By Joe Benton

May 24, 2007
Big automakers are striking back over the Memorial Day weekend at efforts in Congress to impose higher mileage standards.

Despite rising gas prices and growing public concern about climate change and dependence on foreign oil, the auto industry will set out to convince Americans they should oppose dramatically higher fuel economy requirements.

The Detroit Big Three along with Toyota Motor Corp. will spearhead a print and radio advertising campaign warning consumers that fuel regulations under consideration by the U.S. Senate will lead to higher vehicle prices and smaller and less safe vehicles.

The ads feature rural pick-up owners and SUV-driving soccer moms in a effort to make the case that a Senate proposal would limit consumer choice and tie the hands of automakers.

The Senate is scheduled to vote sometime in June on a bill that would require automakers to raise fuel economy 40 percent by 2020 to a fleet wide average of 35 miles per gallon for passenger cars and light trucks.

The ad campaign coincides with the highest gasoline prices on record as many American are choosing to stay at home for the Memorial Day weekend rather than pay $3.35 and more for a gallon of regular.

The automakers are counting on getting a better hearing from minivan owners and truck lovers than they have among political leaders and environmentalists.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the trade association that represents General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler AG, Toyota, BMW and four other automakers will kick off the campaign with two radio ads in more than 10 states urging people to contact their representatives in Congress to oppose "extreme fuel economy mandates."

The radio campaign will cost in excess of $1 million for ads to be run in Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all states with high percentages of truck and SUV owners.

The alliance also plans a Web site that will offer people a toll-free phone number that connects to members of Congress as well a way to send an e-mail to their Congressional representative.

GM and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler are sending letters to retirees, employees and dealers warning them of the downside of dramatically higher fuel economy standards.

GM will also launch a Web effort and Ford also plans some "grassroots communication with our employees and some retirees," according to a Ford spokesman.

One radio ad features a couple of farmers talking about buying a new pick-up against a backdrop of cackling chicken. "You might want to do that fast," one says, adding the new fuel standards "are going to really jack up the price."

The second ad focuses on people who could lose the ability to pick larger and safer vehicles if new rules pass. "Congress is about to pass a law that's going to make it harder and harder to find bigger cars. the response: "Why can't they let me make the choice? I'm all for better fuel economy, but for me safety is my top concern."

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