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2008 model year brings new cars, new regulations

By Jim Gorzelany

CTW Features

Like meteorological autumn, the 2008 model year for new cars and trucks officially began on Sept. 1. And with the new year comes several significant new rules taking effect involving fuel economy that will benefit car and truck buyers for 2008 and beyond.

For starters, the Corporate Average Fuel Economy that manufacturers are required to maintain on their fleets of light-duty trucks - this includes most pickups, sport utility vehicles and vans - has gone up beginning this fall. Don't expect to see a fleet of fuel sippers hitting the road, however, as the new CAFE mandate is only 22.5 mpg, which is up only slightly from last year's 22.3 mpg requirement. It's a start, however, and truck CAFE is slated to increase incrementally each year until it hits 23.5 mpg in 2010. Still, higher requirements that would force automakers to maintain a 35 mpg CAFE for both cars and trucks by 2020 was passed this summer by the Senate, but has since remained stalled in the House of Representatives.

On a related front, new rules recently took effect that enable the fuel economy estimates for cars and trucks that are posted by the Environmental Protection Agency to better reflect "real world" mileage. Energy experts felt the EPA's 30-year-old testing procedures were both out of date and out of sync with 21st-century vehicles, traffic patterns and driving habits.

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Now taken into account are factors such as high-speed and aggressive driving, a vehicle's cold-weather performance and running a car or truck at high-ambient temperatures for extended periods with the air conditioning switched on.

Under the new testing procedures, the city miles-per-gallon estimates for most vehicles have dropped by about 10 to 20 percent, while highway mpg estimates have generally declined by a factor of 5 to 15 percent. However, be aware that these revisions have no bearing on how new models are evaluated to meet the aforementioned CAFE requirements. The government will continue to evaluate cars and trucks for CAFE purposes under a different reporting system that produces fuel economy figures that are higher even than those under even the prior reporting system for consumers.

Both new and previous fuel economy ratings for each make and model are posted for comparison at fueleconomy.gov, and the current numbers are required to be stated on new-vehicle window stickers.

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