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Honey, Maryland shrunk the car

April 21, 2007

Get ready to purchase your new small car. In fact, it might be really small. Some consumers are already doing this due to high gas prices. But our political leaders in the state of Maryland want to make sure that all of us will buy a small car. They don't trust you to make this decision on your own.

The Maryland House of Delegates passed a law setting very strict standards for cars and trucks hitting the market in 2010 that would require vehicles sold in Maryland to average 43 miles per gallon. The current average is around 25 mpg. This represents an increase of 72 percent. Not content with a reasonable 10 percent or 20 percent increase, Maryland has jumped in bed with the more radical standards of California and a few other so-called "progressive" states in setting the bar much higher than common sense would suggest.

Admittedly, the law doesn't dictate the size of the car, but it is reasonable to assume that to achieve fuel standards of this magnitude, much smaller cars and trucks will be the result. There is no magic bullet out there allowing vehicles to achieve these fuel standards by just engine modifications.

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Conspiracy nuts sometimes claim, without any proof, that oil companies purposely keep the technology off the market that would boost fuel consumption standards. If such technology existed, the profits for such a system would be so great, no one, not even "greedy" oil companies, could resist marketing it.

And our political leaders are ready for evil-minded and selfish consumers tempted to buy their cars in another state. The law requires that VIN numbers be used for vehicle registrations to determine where the car was purchased. Cars purchased in other states that do not meet the Maryland standards cannot be registered in Maryland.

The bill just passed was given the name, "The Maryland Clean Cars Act." This is clever packaging by the environmental lobby. Does this mean the emissions testing we have been doing for the last 15 years has been worthless, leaving us all driving "dirty" cars?

The irony is that the specifics of the bill will be written by some agency in California. Truth in labeling would suggest leaving Maryland out of the title.

Charles Territo, spokesperson for auto manufacturers, noted that the new requirements would add about $3,000 to the cost of a car and greatly reduce choices for consumers. Additionally, he noted that since Maryland is following the standards set by the state of California, it gives California the authority to make the decisions for us about the vehicles we drive here in Maryland.

You may be aware of what is going on at the former Mack Trucks, now Volvo Powertrain operations, here in Hagerstown. The federal government mandated much stricter emission standards for the big rigs starting this past Jan. 1. This requirement added about $7,000 to $10,000 to the cost of '07 trucks and has resulted in engines being produced that, according to a local engineer, are inferior to the old engines. The new truck engines burn more fuel, which negates some of the benefit from the lower emissions.

The jury is still out on whether these newer engines will be durable, a great concern in the industry right now. This has cost the truck industry billions of dollars. It is a cost that all of us will end up paying.

The industry saw booming sales in 2006, as trucking companies built up their inventory in order to beat the deadline. Consequently, orders for new trucks have declined for 2007, resulting in many layoffs, including our local truck plant. Meantime, Al Gore goes to Congress to say that the new environmental rules he is calling for will have no effect on the economy. Balderdash!

The vote in the Maryland House of Delegates on the Clean Cars Act was 122 to 16. We can appreciate all the more the stand of Chris Shank, Bob McKee, LeRoy Myers, Joe Bartlett, and Rick Weldon in the house as well as Senators Alex Mooney and Don Munson. They should be commended for not being stampeded by the herd mentality supporting this draconian legislation.

You have to wonder what will happen in the car and pickup truck industry. Will consumers flock to showrooms and purchase the 2010 models (which will come out in 2009, before the deadline)? Will the car companies gradually bring in the new standards to ease the pain of adjustment? Will a recession be triggered in 2010 in our area and in those states that mandate the new requirements? Will the federal government step in and require the California standards for Nebraska and Wyoming and everyone in between?

We will see if common sense prevails in the long run, or if Marylanders will agree to be sheared like sheep.

George Michael is a Williamsport resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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