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The all-American car aiming at an all-American makeover

THE higher mileage and emissions standards set by United States President Obama's administration on Tuesday, which begin to take effect in 2012 and are to be achieved by 2016, will transform the famously oversized American car and truck fleet.

Some drivers will have to give up their hulking sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks will cost more.

Nearly everybody else will drive smaller automobiles, and more of them will run on electricity.

The new rules will bring new cars and trucks sold in the US to an average of 15 kilometers per liter, about 4.2 kilometers per liter more than today's standards.

Passenger cars will be required to get 16.5 kilometers per liter, light trucks 12.7 kilometers per liter.

That means cars and trucks on American roads will have to become smaller, lighter and more efficient.

Eric Fedewa, vice president of global powertrain forecasting for the auto consulting firm CSM Worldwide in Northville, Michigan, said the changes will make pickup trucks so much more expensive that they will be used almost exclusively for work.

And instead of a minivan or SUV, more parents will haul their families in much smaller vehicles with three rows of seats - something more like the Mazda 5 small van, he said. The Mazda 5 gets about 11.9 kilometers per liter on the highway.

"I think what you'll see is a lot more creativity in interior packaging. You'll get more rows of seats where you traditionally had cargo space," he said.

Auto makers are already working on new technology, including direct fuel injection and high compression of the air-fuel mixture, that will make cars and trucks more efficient.

The Obama administration says the changes mean the average vehicle will cost about US$1,300 more, although some private analysts say the increase will be much heftier.

Under the plan, the sale of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids could also generate "super credits" that would count as more than one vehicle when an auto maker determines its average fuel economy and emissions figures.


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