When it comes to vehicle registration fees, a state senator believes size should matter.
To encourage people to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles, Sen. Slade Mead, R-Ahwatukee Foothills, has written a bill that would charge higher fees for people who drive gas guzzlers such as Hummers and sport utility vehicles.
Those who drive gas sippers such as Hondas and hybrid gas-electric vehicles would be charged less under SB1060.
But some people need larger vehicles and should not be financially penalized for that, said Bobbi Sparrow, a lobbyist for the Arizona Automobile Dealers Association.
Mead doesn’t see it that way. Vehicles with the lowest fuel efficiency also are, in most cases, the heaviest, he said.
"If the registration fees go into maintaining the highways, the bigger the car, the more wear and tear on the highway," he said.
Road damage isn’t the only issue. Cars and trucks using the most fuel are likely the ones causing the most pollution, he said.
State law bases each vehicle’s registration fee on its value. The amount drops yearly along with the value of the car.
Under Mead’s plan, the lowest rates — and a potential discount of hundreds of dollars a year — would be reserved for vehicles that get at least 50 miles per gallon.
Vehicles that get 15 miles per gallon or less would have the highest fees.
The proposal wouldn’t get people to give up big vehicles for efficient ones, several Valley auto dealers said Tuesday.
Customers have demanded bigger vehicles for years and they rarely ask about gas mileage, said Joe Maggio, the general sales manager of Darner Jeep in Mesa. Maggio said last summer’s gas shortage in the Valley — and the subsequent jump in fuel prices — didn’t change what customers want.
Maggio can’t imagine higher fees would change the desire for big vehicles, either.
"Somebody who’s driving a Denali or one of those big Cadillac SUVs or Suburbans, they’re not going to give up a Suburban and drive a minivan or Jeep Liberty," he said.
For drivers such as Diane Fisher of Mesa, gas guzzlers are a necessity. Fisher, who spent part of Tuesday looking for a truck or SUV at Sun Pontiac GMC in Mesa, said she needs a big vehicle for her remodeling business.
The tax would punish people like her because they couldn’t make a living with a sedan. "We have to have at least a truck," Fisher said.
Lifestyle also plays a role in what people buy, Sparrow said. People who own horses need to tow trailers, and family sizes also dictate purchases.
"If you have more than three children, you may need to have the third back seat," she said.
Manufacturers are encouraged to build more efficient cars, Sparrow said, through laws that govern the Corporate Average Fuel Economy.
"For each big vehicle there has to be another vehicle that has lower corporate standards to be able to offset it," she said.
Sparrow said that means manufacturers have to make and convince consumers to buy more efficient cars so they can keep selling the larger ones.
The standard, unchanged for more than a decade, requires that any manufacturer’s passenger vehicles average 27.5 miles per gallon. But there is a different standard for sport utility vehicles and light trucks.
Even with a new increase, the average for 2005 model trucks and SUVs will
have to be only 21.2 mpg.
This isn’t Mead’s first foray into encouraging more fuel-efficient vehicles. The senator last year proposed allowing gas-electric hybrid vehicles to use the highoccupancy vehicle lanes during rush hours.
Now the only time a singleoccupant vehicle can use those lanes is if it runs solely on compressed natural gas or other alternative fuel.