Automakers Say They Want “Rational, Predictable, Stable Policy” On Auto Emissions


Mitch Bainwol is the chief executive of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. That’s the trade group that has been making dire predictions  about the CAFE auto emissions standards the EPA locked in as the Obama administration was heading for the exits. Mark Fields, the CEO of Ford, told anyone within earshot those standards would throw one million Americans out of work and cost consumers billions. Donald Trump made a big show of flying to Michigan to announce his EPA would conduct a thorough, top to bottom review of the CAFE auto emissions program and come up with recommendations within a year.

MItch Bainwol on auto emissions

Meanwhile, California, the state that most responsible for CAFE rules in the first place, told automakers it plans to make its emissions rules even tougher. The automakers clearly hoped for quicker action by the Trumpeters and when they didn’t get it, they had to face up to reality. The cars they will build in 2022 are being designed now. They need to know what the rules of the game in the future will be and they need to know soon.

This week at the New York auto show, Bainwol was busy telling people the car companies don’t want to roll back existing standards. What they want is a rational, predictable, stable policy.” He hopes “that over time, responsible parties will come together and have an honest conversation about what the data is.”

Bainwol, being the good PR flak he is, went on to say, “The talk of rollback is fallacious. What we are talking here is the nature of the slope. We will get to the Obama numbers (54.5 mpg). We will get beyond the Obama numbers. The question is when and how.” Can you say “slow walk,” boys and girls?

Business wants certainty. When the automakers full court press didn’t work, the car companies decided to fall back on that old standby — delay. They have delayed seat belts, crash test standards, and air bags. They said every one of those would throw people out of work and cost consumers money.  Yet they are rushing ahead with autonomous car sharing — which is expected to put billions of dollars in their pockets. It’s all just a matter of priorities.

The White House plans to hold negotiations with car companies and California. A deal would remove uncertainty for automakers , who need years of lead time to engineer future models and want uniform rules across all 50 states. Without a deal, automakers could be forced to meet one set of standards for California and and the other states that have adopted its rules and another set of rules for the rest of the country.

Environmentalists say the rules are saving consumers billions of dollars in fuel. Dave Cooke, a vehicle analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a blog post recently that “fuel economy regulations have been critical in moving the needle towards energy efficiency. The auto industry is historically resistant to change, pushing back on safety improvements like air bags and seat belts.”

Automakers want one set of rules and are willing to soften their assault on CAFE to get it. For his part, Trump is finding out it is a lot easier to Tweet than to govern. The Obama EPA went to extraordinary lengths to buttress its rules with reams of data. If Trump or Scott Pruitt tries to undo them, environmentalists will challenge any such move n court. The courts will not substitute their judgment for the EPA’s findings. As long as the rules are amply supported by solid data, and lots of it, the rules are virtually impervious to a legal challenge.

The automakers have overplayed their hand and realize they have no trump card left. They now want peace and predictability. Such is the nature of politics.

Source: Fortune  Image credit: AAM

About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I'm interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.
  • WebUserAtLarge

    Just a prime example of why the Big Auto will not survive in the long run if they don’t accept and embrace the EVs , Trump or no Trump, EPA or no EPA, CARB or no CARB.

    They are not asking the right thing. The question to ask should be:

    “When will the Auto Emissions NOT be accepted by the consumers(voters)? Period. What is the “slope” for that? How do we start the transition now? We cannot do it voluntarily. If we do not, Teslas and Lucids and BYDs and Workhorses and Vias and the others will make us obsolete in a few years. Please legislate this eventuality for us! Help! NOW!”

    Otherwise the original statement will be moot, and soon.

  • James Rowland

    They still want more rope to hang themselves with?

    Fine. Some day soon they’ll realise their market now belongs to the better alternatives they refused to make, and economics will take its usual course.

    • No, then they’ll be back in DC asking Trump for a(nother) bailout.

      • James Rowland

        They can ask. I don’t think they’ll get permission for the “Liquidation Motors” plan again, though.

        • Of course they will. Trump is counting on them to “create thousands of jobs” and if they say that jobs are on the line, the money will flow freely.

          • James Rowland

            Redoing the Liquidation Motors plan would require having good assets to cleave off.

          • You’re implying that in his past life, Trump was a successful businessman because he could make competent business decisions. The jury is still very much out on that one.

          • James Rowland

            No, I’m not implying that.

            I don’t doubt that Trump would be flipping burgers today if his
            father hadn’t showered him with money every time he needed it, but
            that’s irrelevant here because he wouldn’t be the one making or approving the proposal. Ultimately, they’d have to persuade a bankruptcy court (as they did last time.)

            It’s going to be a lot harder to claim a viable business can be carved out of a failing one when all their products have been rendered obsolete by a technology disruption they weren’t ready for.

  • kevin mccune

    Don’t know, still think I would omit the “airbombs ” if I had a choice , I like the shoulder belts and passive devices , such as crush zones , every vehicle my family owns was included in the blinding , hemorraghing takata airbag recall , it was a pain in the ass and the manufacturers didn’t even offer to reimburse anybody for the lost work time and possible fatal injuries ( they recommended not to haul any passengers around ), BS on the “airbombs .

  • bioburner

    The Obama administration already offered them 1 set of standards. The AAM accepted this offer with a smile and said great. Now gas is $2 a gallon and they are crying. I say BS. Its not hard to get the required fuel economy numbers.
    Predictable…..Emissions control for cars is an ongoing process, its not going to stop evolving. These people ( AAM) need to wake up.

  • John J. McAvoy

    “Without a deal, automakers could be forced to meet one set of standards for California and and the other states that have adopted its rules and another set of rules for the rest of the country.” Bull s**t! Who says all states cannot follow the most demanding standards instead of having multiple, dirtier standards?

    • Steve Hanley

      No one says they can’t. What we are saying is the WON’T! The Cali rules are seen as proof of the nanny state by right thinking, red blooded Amuirricans, They wouldn’t be caught dead emulating the effete snobs in California.

  • Without a deal, automakers could be forced to meet one set of standards for California and and the other states that have adopted its rules and another set of rules for the rest of the country.

    Last I checked, the CARB standards are stricter than those for the rest of the country. The automakers could just stop selling two sets of cars and stick with the CARB standards everywhere and then they wouldn’t have that problem anymore. That they don’t is no one’s fault but their own.

    • Steve Hanley

      Yes, the COULD, but they WON’T. If they were going to do so, they would have done so sometime in the past 40+ years. See comment above.

  • Jonny_K

    They have”Rational and predictable” standards already, the California standards now adopted by several other states. They want rational, predictable, easier standards.