AUTOS:

Groups launch campaign for 60 mpg fuel standard

Correction appended.

A coalition of environmental and consumer groups is urging the Obama administration to raise automobile fuel-efficiency standards to at least 60 miles per gallon by 2025.

Twenty groups -- including the Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club -- said they will send a letter to President Obama encouraging him to raise the standard as part of a campaign being launched today. U.S. EPA and Department of Transportation are set to issue a proposal for fuel efficiency standards Sept. 30 that would apply to cars and light trucks sold between 2017 and 2025.

The current standard, which runs out in 2016, is 34 mpg.

"Strong standards are good for our energy security, good for the environment and good for consumers," Luke Tonachel of NRDC told reporters. "The U.S. needs to take the opportunity to lead in clean standards."

Meeting that standard, the groups say, would result in a fuel reduction of at least 40 billion gallons a year by 2030.

The groups said technology exists to allow automakers to meet the standards. David Friedman of the Union of Concerned Scientists said conventional cars could be outfitted with lighter materials, more powerful drivetrains and more efficient interior systems to increase efficiency. But the key to reaching 60 mpg would be greater market penetration of hybrids and plug-in electric vehicles.

"We're looking at a hybrid in every garage, a plug-in electric or fuel cell on every block and a lot of clean, conventional cars," Friedman said. A goal, he said, would be to have 55 percent of the 2030 auto market be hybrids, another 15 percent plug-in electric or fuel cell and the remaining 35 percent be conventional cars.

But a University of Michigan study says the average standards could go even higher. In a report released last week, researcher John DeCicco said the fuel economy standard could feasibly reach 74 mpg by 2035 even without hybrid and electric vehicles.

The Consumer Federation of America in a separate report last week said the 60 mpg standard is necessary for car buyers, since it will mean the value of gasoline savings is greater than the potential increased cost of loans and production. A 60 mpg car, the report says, would save the average driver more than $1,000 in gasoline costs by the time the car loan is paid off.

Obama announced the initiative to boost fuel economy standards in a Rose Garden event in May after DOT and EPA had already brokered a deal with automakers creating the first-ever federal greenhouse gas emissions standard for passenger cars and trucks. The standards announced this fall will also include medium- and heavy-duty trucks for the first time.

According to the environmental coalition, there has been no indication from the White House or EPA on the chances of a 60 mpg standard being adopted. But the group said the administration's previous commitment to strong fuel economy standards made it optimistic.

The coalition said it will launch a national ad campaign and a new website and will conduct public opinion research promoting the 60-mpg-by-2025 effort. Nathan Willcox of Environment America said the campaign will also be engaging with consumer groups, national security leaders and elected officials.

Correction: The projected fuel savings would be at least 40 billion gallons of oil a year by 2030, not 40 billion barrels, as originally stated.