Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis said last week that he has decided to discontinue The Car Book, the Carter administration's taxpayer-financed guide for automobile buyers.
The book includes data on how well automobiles protect people in crashes, how much physical damage they sustain in accidents, how much maintenance they need, comparative insurance costs and fuel economy.
Models were compared side by side, and although many foreign modesl showed up better than domestic ones in some categories, domestic cars won in others. The book was not popular with the auto industry.
Lewis headed the Reagan administraton's task force on auto industry problems. "What I don't want to see us do," he said in an interview, is to develope "an anti-industry kind of position, for example, The Car Book . . . . There are a great many inaccuracies in The Car Book and I think there is too much of a bias in the direction of just taking shots at these people."
Crash tests, results of which were published in the book, were "unfair," Lewis said.
The book, a compilation from many sources of information about new automobiles, was first published in December by the Transportation Department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The NHTSA chief at that time was former Ralph Nader associate Joan Claybrook, who was widely perceived as being an abrasive adversary of the automobile industry, specifically on safety issues.
The book was an instant hit. About 1.1 million were distributed in the first three weeks and a second printing was ordered. Only about 500,000 have been distributed since then, although it is still available through the Consumer Information Center in Pueblo, Colo.
NHTSA officials estimate that the book acutally a 68-page pamphlet, cost 41 cents a copy to compile and print, or about $820,000 for both press runs.
"Most of those cars are going to be used cars before the balance of the books that we have are out anyway," Lewis said. "Usually people don't need a consumer guide to buy a used car."