Keep on truckin'

March 27, 2006

As General Motors tries to get out from under crushing losses by offering buyouts to more than 100,000 union workers, it's worth remembering that this was exactly what Congress hoped to avoid by resisting repeated efforts over the past two decades to force U.S. automakers to raise their fuel-efficiency standards.

What we now know, of course, is that Congress did the industry no favor. The soaring price of fuel has made those gas-guzzling monster trucks and SUVs in which Detroit specializes mighty unattractive. Meanwhile, foreign manufacturers have more than picked up the slack with hybrid and other more economical vehicles that, despite Detroit's predictions to the contrary, are safe and affordable.

What's more, the nation and the world are less secure because the United States has made little effort to slow the consumption of oil that is contributing mightily to global warming and running out at a rapid pace.

Yet despite the benefit of all this hindsight, the Bush administration is still dithering over whether it's finally time to demand that the biggest vehicles in the U.S. fleet use available technology to get better gas mileage.

The White House is reported to be considering a plan to set standards for the first time on such behemoths as the Hummer H2, Chevy Suburban and GMC Yukon, but exempt pickup trucks, which constitute eight out of 10 heavy vehicles on the road.

It may be too late to save GM or stop global warming. But a president who laments the nation's addiction to oil should do whatever he can to conserve this ever-more-costly fuel.

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