" based off of Camry and Accord station wagons, just jacked up, and the PT Cruiser is a "truck" despite its passenger car roots.

But as the article says:

t is the first time that an automaker has planned to make relatively minor changes in a sedan - like raising its ground clearance by about an inch and a half, or 3.8 centimeters - so it can qualify as a light truck.
 
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