Kerry Willing to Compromise on CAFE

Sen. John Kerry said he is willing to change his proposal for an increase in automobile fuel economy standards so more senators will support the plan.

Kerry refused to discuss how far he would lower his proposal to require vehicles sold in the United States to get 35 miles per gallon by 2013. The Massachusetts Democrat said it probably would not pass if the Senate voted on it today, but he was discussing a possible compromise with moderate Republicans.

"Our starting point for discussion is 35 miles per gallon, but that's not a hard fix at this point," he said.

Kerry also said he would be willing to discuss lowering diesel emissions standards so that the industry can use more fuel efficient diesel technology to improve fuel economy. Automakers already sell vehicles with the technology overseas, but have not been able to do so in the United States because of tough diesel tailpipe standards in this country.

Fuel economy standards are set at 27.5 mpg for cars and 20.7 mpg for light trucks. Automakers don't have to meet the standard for every model, but their entire fleet must average the standard.

The auto industry and union autoworkers have waged an aggressive campaign against the Kerry proposal, saying it would force them to build smaller cars that go further on a gallon of gas but are less safe.

The industry is bracing for an increase, but is calling for the standard to be set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Adminstration.

"This political auctioning off of a fuel economy number shows why NHTSA should set a standard based on technological feasibility, cost, safety, consumer choice and effects on American jobs," said Gloria Bergquist, spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

Kerry criticized the auto industry for telling consumers his proposal would eliminate sport utility vehicles and cost jobs.

"I'm perfectly willing to be absolutely reasonable on this thing," he said. "What I regret is that there is such an air of hysterical distortion and complete scare tactic going on that doesn't even want to engage in a reasonable kind of dialogue."