LAS VEGAS –The National Automobile Dealers Assn. for months has opposed the federal government’s proposed fuel-economy goal of 54.5 mpg (4.3L/100 km) by 2025.

But the group is cranking up its opposition as William P. Underriner makes the fuel fight the theme of his first speech as NADA chairman at the annual convention here.

Now is the right time to question corporate average fuel economy goals that are expected to receive final congressional approval this year, he says.

The dealer group insists the technology to achieve the higher fuel standards will drive up the costs of cars, pushing millions of American consumers out of the market.

NADA is asking tough questions about this proposed rule,” Underriner says. “And so far the government hasn’t provided any answers. We want a full and fair public debate on the underlying assumptions of this rule. And we simply don’t understand the rush.”

NADA is fighting for consumers, says Underriner, a multi-franchise dealer from Billings, MT.

“Automobiles are not a luxury; they are a necessity of American life,” he says, noting that NADA was first formed to oppose a luxury tax on cars. “After 95 years, we are still fighting to keep the automobile affordable for the average American.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates the new CAFE proposals will add more than $3,000 to the cost of a new vehicle. NADA estimates it will cost more than that.

The dealer group not only is battling for consumers, but for itself. “If government policy is going to shrink our customer base, shouldn’t we be concerned?” Underriner says. “NADA is fighting this fight because we want the days of empty showrooms to be long gone.”

“We are fighting for sound public policy,” he adds, “not policy based on wishful thinking or happy talk or public-opinion polls.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com