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Automakers seek to block tighter fuel rules

WASHINGTON -- The heads of Detroit's auto industry asked Congress yesterday to reconsider a proposal to increase fuel standards that the automakers say could hurt their industry.

The leaders of General Motors, Ford, and the Chrysler Group discussed the impact of health care, trade, and energy policies on their companies, and asked House and Senate leaders to look at alternatives to a proposed overhaul of Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards for vehicles.

During a luncheon with Senate Democrats, it was evident they face hurdles. Senator Byron Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, noted the industry had resisted past increases and was now running advertising saying a Senate proposal would "take your pickup truck away."

"I think the issue is over -- I think you've lost that issue. I think your position is yesterday forever," Dorgan told the executives. "I think the Congress is moving on, and you're going to have increased efficiency requirements."

Rick Wagoner, General Motors Corp.'s chairman and chief executive, said the fuel economy program, developed in the mid-1970s, had failed to meet its goal of reducing gasoline consumption and oil imports. The country would be better off developing alternative fuels and advanced batteries for plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles, he said.

Wagoner said some of the proposals "look like a stretch and look tough" and others "don't look achievable."

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