4 February 1998

The Big Three US automakers said they will push ahead with the National Low Emission Vehicle program, despite the failure of four Northeastern states to join the plan. General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp. had offered to build 1999 model year cars and trucks that are 70% cleaner than current vehicles in 12 Northeastern states and the District of Columbia in lieu of selling electric cars.

The US EPA endorsed the four-year effort in December and gave states 60 days to decide if they wanted to participate. New York, Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont have declined to sign on to the program, referred to as NLEV. "We believe the action of these four states should not preclude the benefits of the National LEV for the rest of the people," said Dennis Minano, a GM vice president and its chief environmental officer. Ford and Chrysler also issued statements reaffirming their participation in the plan.

In Washington, the Clinton administration welcomed the news and said it underscored the fact that business and government could work together to achieve environmental goals. Vice President Al Gore called the automakers' announcement "an important step to curb smog and protect public health."

Under the plan, vehicles that meet NLEV standards would eliminate 99% of the pollution emitted by pre-regulation cars of the 1970s. Vehicles today already eliminate about 97% of those pollutants. However, the plan does not reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, which are believed to contribute to global warming. Those reductions would only be achieved by more fuel efficient engines.

Automakers still plan to extend the NLEV program to the rest of the country in the 2001 model year. The vehicles are made cleaner through new exhaust catalysts and engine control electronics.

Ford automotive operations President Jacques Nasser declined to say Wednesday how much it will cost to add the additional equipment. Ford announced in January that all of its 1999 sport/utility vehicles and minivans will meet what the industry calls low-emission vehicle standards.

Source: Reuters