US lawmakers yesterday agreed a package of minor changes to federal fuel economy rules aimed at reducing the petrol consumed by sport-utility vehicles and other light trucks from 2006, the Detroit News reported.

The newspaper said that much of the debate centered around how much changes to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy programme would do to cut down on petrol consumption and reduce US dependence on foreign oil.

Under CAFE, an automaker’s fleet of cars must average 27.5 miles per gallon, and light truck fleets must average 20.7 mpg, the Detroit News said.

The newspaper said US lawmakers agreed to set a savings target of five billion gallons of petrol used by SUVs and other light trucks over seven years, beginning with the 2006 model year.

According to the Detroit News, Representaive W.J. “Billy” Tauzin, a Republican from Louisiana and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said it was the first time Congress had demanded specific fuel savings targets for the growing light truck segment, which includes pickups, SUVs and minivans.

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The newspaper said that opponents of the plan called for tougher rules, saying the modest savings goal would boost the fuel economy of light truck fleets by less than 1 mile per gallon.

The Detroit News said that negotiators also turned back a push by environmental groups to cancel the “flexible fuel vehicle” programme.
Under the programme, the newspaper said, vehicle makers earn CAFE credits with the sale of cars and trucks that can run on either petrol or an alternative fuel, such as ethanol.

Critics contend because the vehicles almost never use the alternative fuels, the programme results in a net increase in oil consumption, the Detroit News added.