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The Planet
Club to Carmakers: Fewer Seat Warmers, More Miles Per Gallon

Campaign urges 'Big Three' to boost the fuel economy of cars, trucks

By John Byrne Barry

You've found the new car you want. You march into your local auto dealer and say, "I want this one here, and I'd like it with the 'Freedom Option Package.'"

"The what?" the dealer says.

You whip out the Sierra Club's Freedom Option Package fact sheet (see Page 3), which describes three gas-saving technologies that could significantly improve the fuel economy of any and all new vehicles, even SUVs and minivans.

The dealer won't have these options, of course, and most likely won't know what an integrated starter-generator is, but as the Sierra Club's ambitious consumer campaign to encourage U.S. automakers to improve their vehicles' fuel economy shifts into high gear, that won't be the case for long.

The Club's new three-year campaign comes on the heels of the Senate rejection of a measure setting higher fuel- economy standards.

Automakers spent millions in an ad campaign claiming that higher mileage standards would result in unsafe cars. Some ads said the standards were so onerous that automakers would no longer be able to sell SUVs and minivans. Fuel-economy standards haven't been raised significantly since 1985.

The Sierra Club has been pushing for more than a decade to improve fuel economy to 40 miles per gallon, a goal that, says Club Global Warming and Energy Campaign Director Dan Becker, "is achievable with existing technology and can save 3 million barrels of oil per day."

Congress refused to act, so the Club's new approach is aimed at consumers and automakers. Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope launched the campaign in Detroit on June 12 urging consumers to ask for and automakers to provide the Freedom Option Package of fuel-saving technologies.

"The technology exists today to allow the automakers to continue offering their most popular models, but with significantly improved fuel economy," said Pope. "New, safe, fuel-saving SUVs and pickups could be on sale very soon."

"Detroit wants to sell option packages featuring seat warmers and cup holders," said Becker. "What America needs is an option package that frees us from dependence on foreign oil, saves money at the pump and cuts pollution."

The Freedom Option Package includes continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which helps boost fuel economy through better gear ratios; the variable-valve-control engine, which controls the mix of fuel and air more precisely; and the integrated starter-generator (ISG) - also called "idle-off" - which stops engines from using up as much as 15 percent of their gas while idling in traffic.

Pope and Becker were joined by Chuck Frank, a prominent Chicago Chevrolet dealer and long-time advocate of increased fuel economy. "My customers want to be able to keep buying their favorite models of cars and SUVs, but they want them to get more miles to the gallon. I'd like to give my customers what they want."

In addition to promoting the Freedom Option Package, the Club ran television and radio ads featuring former Sen. Bob Kerrey and retired Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan, Military Advisory Committee Chairman of truemajority. com, urging automakers to do their part to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil by manufacturing more fuel-efficient vehicles.

"We ask our young men and women to sacrifice their safety and perhaps their lives to fight the war against terrorism," says Kerrey in the ad. "We all know that our dependency on imported oil is part of the problem and we know that increasing the fuel economy of the cars we drive is part of the solution."

"The automakers have the know-how," says Shanahan. "They also have the responsibility to help save oil and the lives of our Armed Forces."

The radio ads target Ford Chairman Bill Ford, who has publicly declared his commitment to improve his company's environmental performance.

"Ford has publicly stated that it would voluntarily raise the fuel economy of its cars. We're urging them to walk their talk," says Kate Simmons of the Club's Energy Campaign.

At the June 12 launch, Pope was asked why Ford was singled out when General Motors and Chrysler are considered to be more entrenched opponents of fuel-economy legislation.

"If you want somebody to lead, you go to somebody who wants to be a leader," said Pope. "We think Bill Ford wants to be a leader."

Starting in July, Sierra Club organizers and volunteers will be working to create demand for American-made cars that get more miles to the gallon, and asking car shoppers to ask for vehicles that include the Freedom Option Package.

These technologies are available now, but only offered in a few vehicles - the CVT is in the Honda Civic HX, the Audi A6 and A4, and Saturn Vue, an SUV; variable-valve-control engines are in some models made by Honda, Toyota and BMW; the ISG is offered by Toyota in a sedan sold only in Japan.

A majority of the Senate may not back a boost in fuel economy, but American consumers do. A June 2001 ABC/Washington Post poll found that 89 percent of Americans favored the requirement that automakers produce more fuel-efficient vehicles.

(More statistics and their sources are available at

Sierra Club organizers will continue to encourage public officials to purchase fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles for their fleets. In Minneapolis, Mayor R.T. Rybak, elected last fall with Sierra Club support, has purchased a Toyota Prius as the mayor's official vehicle and has proposed purchasing more hybrids for the city fleet.

The day after the Club Detroit press conference, DaimlerChrysler announced that it had produced an engine that is 14 percent more fuel efficient than its standard V-8 engine and would cost less than $200 more per engine with no sacrifice in power or safety.

Chrysler said that a Dodge Durango SUV with this new engine and some additional design changes would improve its fuel efficiency by 25 percent at a cost of about $700 per vehicle.

Take Action: Join the Sierra Club's clean car campaign

This summer, Sierra Club organizers and volunteers will be working to encourage automakers to offer the Freedom Option Package in all new vehicles. The Club will be encouraging consumers who are considering purchasing cars to ask for these fuel-saving technologies.

Here's how you can participate:

  • Get a copy of the Sierra Club's Freedom Options Package fact sheet, which details these on-the-shelf technologies that could boost any vehicle's fuel efficiency. You can download a copy of the factsheet and find more information at

  • Send a letter, postcard or e-mail to Ford Chairman Bill Ford urging him to stop fighting new standards to require better gas mileage and start improving fuel economy by putting the Freedom Option Package of technologies into the company's five top-selling vehicles. Go to to order postcards; or go to to send an e-mail.

  • To get more involved, contact one of the Sierra Club's energy organizers.

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