Auto Makers Continue Their Attack On Fuel Economy Standards


The howling and wailing from US automakers about fuel economy standards is reaching a fever pitch. Last week, 18 of them fired off a letter to The Donald asking him to initiate a review of the emissions standards locked in by the Obama administration just a week before leaving office. The car company execs made it a point to shamelessly suck up to Trump, praising his “personal focus on steps to strengthen the economy in the United States and your commitment to jobs in our sector.”

car makers oppose fuel economy standards

The letter pointed out that if the companies do not get relief from the onerous burden placed upon then by Obama’s climate ghouls, up to a million jobs in the automotive sector could be at risk and the cost of vehicles could explode, making it impossible for decent, hard working, Trump supporting Americans to afford a new car. They feel they were stabbed in the back by the Obamans as they headed toward the exits. The EPA had until next April to finish its midterm review of emissions standards but chose to accelerate the process.

Did Obama’s EPA do what it did to make it difficult for the climate denier in chief to gut the rules? Absolutely. But it did so in a way that will make it very difficult for the Trumpies to undo the damage. Executive orders cannot simply erase all traces of a prior administration. To roll back the rules now would require convincing the courts that what the  EPA did not have a basis in fact. The Obamans made damn sure the record is replete with statistical evidence supporting its actions.

Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said Sunday, “What we’re really trying to do is just restore the process, and because the process was truncated, we don’t really know what the standards should be.”  She said automakers are “seeking a restoration of the process — that’s all. This is a reset.” That’s all? That’s quite a lot. That’s like saying everything the federal government has ever done, every law that Congress has ever passed, should evaporate as soon as a new chief executive is seated. It’s one thing to chart a new course going forward. It is quite another to erase everything that has happened up until that point.

Environmentalists are determined to protect the work of the EPA. There is every possibility that they could mire any attempt to re-open the rule making process in legal entanglements until long after Trump has left the scene — even if (heaven forefend!) he is re-elected. “We’ll see him in court,” Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, says. “There are a lot of reasons to keep the standards in place and there will be a fight.”

Roland Hwang, director of energy and transportation at the Natural Resources Defense Council, says the EPA review “one of the most thorough decision making processes I’ve seen by an agency.” He says the NRDC views the automakers’ request to re-open the review as a move to “politically meddle with what should be a science-based decision. I don’t know what information they could bring to the table that hasn’t been brought to the table already.”

Okay. That’s the news. Now what’s behind all the hysteria? Permit me to remove my reporter’s hat and pick up my editorial pen for a moment. What’s going on is that the mainstream automakers are like dinosaurs. They are already dead, they just don’t know it yet. Let’s examine the evidence. Despite Mark Fields, CEO of Ford, whining that nobody wants to buy fuel efficient cars, the tipping point when electrified vehicles go mainstream is inching closer every day.

In Norway, EVs now account for nearly a third of all new car sales. Mercedes, Volkswagen, and BMW are rushing plug-in hybrid models to market with battery electric cars scheduled to appear shortly. In China, 8% of all new cars built in 2017 must be “new energy vehicles.” Deutsche Post has designed and built an electric delivery van itself because none of the mainstream companies would do it. Workhorse has made a package delivery van for UPS that is five times as efficient as a conventional van. Tesla is on the brink of producing a half million midsize electric cars a year.

But all the US car makers care about is selling more gargantuan trucks and sport utility vehicles. Ford is crowing this week about how it redesigned its ground pounding behemoth — the Expedition — and made it 300 lbs lighter by using more aluminum and how it made it more fuel efficient by shoving a turbocharged 6 cylinder engine under its cavernous hood instead of a V-8. The Expedition? Really? That’s what you want people to get excited about? A truck large enough to move three rooms of furniture in a single bound? Seriously, Mark Fields, that’s the best Ford can do — update what amounts to a commercial van with windows that has been in production for 20 years?

Look around you, people. Fields and his colleagues point out that people’s tastes are moving away from sedans toward sport utility vehicles and crossovers. You gripe that declining sedan sales prove that nobody wants to buy fuel efficient cars. WRONG! People don’t want to buy sedans, period. Your argument makes no sense. Fuel economy is still a primary concern for most new car shoppers. Give them what they want instead of complaining about what they don’t want.

In the final analysis, perhaps CAFE regulations are not the smartest or best way to lower carbon emissions. Maybe the carbon tax proposed by senior Republican leaders is a better way of accomplishing the same goal. But just rolling back regulations so auto manufacturers can glut themselves on fat profits at the expense of people’s health and longevity? That is just pig headed stupidity.

Write down the names of the 18 companies that signed that letter to Trump. There’s a good chance that at least half of them will be out of business in 10 years or less.

Source: Bloomberg, Reuters


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.
  • Rick Danger

    I won’t shed a tear if all 18 of them go out of business. “Business As Usual” just isn’t going to cut it in the 21st century.

    • Steve Hanley

      Elon Musk really is the smartest guy in the room. And these execs are some of the dumbest.

      Help me! My Conestoga wagon business is failing! Help me! My blacksmith shop is losing money! Oh, woe tis me. I need the government to help me keep my outdated, so last century business alive.

      • Epicurus

        Reminds me of something else. How much money have the banks ripped off from the American public as a result of the economic disaster they caused?

        American capitalism is about protecting entrenched business interests.

  • Ed

    Good summary, Steve.
    I support a fuel tax…by whatever name you want to give it. I hope the Republicans will stick to it. They gave us the EPA, and even though it was the right thing to do, it cost them a lot of friends. Like almost every corporation. Here’s hoping they will do the right thing again.
    I will post again the slide I have used in talks about how Detroit leadership has failed in the past…and appears to be failing again.

  • Epicurus

    Right, it’s amazing few people want to buy a new product when the manufacturers don’t advertise it.

  • Epicurus

    Was there a link to the letter?

    Who are the 18 mofos?

    • Steve Hanley

      Can’t find a copy of the original anywhere, but it’s a safe bet every company you can think of signed it. (Except Tesla, of course! )

      • Epicurus

        Every ICE manufacturer totally disregards the threats of air pollution and climate change to the health of humanity and to the planet?

        That says all you need to know about the “free market” and capitalism in the U.S.

  • Joe Shaffer

    They are going to build what they want and what people will buy, it is that simple. Some of us wanted a EV1 and never got the chance to own one, because Hummers made more money and they are going to build what makes money. I don’t blame them, but at some point they will have to build cars that fit everyone needs. GM could have built and sold both the EV1 and Hummer and made money and been ahead of the electric car wave. If everyone wanted an electric car then why is the Nisan Leaf not flying out of the showroom floors?? They freaking BORING. People want cars with style. If they (the 18) fail then it is on them and we all should be sad for the jobs lost. But remember some of them have been doing this for over 100 years and the last admin tried to kill them with regulations. But we cannot make everyone happy. I would like to see Tesla make a car like the Mustang, Camaro and Challenger as some of us want a sports car (and in the same price range), not the family truckster. Yes I know how fast the 4 door sedan is. Make something that will catch sports guys eyes. As far as the CAFE and the EPA go, they over reached there own rules of what is pollutant is. co2 is not a pollutant, so please stop saying it is. Yes the US is better to have the EPA, but it is to be ruled by congress and not the person who thinks they know what is best for the nation. That is called a dictator and we had 8 years of that BS. So lets move forward as a nation and stop buying into Al Gores BS, he lied and we all know it.

    • Epicurus

      “co2 is not a pollutant”

      Water is not a poison either but please chug 10 gallons of water and see what happens. Please.

      As to Al Gore’s “BS,” the National Academy of Sciences, Britain’s Royal Society and every other national scientific society IN THE ENTIRE WORLD, as well as the CIA, the Pentagon, NASA, NOAA, and, last but not least, Exxon, which conducted its own original empirical research in the 70s, all agree that climate change is a scientific certainty and that it is caused by human activity, principally the burning of fossil fuels.

    • Rick Danger

      Joe Shaffer everybody!
      He’ll be here all weekend, so bring your friends to tonight’s show, and don’t forget to tip your waitress, thank you!

    • super390

      Obama tried to kill GM and Chrysler with regulations?
      I thought he was an evil Communist because he used taxpayer money to save them from their bankruptcies.
      Keep your theories straight, man.

      “but it is to be ruled by congress and not the person who thinks they know what is best for the nation”

      Boy, you sure nailed it. Congress will never, ever be confused with wanting what is best for the nation.

  • Epicurus

    Even the auto ads on this page are for ICE cars. The auto companies won’t even advertise their EVs on a site like this. Sheesh.

  • Epicurus

    If the Chinese dictatorship was worth a damn, it would pass a law banning new vehicle sales after 2017 of all non-zero emission vehicles that don’t plug-in and that don’t get at least 25 miles of all electric range. Dictators just aren’t what they used to be. So disappointing.

  • fred smith the deplorable

    Actually, the howling and wailing is coming from those who want to force automakers to build cars that people don’t want to buy. Less regulation, less force, more freedom!

    • super390

      Car companies have been manipulating what people want to buy for 100 years using ungodly media power. Look at the tail fin craze, those year-by-year photo comparisons of those useless projections that everyone had to have, which then suddenly disappeared after reaching their zenith with the 1959 Cadillac (42 inches high). Time to start another craze.

      We are brainwashed to buy all kinds of things we don’t need. You deride non-corporate scientists for saying that your freedoms cause global harm, but right now corporate scientists are developing better ways to use the Internet to discover and manipulate your buying patterns. They have already conquered our free will, in the service of trivialities.

      • fred smith the deplorable

        It sounds like you are saying that “scientists” aren’t really scientists, but merely shills selling out to the highest bidder. If so, that would explain the “public” (ie government) funded “scientists” who keep getting paid as long as they proclaim that there is a problem that can only be solved by continuing to give the government and their paid scientists/shills money and control. A “corporate scientist” has to produce results or they get fired. A “government scientist” only has to shout “climate change” and they keep getting funded. So are “we” being brainwashed, or just those who believe that the sky is falling?

  • The Expedition? Really? That’s what you want people to get excited about? A truck large enough to move three rooms of furniture in a single bound? Seriously, Mark Fields, that’s the best Ford can do — update what amounts to a commercial van with windows that has been in production for 20 years?

    They are alluring vehicles for many even if they never actually use them as intended, so we have to live with that. We shouldn’t have to live with is Ford’s ineptitude. The size of Expeditions (and Tahoes/Suburbans/Yukons/Durangos) really makes a lot of sense for just going full electric since it’ll be easier to fit a motor on both axles and lots of batteries, but I guess the Big Two Point Five are looking forward to losing market share to disruptive entrants. When a startup truck takes 25% of the market in a year like Tesla did to the luxury segment, maybe then they’ll wake up.