UCS Slams Auto Manufacturers’ Response To Fuel Economy Rollback Scheme

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The time for public comment on the Trump maladministration’s plan to roll back fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks has ended. Among the thousands of comments submitted were those from General Motors, Honda, the Alliance of Automobiles Manufacturers, and the Association of Global Automakers.

fuel economy and emissions UCS

The AAM represents the companies that sell 70% of the new cars in the US every year, including BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo. The AGA represents such companies as Toyota, Hyundai, Kia, Subaru, and Nissan as well as Tier One suppliers Bosch and Denso.

Self Serving Trade Groups

Both trade groups have described themselves in glowing terms on their websites. Here’s what the AAM has to say about its goals and mission. “The Auto Alliance (Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers) is committed to developing and implementing constructive solutions to public policy challenges that promote sustainable mobility and benefit society in the areas of environment, energy and motor vehicle safety.”

The AGA sees itself in similar terms. “Global Automakers shapes the policy environment for automakers, suppliers and mobility innovators who are building the future of transportation in America. Our expert team collaborates closely with member companies to develop, promote and enact responsible public policies that will help put the next generation of green and safe vehicles and shared mobility technologies on our roads.”

Actions Not Words

Two professional associations, both of whom say they are committed to environmental policies that benefit Americans, make for good PR but actions speak louder than words. According to an analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists, both groups have submitted comments regarding the proposed rollback of fuel economy standards that would rip the heart out of the deal they all agreed to with the Obama administration back in 2008. In fact, as bad as the rollback plan from our so-called government is, the AGA proposal is actually worse. Here’s what the UCS analysis reveals.

  • Honda proposes keeping the curves the same but asks for a number of changes that would erode the benefits of the standards we have today. Lost Emissions Benefits: ~20-40%
  • The Association of Global Automakers not only asks for all those same flexibilities, but it has also requested further revisions downward “to account for today’s market realities.” Lost Emissions Benefits: ~50-70+%
  • General Motors has proposed scrapping the greenhouse gas emissions program entirely, replacing it with a weak National Zero Emissions Vehicle (NZEV) program that will not drive electric vehicle (EV) adoption beyond the status quo, and their proposal does little to drive down emissions from the 95 percent of the vehicle market that will still be powered by gasoline. Lost Emissions Benefits: ~75-90%
  • The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers asks for every loophole under the sun and then some — so much so that even if the year-over-year improvements remained unchanged from the rules we have today, progress on emissions could actually be even worse than the proposed rollback. Lost Emissions Benefits: ~70-130+%

UCS fuel economy rollback

The UCS says the industry proposals fall into two categories. First, they would slow the pace of fuel economy improvements from 5% annually under the Obama rules — the standard the companies all agreed to in 2008 when they wanted the federal government to pull their chestnuts out of the fire — to around 1% a year. Second, they want a blizzard of exceptions, exemptions, and special considerations — what they call “flexibility” — that would take many vehicles out of the fuel economy regulations entirely.

The General Motors Fake ZEV Plan

General Motors came out recently with what it calls its National Zero Emissions Vehicle program. Under the guise of promoting electric cars, it would actually only get EV sales in the US up to about 8% of the new car market by 2030. It would also commit the company to raising fuel economy standards for the cars it manufactures by about 1% a year. As an aside, it would also wipe out California’s ability to set its own standards for zero emissions cars, which may be the actual goal of the plan in the first place.

The AAM Proposal

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers wants to game the system by more than doubling the amount of credits earned by every electric and hybrid vehicle sold. This falls under the category of “flexibility” requested by all industry groups. What it calls flexibility means allowing them to sell more conventional vehicles that will spew more carbon emissions into the air. The AAM proposal would also reclassify many of the best selling vehicles as trucks — which have lower fuel economy rules — instead of cars

It is no coincidence that the manufacturers want to favor the vehicles that earn them the highest profits. They claim they are only giving their customers what they want, but take a notepad to your favorite seat in the house while you are watching football this weekend and tally how many truck and SUV ads you see. Chances are they will be 80% or more of all vehicle ads you see. If these vehicles are so popular, why do manufacturers feel the need to waste millions of dollars on ads for products the public so desperately wants?

The AGA Plan

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers response cites a study by Novation Analytics claiming that gasoline-powered cars and trucks are incapable of achieving average fuel economy of 49 mpg and 35 mpg by the year 2025. The standards currently in place call for 55 mpg and 40 mpg. It also wants additional credits for hybrid cars (remember that Toyota is an AGA member) and for technology features like adaptive cruise control. To date there is no evidence to suggest ACC actually improves fuel economy, but facts shouldn’t stand in the way of profits, should they?

Honda Stands Alone, Sort Of

Alone among manufacturers, Honda has said it can live with the 5% annual improvement in fuel economy mandated by the Obama era rules, but it wants additional credits for vehicles like the hybrid CR-V is plans to introduce in 2019. It just so happens the CR-V is one of the company’s best selling models.

The UCS Response

In an e-mail, UCS senior vehicles analyst Dave Cooke told CleanTechnica, “When looking at the proposal from General Motors looking to codify the status quo and the harmful, cartoonish nonsense out of the Alliance that would actually make the country worse off than the administration’s proposal, it’s hard not to see these proposals together as just another example of an industry doing what it can to avoid responsibility for its products, consequences be damned.” We couldn’t agree more, Dave.

Are Fuel Economy Standards And ZEV Mandates Relevant?

The way the United States goes about promoting cleaner vehicles is nuts. The goal is for fewer carbon emissions from the cars and trucks on American roads. Higher fuel economy translates into fewer emissions, but why go all around Robin Hood’s barn to get there? Conservatives are always running on at the mouth about letting the free market decide. Perfect. It’s put up or shut up time.

The latest IPCC climate assessment makes it crystal clear that humanity has no more than 12 years to clean up its act or face catastrophic climate changes that will endanger millions if not billions of people. Starvation, shortened life spans, global wars fought over access to scarce resources like arable land and clean water, extinction of millions of species — that’s the reality we are facing if we continue to pour carbon emissions into the atmosphere at the current rate.

Fiddling and fussing over fuel economy regulations is kicking the can down the road and inviting disaster. The problem is not fuel economy. The problem is the price of gasoline (and diesel fuel) is unrealistically low. Stupidly low. Unconscionably low. So let the market decide. But only if the market isn’t rigged.

Once again I feel compelled to recommend the presentation Elon Musk made to an audience at the Sorbonne in Paris in 2015 on the topic of untaxed externalities. It explains in clear, easy to understand terms what is wrong with the way the world prices energy.

The oil companies are getting a free ride thanks to buying influence and gaming the system so they can avoid paying for the costs they impose on society. That has to stop. If gasoline and diesel fuel were priced in accordance with the damage they do, the free market enthusiasts would get their wish. We could fire all the regulators and forget about “flexibility” and special credits for various types of vehicles.

Think about how things would change if fossil fuels had to pay their own way. Would the price of gasoline be $10 a gallon? Higher? And how would the automobile market change if that happened? What would be the impact on carbon emissions from those changes? How many more electric cars would there be on American roads?

Pricing of fossil fuels is built on a lie. Our governments lie to us by giving direct and indirect economic incentives to fossil fuel companies. We lie to ourselves by screaming bloody murder every time the price at the pump goes up by a few pennies. We feel entitled to cheap energy and we resent the idea that we should pay the true cost of the energy we use.

It’s like the fossil fuel companies are pumping the effluent from their septic systems onto our front lawns and we are fine with that just as long as we get to drive whatever we want, wherever we want, whenever we want. “We have met the enemy and he is us,” cartoonist Walt Kelly told us decades ago. Boy, was he ever right.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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