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.”
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.