The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed a rule for the 2011-15 model years, raising standards by about 25 percent by the end of that period at an estimated cost of about $47 billion to the industry.
The Bush administration had promised a final rule by the end of 2008. But that was before the economic downturn reached crisis proportions for the automobile industry, necessitating federal loans to General Motors and Chrysler LLC to keep them afloat.
Automakers are not happy about the delay because they need certainty in rule-making for their product planning, according to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, representing the Detroit 3, Toyota, Volkswagen and six other automakers.
"We look forward to working with the Obama administration to provide them with any information they need to complete this rule-making. Manufacturers share the goal of enhancing energy security and reducing greenhouse gas emissions," said alliance spokesman Charles Territo.
Federal law requires NHTSA to give automakers at least 18 months lead time before imposing higher standards under the corporate average fuel economy program, or CAFE.
So time remains for the Obama administration to impose higher standards for the 2011 model year -- which, under the CAFE program, begins Oct. 1, 2010.
The deadline for a final rule would be April 1.
The Bush administration statement added that it has done significant work that will position the next transportation secretary to finalize a rule before the April 1, 2009, deadline.
President-elect Barack Obama has nominated former Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., as the next secretary of transportation, who oversees NHTSA.