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Auto Industry Split Over Trump Administration’s Challenge of California Emissions

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Photo: Pixabay | Pexels

President Trump didn’t make a lot of friends among car manufacturers when he threatened to raise import tariffs, but many of them are now siding with his administration’s bid to ban California from setting its own fuel efficiency and emissions requirements for vehicles.

A group of manufacturers including General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Toyota, Hyundai, Kia, Subaru, Mazda, and Nissan has backed the Trump administration and formed what it calls the Coalition for Sustainable Automotive Regulation, putting them at odds with other major automakers like Ford, Honda, and Volkswagen, which had in July announced a voluntary deal with California to honor the state’s requirements.

According to John Bozella, who serves as both spokesman for the coalition and CEO of the Association of Global Automakers trade group, the coalition chose to intervene not because it endorses Trump’s efforts to reverse the fuel standards that were put in place during the Obama administration, but because it believes California and the federal government should compromise on a single, national set of fuel economy standards.

“With our industry facing the possibility of multiple, overlapping and inconsistent standards that drive up costs and penalize consumers, we had an obligation to intervene,” Bozella said. “The decision to intervene in the lawsuit is about how the standard should be applied, not what the standard should be.”

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Critics of the coalition say that its move will only strengthen the Trump administration’s position and roll back years of progress that California had made in pushing automakers to build more environmentally-friendly cars.

“The industry has always cast its objection as a plea for a single nationwide standard, but that’s just blowing smoke; if the manufacturers really cared about consistent regulation, all they have to do is comply with California’s rules nationwide,” the LA Times’ Michael Hiltzik writes. “Their real concern is that the existing rules set a high bar.”

Indeed, the Obama administration called for average vehicle fuel efficiency to reach 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, a rather ambitious goal that will be even harder to meet in the United States, where the car market is comprised primarily of inefficient trucks and large SUVs. The Trump administration’s plan would reduce that goal to 37 mpg along with revoking California’s authority to set its own requirements.

It’s difficult if not impossible to discern the true motivations of the coalition, though that it includes such automakers as Toyota and Mazda should suggest that perhaps its claims at wanting a single nationwide standard is perhaps not so disingenuous, as they’ve been among the companies that have least struggled to meet the increasingly stringent fuel economy regulations. Toyota has been at the forefront of efficient powertrain technology development for decades, and Mazda doesn’t build full-size SUVs or pickup trucks, which helps keep its average vehicle mpg high (even its least efficient model still gets 28 mpg on the highway).

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What do you think the Coalition for Sustainable Automotive Regulation is really up to? Does it really want a national standard, or is it just trying to avoid having to invest in developing more efficient cars? Or is it something else? Let us know what you think in the comments below.