Oh, the whining and moaning coming out of Detroit this past year. “Those rotten Obama people saddled us with these impossibly high fuel economy regulations! We can’t meet them! Trying to comply will bankrupt us and put millions out of work! Help us, Donald Trump, you’re our only hope!” Their message was greeted warmly in Washington, DC, where
Darth Vader Scott Pruitt promptly put his minions to work dismantling those rules so Americans could enjoy the benefits of huge gas guzzling vehicles again, just as they were promised in the Constitution.
But a funny thing happened on the way to regulation rollback nirvana — the Trumpies now want to go further than the car companies requested, setting up a huge confrontation between the forces of evil in Washington and the states that support the clean air rules spearheaded by California. 14 states, which combined represent more than 40% of the entire US new car market — are suing the EPA, claiming the fuel economy roll back is illegal.
The car companies now find themselves hoisted upon their own petard. If the administration succeeds in its assault on fuel economy standards, the US will have two standards — one for California and its allies and another for the rest of the country. One thing business people hate more than anything else is uncertainty. They want to be able to plan effectively for the future. It costs millions of dollars to reconfigure factories, get supply chains in place, and retrain workers. The manufacturers have turned Frankenstein loose and are now dismayed that they can’t control him. Oh, dear.
One CleanTechnica reader has offered the sensible suggestion that if there are two standards, the manufacturers should just comply with the more rigorous one. After all, who could possibly object to less pollution in nation’s air? Unfortunately, common sense seems to be in short supply in Detroit these days.
Last week, Mitch Bainwol, the trained monkey who is the head lobbyist for US automakers, told Congress the manufacturers now want “to find a solution that continues to increase fuel efficiency standards.” Just not as fast as the Obama rules required. The subtext here is that the car makers know changes are coming but want to hold them off as long as possible so they can continue selling the behemoths that pour profits into their corporate coffers. They are fully on board with the electric car revolution and care passionately about saving the planet — some day. Just not now. Dear God, why now?
Myron Ebell, the Koch Brothers’ head cheerleader who led Trump’s EPA transition team, has snarky things to say about the industry’s complaints. “The automakers have succumbed to Stockholm syndrome” with regard to their relationship with environmentalists, he tells the New York Times. “They now identify with their kidnappers and need therapy to recover.” The implication is the Trumpies will now administer large doses of therapy to cure the car companies of their angst.
The Sierra Club last week delivered a petition with a quarter million signatures on it to Ford headquarters. The petition opposes the rollback of fuel economy standards. David Friedman served as the acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration under Obama. He is now director of cars and product policy for Consumers Union. He tells the Times, “Here we have a president who made a political decision and is about to browbeat industry to fall in line. It indicates how political this is as opposed to analytical.”
The heads of GM, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler meet with Trump on May 11, where they told the president they want to continue to increase fuel standards but need more flexibility in doing so, according to the Detroit Free Press. Gloria Bergquist, speaking for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, says “We support continuous improvements in fuel economy but we need to align standards with market demand.” That’s code for “We can’t help it if Americans prefer the high profit vehicles we spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year advertising.” She adds this cogent thought. “An agreement among the federal government, California and the auto industry is better than years of litigation.”
The auto industry is like the dog that chases the car. What does he do with it after he catches it? This is a story of pure, naked greed. None of the major car makers look good in this parable about perfidy. Meanwhile, China continues to lead the parade while US automakers seem blissfully ignorant of the approaching tidal wave that will obliterate their business models. The odds are good that one or more will be swept into oblivion in a few short years, consigned to the dustbin of automotive history.
Never have so many been paid so much to accomplish so little. The US auto industry — whose motto should be “Too Little, Too Late” — will go down in history as a bona fide red, white, and blue American tragedy with Donald Trump leading the parade to nowhere.