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Fuel efficiency rules aimed at advanced vehicles

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration is setting tough gas mileage standards for new cars and trucks, spurring the next generation of fuel-sipping gas-electric hybrids, efficient engines and electric cars.

The heads of the Transportation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency today were signing final rules requiring 2016 model-year vehicles to meet fuel efficiency targets of 35.5 miles per gallon combined for cars and trucks, an increase of nearly 10 mpg over current standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The EPA, which received the power to regulate carbon dioxide emissions in a 2007 Supreme Court ruling, will set a tailpipe emissions standard of 250 grams (8.75 ounces) of carbon dioxide per mile for vehicles sold in 2016, or the equivalent of what would be emitted by vehicles meeting the mileage standard. The EPA is issuing its first rules ever on vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.

President Barack Obama, previewing the plan Wednesday, said it marked a reversal "after decades in which we have done little to increase auto efficiency." Obama said the standards would "reduce our dependence on oil while helping folks spend a little less at the pump."

Each auto company will have a different fuel-efficiency target, based on its mix of vehicles. Automakers that build more small cars will have a higher target than car companies that manufacture a broad range of cars and trucks. The standard could be as low as 34.1 mpg by 2016 because automakers are expected to receive credits for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in other ways, including preventing the leaking of coolant from air conditioners.

Obama said the new requirements will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the life of the program, which will cover the 2012-16 model years. The new standards move up goals set in a 2007 energy law, which required the auto industry to meet a 35 mpg average by 2020.

A NHTSA official familiar with the plan, who was not authorized to speak publicly before today's announcement, said the requirements would add about $1,000 per new vehicle by 2016 but would pay back that investment within three years. The rule is expected to save more than $3,000 over the life of the vehicle through better gas mileage.