What If Trump & Pruitt Do Clobber US & California Fuel Economy Standards?

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As a couple of our writers have highlighted this week, there may be a war brewing between California and the US Environmental Protection Agency. If that seems strange to you (knowing that California is super green and the EPA is all about keeping our world green), note that the United States under Donald Trump has a dude running the EPA who basically wants to see the EPA destroyed — so, yes, we are living in backwards land at the moment.

I won’t go through the story yet again — read Steve’s piece and Susan’s piece for the background and potential ways the EPA could try to nix California’s strict fuel economy standards — but I want to run through a little thought piece on what would happen if “Evil Scott Pruitt” and “Don the Con Trump” did somehow shut down California’s high standards for automakers (despite Republicans supposedly being all about “state rights”).

Image by Minesweeper (some rights reserved)

The first assumption (after the assumption that they’d do so) is that automakers would try to use the opening to push fuel-inefficient vehicles onto the market in California. More logically, I think automakers should realize that California is going to keep finding ways to make vehicles sold within its borders greener than the norm, and that once the EPA is off the operating table and we again have a sane pro-human president in charge, it will reinstate its higher fuel efficiency standards. Furthermore, Jerry Brown and the rest of super health-conscious, climate-conscious, and air-conscious California will surely be looking for other ways to regain their strict (or stricter) requirements on automakers. If automakers realize all of that, it may seem pointless to try to make any significant changes in The Golden State. (Plus, pushing dirty vehicles on an unwilling public and threatening the future of human society is just immoral.) But who knows, maybe they’d really try to push more gas guzzlers in Cali. I have to admit that I wouldn’t be surprised.

The next assumption, of course, is that consumers would buy these dirtier vehicles, and would then burn more fuel and burn more money on fuel. How much would Californians be pulled away from their greener sensibilities? Let’s presume quite a bit for the sake of this exercise.

As the gas price kicks up again, and as consumers start noticing how much money they’re losing to gas-guzzling, health-destroying vehicles, I think they’ll become very receptive to 100+ MPGe electric vehicles that could relieve them of that stress. When Tesla has the Model Y and an electric pickup on the market, and other newbies like Workhorse, BYD, and Lucid Motors keep diversifying the market’s electric options, even more people will be drawn to super-efficient electrics. Who will these consumers turn to? Big Auto?

How much of an effect all of that would have is questionable — maybe a lot, maybe a little. But I think the next result would undoubtedly be huge.

Photo by Kyle Field for CleanTechnica

Another Bailout, Please?

One way or another, electric domination is around the corner. We’re more or less sitting on the electric vehicle tipping point, in my humble opinion. Fuel prices are one thing, but there are over two dozen other reasons consumers are drawn to and will be drawn to electric transport. The scenario above will slightly hasten EV demand coming from people fed up with chucking their money to gas stations, but people will be coming to EVs one way or another in the coming decade. I think the bigger effect of the hypothetical scenario above is that it would possibly convince automakers that they can delay their jump into the EV transition — because, hey, even California can’t force them to sell health-protecting electric cars.

If automakers get cocky enough with their anti-science buddy Trump in the White House (or at his Florida resort golfing — whatev) and decide to pull back their electrification efforts, they are just setting themselves up to be demolished.

We’re hitting a massive crossover in cost-competitiveness of electric cars versus gasmobiles. Battery prices have fallen much faster than people expected, and they will keep coming down as manufacturing capacity ramps up (whether it be Tesla + Panasonic manufacturing capacity at gigafactories around the globe, much greater LG Chem battery manufacturing capacity, Samsung SDI battery improvements and manufacturing growth, rapid BYD battery production expansion, or all of the above). Tesla seems to be showing that battery-powered cars are already hitting cost-competitiveness in 2017.

But the bigger point is that it’s not just about cost.

Electric vehicles offer better acceleration, a smoother drive & ride, more convenience, a safer drive, a more relaxing drive, massive health benefits, climate protection, energy independence, personal self-reliance, income via your own robotaxi (soon), prettier skies and cities, quieter cities, the fun of new tech, etc.

If Big Auto doesn’t have the foresight to try to dominate the market, it will lose customers — fast — and will likely then end up at the door of Big Government asking for another bailout.

If Big Auto thinks it can go backwards just because “Don the Con” Trump is in office for a few years (or months — we’ll see), yikes, our economy is in for another dive when these job giants crash.

Maybe Tesla, BYD, Lucid, Smart, and others will come in and create jobs that Big Auto sacrifices. But yeah, I think any companies that try to go backwards technologically will find that going backwards is a great way to sink their ship.

Image via PenroseonPolitics Blogtoons

Side Thoughts

As I noted above, I don’t think automakers would end up making big changes to their California offerings in the case of an absurd top-down requirement from the US government that California reduce its environmental standards. However, if Trump, Pruitt, and their humanity-bashing buddies did push through such an absurdity, I think California and certain cities in California would respond by creating new laws to achieve the same effect — I presume they’d be even stronger laws. There are surely various ways they can push industry and consumers to switch to cleaner cars.

We’ll see what the EPA-destroying Pruitt & Trump put on the table, and how California responds.

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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