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NYTimes.com Article: Average U.S. Car Is Tipping Scales at 4,000 Pounds

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    The article below from NYTimes.com has been sent to you by rickrise@earthlink.net. Note Honda s comments at the very end.... rickrise@earthlink.net /---------
    Message 1 of 1 , May 5, 2004
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      The article below from NYTimes.com
      has been sent to you by rickrise@....

      Note Honda's comments at the very end....


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      Average U.S. Car Is Tipping Scales at 4,000 Pounds

      May 5, 2004

      DETROIT, May 4 - Detroit was recently ranked as the
      nation's most obese city by Men's Fitness magazine. Perhaps
      it is no surprise, then, that the Motor City's chief
      product is also losing the battle of the bulge.

      The average new car or light-duty truck sold in the 2003
      model year tipped the scales at 4,021 pounds, breaking the
      two-ton barrier for the first time since the mid-1970's,
      according to a report released by the Environmental
      Protection Agency last week.

      The fattening of the nation's automobiles is a principal
      reason that average fuel economy has stopped improving and
      the nation's consumption of crude oil has been swelling:
      all else being equal, moving more weight takes more energy.
      Add in the additional pollutants and greenhouse gases
      released by burning more fuel, and it is not surprising
      that the upsizing trend is condemned by environmental

      But ranged against them in an increasingly bitter debate
      are industry lobbyists and conservative groups who argue
      that girth is good, for crashworthiness and because people
      want more space and power, though Honda is a notable
      dissenter in the industry.

      At the center of the debate is the Bush administration's
      proposed rewriting of national fuel economy regulations.
      Though work on the plan is still in its early stages, one
      important aspect of it could lead automakers to make their
      vehicles even heavier on average. Environmentalists are
      distressed by the plan, but it has not been embraced by the
      auto industry, either.

      In recent months, the National Highway Traffic Safety
      Administration has been flooded with nearly 50,000 letters
      and detailed comments about the plan. Many have come from
      organizations with an interest in the outcome - automakers,
      lobbyists, environmental and consumer groups - but the
      majority have been from individuals, some of them angered
      by increasingly tanklike vehicles and others by the claims
      of industry lobbying groups that S.U.V.'s will somehow be
      regulated out of existence.

      And there are other motivations. "One of the things that
      triggers asthma is air pollution, and vehicular emissions
      are a significant source," said Dr. Ronald Saff, an asthma
      specialist in Tallahassee, Fla., concerned about rising
      asthma rates. Dr. Saff, 45, wrote a letter asking the
      agency "to make S.U.V.'s safer for families and the

      But Carroll Boyle, a 65-year-old retired educator from
      Manchester, N.H., wrote that tougher regulations "may force
      people into vehicles that are smaller, less powerful, and
      not as safe as our current options." She added, "In New
      Hampshire we have weather that requires an S.U.V. many days
      a year."

      The E.P.A.'s weight statistics show that the average weight
      of a 2003 car or light-duty truck, like a pickup, sport
      utility, van or minivan, was heavier than in any model year
      since 1976, when the average peaked at 4,079 pounds. Just
      five years later, after the oil shocks of the 1970's, the
      average had fallen by more than 20 percent, to 3,202
      pounds. The figures take into account the sales volumes of
      different models.

      Average fuel economy peaked at 22.1 miles to the gallon in
      the late 1980's, according to the agency, but has eroded
      since then to 20.7 miles for the 2003 model year.

      The agency expects the 2004 model year to finish with an
      average weight of 4,066 pounds.

      New noncommercial vehicles are actually even heavier than
      the statistics show, because the largest vehicles sold to
      consumers, including Hummers and Ford Excursions, are not
      classed as light-duty, so they are not covered by fuel
      economy rules or counted in average weight calculations.
      They are also exempt from many safety standards and
      crash-test requirements.

      Government studies say these giant vehicles are increasing
      the overall number of deaths in accidents, mainly because
      of the threat they pose to people in cars they hit in
      collisions. The administration's plan does suggest that
      manufacturers be pressed to slim down the heaviest of the
      heavyweights, like the Hummer.

      Though new vehicles are back to weighing what they did in
      the 1970's, they are obviously very different in shape, in
      part because of the fuel economy rules introduced then.
      Automakers must meet average mileage targets, now set at
      20.7 miles to the gallon for light-duty trucks and 27.5 for
      passenger cars. By scrapping station wagons and large
      sedans in favor of minivans and S.U.V.'s, manufacturers
      have greatly increased the share of their total sales
      subject to the lower truck standard, and they have fought
      to preserve the two-tier system.

      Federal regulators say safety has suffered as a result,
      both because S.U.V.'s and larger pickup trucks are more
      prone to roll over than cars are, and because they do more
      serious damage to vehicles they hit.

      Traffic deaths in the United States rose to 43,220 last
      year, the most since 1990. Before the S.U.V. boom, the
      country had the world's lowest highway death rate, taking
      miles driven into account, but it now ranks behind at least
      eight other developed nations, including Canada, Australia,
      Britain and Sweden. Lower rates of seat belt use and other
      factors play a part, but much of the difference stems from
      the composition of the national vehicle fleet, researchers

      The Bush administration contends that most sport utilities
      should be given room to grow in any new fuel economy
      system, citing a government study that said lightening any
      but the largest vehicles would do more harm than good.
      Thus, one of the administration's leading proposals is to
      divide the light-duty truck category into classes, with
      more stringent requirements for heavyweights.

      Most major automakers have reacted cautiously, especially
      to the idea of broadening the system to cover the largest

      "Studies show that making vehicles lighter has an adverse
      effect on safety," said Eron Shosteck, a spokesman for the
      Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which lobbies on
      behalf of General Motors, Ford Motor, DaimlerChrysler,
      Toyota and others. "If all vehicles were made heavier, it
      would have a positive impact on safety," Mr. Shosteck said.

      But Honda, which makes some of the most fuel-efficient
      vehicles, said its own research found that dimensions,
      design and materials often made more difference than
      weight. Honda cited government statistics showing that
      midsize cars have lower death rates than sport utilities,
      and that smaller S.U.V.'s do better than midsize S.U.V.'s.



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