Photo: With 34 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway, the Ford Escape hybrid was one of several SUVs to rank among the most efficient vehicles -- of any kind -- manufactured in 2008.
There's a fight going on in Washington that will ultimately affect how much you pay for gas.
Congress has demanded that the Bush Administration increase the fuel efficiency of the American automobile fleet, by requiring automakers to make more efficient cars and trucks.
Now that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is writing new rules into law, automakers are complaining that the 2011 model year requirements are too strict, while many car salesmen and environmental advocates are arguing just the opposite. They argue: Americans want to buy fuel-efficient cars, so carmakers will make money by selling them. (See this San Francisco Chronicle story for an overview of the fuel-efficiency fight.)
Car-makers don't want to abandon SUVs, those gas-guzzling suburban status symbols, because they are so profitable. But in that tried-and-true political tradition of bait-and-switch argumentation, they're instead making a bogus argument that they can't possibly meet the new fuel-economy standards because technology doesn't exist to make their fleets adequately fuel-efficient.
There's a simple solution, it seems: Design and market a fuel-efficient luxury car.
Luxury means expense. Expensive things convey an aura of status.
In an era of cheap gas, automakers convinced the American public that paying a lot for a big SUV sent a message to their neighbors: I'm successful. They should be able to do the same thing with a fuel-efficient model in the era of expensive gas.
Bottom line: Detroit has a marketing problem, not a technology problem.
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