Low-Smog SUVs

Americans who've opted for light trucks - pickups, sports utility vehicles, and vans - in recent years have also, know it or not, opted for more air pollution. The bestselling vehicles are currently allowed to emit up to three times more nitrogen oxide, one prime cause of smog, than passenger cars.

But California, the nation's smog watchdog, is out to change that. The state's Air Resources Board wants to cut allowable emissions for such smog-causing gases by nearly 75 percent, and it plans to apply that standard across the freeway - light trucks as well as cars. The federal Environmental Protection Agency is expected to follow California's lead.

In the past, light trucks were primarily transport for small businesses. Now that they've become the vehicle of choice in suburbia, their range has vastly expanded, as has their contribution to pollution.

Some carmakers complain that the technology doesn't exist to bring the heavier breed of light truck - brawny pickups and new, longer, luxuriously appointed SUVs - up to the California standard. Ford, however, plays the maverick, having already brought some models close to the state's ideal tailpipe purity. Clearly, it can be done.

Cost, of course, is a factor. Cleaner vehicles will have even higher sticker prices. But Americans in large numbers tell pollsters they want cleaner air. If so, they're getting what they wish, even if it isn't free as air.

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