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Keeler: Why auto manufacturers are getting behind higher CAFE standards

The Sunoco service station on Route 110 at

The Sunoco service station on Route 110 at Pinelawn Road in Melville is selling regular gas for $4.09. (July 25, 2012) Credit: Steve Pfost

As gas prices continue to rise, hovering around the $4 mark, imagine how comforting it would be to zip past gas stations for long stretches without having to stop at a pump and fill up.

Imagine cars getting more than 54 miles out of every high-priced gallon. The Obama administration has just made that scenario more real, issuing rules Tuesday that will require automakers to produce new cars and light trucks that average 54.5 mpg, across each automaker’s fleet, by 2025 (it’s 29.7 mpg now, and will be 35.5 in 2016).

In the past, the auto industry has pushed back hard against government-mandated increases in CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards. They were making a lot of money selling gas-guzzling SUVs, and they weren't in the mood to turn out a lot of energy-efficient cars that the public didn't seem to want.

This time around, the major automakers are supporting the new mandate. That has a lot to do with the current reality: Now the public does want cars that travel further on a gallon of an increasingly pricey fuel. So government policy and the marketplace are nicely aligned.

Besides, during the long recession, the Obama administration took action that saved large parts of the auto industry. So it would be bad form for the industry's leaders to bite the governmental hand that fed them what they needed to survive.

The bottom line is that auto companies are fully capable of meeting this mandate, their customers want more economical cars, and the companies are accepting a governmental demand that a few years ago they would have fiercely opposed.