Though most of the news coming out of Washington, D.C. recently has centered around political matters like the debt ceiling and the 2012 presidential election, automakers have been concerned with something else entirely: fighting the Obama administration’s proposed 56.2 mpg Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. The administration, the manufacturers and the United Auto Workers union are getting closer to a deal that would exclude larger SUVs and pickups from the 56.2-mpg requirement.

Originally, the White House wanted to require each manufacturer’s average fleet-wide fuel economy to be at least 56.2 mpg by 2025. For example, in Nissan’s case, the fuel-efficient Nissan Leaf’s 99 mpg combined EPA ratings would be balanced out by the all-wheel drive Infiniti QX56’s combined fuel economy of 16 mpg. Averaged with the rest of Nissan’s and Infiniti’s vehicles, the group’s average gas mileage would need to be 56.2 mpg under the old proposal.

But, in the interest of compromise, the Obama administration has agreed to tailor fuel economy requirements to each vehicle’s footprint. “The White House is considering a proposal that allows for the fuel economy ratings of full-size trucks and SUVs to improve at a lesser pace than required for passenger cars,” reports Autoblog.

“The result is that automakers don't have to balance sales of SUVs with poor fuel efficiency and subcompacts that get better mileage to meet CAFE targets,” explains the Detroit Free Press. “If the SUV meets the fuel standard for its own footprint, the automaker can sell all it wants.”

This way, the administration and regulators can still get approval for their 56.2-mpg-by-2025 rules, while automakers don’t have to include large SUVs and pickup trucks with poor fuel economy into their average ratings. However, the deal still requires manufacturers to continue improving fuel economy in their larger vehicles.

While the unions, the automakers and the administration hash out new rules, it might seem to the consumer like just another political battle over semantics. But these rules have already had a positive effect on car shoppers across the country. The Chevrolet Cruze Eco, Ford Fiesta SFE, Audi A3 diesel and Hyundai Elantra all get 40 mpg or more on the highway, and sales have skyrocketed during the recent hike in gas prices. Plus, automakers have even begun to improve fuel economy in SUVs and pickup trucks. The Cadillac Escalade Hybrid gets 7 mpg more in the city and 5 mpg more on the highway than the gas-powered, all-wheel drive Escalade does, and the Ford F-150’s V6 engines are the best-selling in the truck’s lineup. So, while it may be frustrating to watch the slow back-and-forth of the CAFE negotiations, consumers should look forward to saving even more money at the pump.

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