WASHINGTON -- With gas prices and concern about global warming rising, a group of scientists released a report Wednesday urging the auto industry to dramatically speed up development of more fuel-efficient automobiles.
The Union of Concerned Scientists, in a report with the Center for Auto Safety, said improving existing technology could save consumers nearly $9.8 billion a year in reduced fuel consumption and raise efficiency to an average of 40 miles per gallon for cars and trucks. The average fuel economy among new cars this year is 24.5 miles per gallon, tying 1999 for the lowest mark since 1980, according to government figures.
Using existing technology, the groups said, auto makers could meet the 40 miles per gallon goal by 2012, increasing to 55 mpg by 2020.
In addition, vehicles that use "hybrid technology" could provide a major boon to fuel efficiency, the groups said.
"These are vehicles that would have the same acceleration, same general performance, and same cargo space as cars and trucks we have today," said David Friedman, senior transportation analyst for the scientists' group.
Hybrid technology combines a traditional gasoline engine with an electric motor, offering fuel-efficiency up to three times that of conventionally powered vehicles. Because hybrid engines burn less fuel and generate fewer emissions, they generally run cleaner. When the driver stops in traffic, the engine shuts down, restarting when the driver moves to accelerate again -- a feature that reduces pollution from idling.
Consumers waste large amounts of gas "just sitting in traffic," said Jason Mark, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' clean vehicles program. "The technology is very much ready to go and ready for prime time."
As part of his energy policy unveiled last month, President Bush proposed providing $4 billion in tax credits for purchases of "hybrid" electric-gasoline vehicles, or cars powered by fuel cells.
But the major American car makers are at least two years away from offering the hybrid vehicles. This year, only about 16,000 of the vehicles will be available in the United States -- sold by Honda and Toyota.
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