(tl;dr: Donald Trump and a number of automakers are against higher voluntary emissions standards, and are pushing for policy that is not only bad for the environment, but completely betrays even conservative values. Our petition against this can be found here.)
It’s understandable in today’s market that most automakers must be chameleon-like to survive. They have to be exciting enough for younger buyers while being sensible enough for older buyers. They need to sell to the SUV and truck crowd, a significant part of the market that they can’t ignore, but they also need to have a few eco cars and at least a token electric car available. They have to be as many things to as many people as they can, or the competition will bury them.
This makes it hard to know where automakers really stand. When they’ve got a big, lifted pickup a few yards away from a small electric car on their dealers’ lots, you can’t really pin them down and know what the company’s true values are. With rare exception (<cough>Tesla</cough>), there’s just no way to really know what they truly stand for and what they’re doing just to survive.
Recent news gives us a rare moment of clarity, though. Trump’s fight against California’s legal right to set its own emissions standards gives us a unique opportunity to see where the automakers stand when it comes to the environment and climate change.
The Trump administration wants one national standard for all automakers selling in the United States, and unsurprisingly, this standard is looser than standards set out during the Obama administration. In response to Trump’s threats to do this earlier this year, California offered automakers an alternative. California offered to relax the rules a bit to get voluntary compliance with stricter emissions standards than Trump wanted, and if enough automakers agreed to this, it would basically gut Trump’s lower standards.
How Different Automakers Are Responding
This puts automakers in a position where they have to make a choice. Will they stand with California and adopt stricter standards regardless of what Trump does? Or will they stand with Trump and try to push for lower standards nationwide? Now that most automakers have taken a side, we can see where they really stand. We can see who is making EVs to make the world a better place and who is building them to game the CAFE system and build more dirty crossovers.
The Good Guys
So far, Honda, Ford, Volkswagen, and BMW have sided with California, voluntarily adopting stricter standards through 2026 regardless of any action Trump takes or what happens in the courts. Most automakers aren’t talking about it much (nobody wants to get mired in politics), but Honda took a particularly interesting stance in a statement to the New York Times:
“Honda is not a participant in this litigation,” said Marcos Frommer, a Honda spokesman, “and is not contributing any funds supporting our trade association’s activity in this area.” Honda has already locked in vehicle greenhouse gas standards through model year 2026 based on the stricter standards agreed on with California, Mr. Frommer said.
In other words, Honda isn’t playing any games. They’re going to build cars. They’ve decided what they’re going to do, and they’re going to just do it. Other automakers are concerned about uncertainty, but Honda is just going to get to work and let the other morons feel the pain if they must.
This is not only the most profit-oriented approach I’ve seen, but the most principled.
Who Sold Their Soul To The Devil
A number of other automakers have decided to throw their weight in behind Trump. A recent Jalopnik article spells it out more clearly than other outlets we’ve been following:
“Up until this point, the automakers who had spoken up had done so in California’s favor. That changed in a legal briefing Monday night, when GM, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, Mazda, Nissan, Kia, and Subaru filed a brief supporting the Trump administration’s efforts to prevent California from setting their own standards.”
So far, General Motors has been getting the most nastiness from customers on social media, but they’re far from the only ones who decided to ignore the emperor’s lack of apparel. Supporters of the would-be god-king and apologists for the automakers will try to say that siding with Trump is in the automakers’ best financial interest, but there are automakers sitting this out completely, and the automakers siding with California didn’t have a gun to their heads.
We now know who is making cleaner vehicles only to be able to sell more crossovers to make a quick buck, and who’s at least trying to do more than a token effort. We at CleanTechnica understand that the automakers have to make a profit, and we don’t expect them to fall on a green sword, but nobody is even asking them to do that. Honda has made it clear that they will be just fine on better voluntary standards, as will VW and the others.
Editor’s note: I’d also note that Tesla has demonstrated extremely well that consumers do want compelling, competitive electric vehicles. There is no reason automakers shouldn’t see solid movement toward EVs as a smart business decision. Furthermore, any automaker selling vehicles in Europe and China are already meeting or gearing up to meet stricter regulations over there, so they know how to do it and that it can be done. Delaying the inevitable in the USA just looks stupid (to me, at least). —Zach
The Trump administration claims that its push for lower standards is a stand for free markets, but as I’ve pointed out in a previous article, that just isn’t the case. On top of the hypocrisy of standing against states’ rights and constitutional limits on executive power, the Trump administration recently negated its claim that automakers could always build cleaner cars than required, should they choose to.
By starting a retaliatory investigation against the automakers who voluntarily sided with California, Trump made it clear that he not only wants looser standards, but he wants to force automakers to follow the lower standards. This is clearly a gift not to conservative principles and free markets, but to oil companies.
If you’re still doubting whether Trump has completely abandoned conservative principles, take a look at what he’s trying to do with a remade NAFTA. Not only does he want to push “America First” policies, but he wants his office to have direct control over where the cars are made. As Jonathon Klein at The Drive pointed out on Twitter: “This is communism, FYI.”
Stand With Us Against This Madness
We don’t create or run petitions often, but this is a particularly bad thing that we can’t ignore. For that reason, we are asking all of our readers to take a stand with us and sign our petition.
We need everybody’s voice on this one. We need to let these crooked automakers and Trump know that it’s not okay to stand against our children’s future. We also need them to know that siding with a disgusting political figure like Donald Trump is going to lose them customers.
Please spread the word and share the petition with all of your friends, family, and social media acquaintances. Together, we are stronger!
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