Some Car Companies Want To Throw America Under The Bus — Again!

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When “you know who” was in the Oval Office, his administration worked tirelessly to roll back exhaust emissions standards agreed to by all the major car companies in 2011. His EPA administrator sued to end California’s decades-long exemption that allows the Golden State to set a higher standard for cars sold within its borders, a standard that is followed by 13 other states. Combined, those states account for more than 40% of the new car market in the US. Three companies — General Motors, Toyota, and FCA (now known as Stellantis) — joined in that lawsuit.

Image courtesy Amelia B.

The rules agreed to in 2011 called for an annual increase of 5% in emissions standards. The former administration wanted to limit yearly increases to a paltry 1.5%. Five manufacturers — Ford, Honda, BMW, Volkswagen, and Volvo — agreed to a deal with the California Air Resources Board that would limit increases to 3.7% a year, hoping they could get those “other companies” to agree. If they did, the same rules could be applied to all new cars sold in the United States, saving the automakers money because building cars to meet two different sets of rules makes manufacturing more expensive.

There’s a new sheriff in town and the word on the street is he wants a big increase in the number of electric vehicles and EV chargers to lower America’s emissions from the transportation sector. But those “other companies” are having none of it. According to the Associated Press, “A coalition of automakers has told the Biden administration it would agree to raise mileage standards to reduce tailpipe emissions but with tradeoffs and at rates lower than those brokered by California with five other car manufacturers.” And who is in that coalition? None other than General Motors, Toyota, and Stellantis.

They say they would agree to standards that are tougher than the prior administration wanted but not as tough as the ones agreed to with CARB by the Ford, Honda, BMW, Volkswagen, and Volvo Group. In order for them to agree, they want the government to give them extra credit for the EVs they do sell, unnamed sources tell the AP. Such credits were part of the deal brokered back in 2011 but deleted by the last administration.

On the one hand, a new industry-wide agreement would give President Biden an important political win, especially if it can be announced in time for Earth Day on April 22. On the other hand, Biden said publicly in January, “When the previous administration reversed the Obama–Biden vehicle standard and picked Big Oil companies over American workers, the Biden-Harris administration will not only bring those standards back, we’ll set new, ambitious ones that our workers are ready to meet.” Agreeing to standards that are less rigorous than those from 2011 hardly seems like protecting Americans from the scourge of auto emissions with “ambitious” new rules.

The Footprint Rule Scam

Americans are crazy about SUVs and pickup trucks that get bigger and thirstier every year. The automakers whine that they are only giving customers what they want, but that is a blatant lie. Buried in those 2011 regulations was something called “the footprint rule,” which set lower emissions targets for larger vehicles. The bigger the vehicle, the more it was allowed to pollute.

What happened? Automakers poured billions into ad campaigns designed to sell the larger, less fuel efficient vehicles. Do Americans want gargantuan vehicles because of some secret genetic coding buried deep in their DNA or do they want them because they have been conditioned by advertising to believe such vehicles are desirable? Before you answer that, consider this: Those large SUVs and trucks are the most profitable vehicles in the history of automobiles. Is it possible the manufacturers have exploited the footprint rule to fatten their bottom lines? Heaven forfend!

Dirty Pool

It is disappointing to see General Motors, which is creating a lot of hullabaloo about its electric car intentions, pushing back against more stringent fuel economy/emissions standards. After the economy collapsed in 2008, it was only too happy to agree to tougher emissions standards in exchange for a boatload of cash from Uncle Sugar. Now it wants to keep the cash but renege on the promises it made a decade ago. “Two-faced” is about the kindest thing you can say about GM, given that background.

It is doubly disappointing to see Toyota — the erstwhile purveyor of hydrogen powered cars — doing so as well. We know Akio Toyoda, grandson of the founder, is no friend of electric cars, but it is infuriating that his company is resorting to underhanded tricks like calling its hybrids — which have tiny little batteries that probably can’t even get to the mailbox and back without using the gasoline engine — “self-charging electric cars.” Now it seems to be engaging in a cynical anti-EV smear campaign in Sweden.

As for Stellantis, all it sells in America is Jeeps, hulking pickup trucks, and V-8 powered muscle cars. There may be electric Jeeps and pickups from them sometime this century — if they last that long.

Fuel Economy Standards Are Stupid

No other country uses fuel economy to measure exhaust emissions. Doing so is like calculating MLB standings using team batting averages. Yes, the two are related in some convoluted way — a team with a higher batting average should win more games — but it’s a lot easier to just go by wins and losses. Fuel economy is only indirectly related to exhaust emissions. Wouldn’t it be wiser to use tools that are simple and direct?

Here’s a thought. Increase the federal tax on gasoline and diesel to $0.50 a gallon. Raise it 10 cents a gallon every 6 months after that. Shazam! Problem solved. No messy regulations. No bureaucracy. No new government agencies. No government overreach. Plenty of time for automakers and consumers to adapt and adjust. Don’t you think the size of automobiles and trucks would shrink and average fuel economy would rise as the gas tax goes up? Yeah, you betcha.

Stop The Madness!

I have been accused of being too strident in my remarks on more than one occasion. I don’t care. What is it in the American psyche that says it is OK to fill the air with pollutants that make us sick and shorten our lives? What makes us think we have a constitutional right to drive an 8 passenger behemoth even though carbon emissions threaten the Earth’s ecosystem with collapse? What is it about a warming planet we don’t get? Do we have such a sense of entitlement that we think the sun, the moon, and the planets revolve around us?

We don’t have time for this posturing and unceasing quest for profits. We have 8 years to fix the mess we have made yet GM, Toyota, and Jeep/Dodge are content to give us pious mouthings while they continue to kick the can down the road. Wake up, people. There’s a cliff at the end of that road and it’s getting closer every day.

Would it be too much to ask for all of us to only buy cars from companies that support sane, responsible exhaust emission standards? If we did, it would surely give those “other companies” something to think about. The power to affect C Suite thinking is in our hands. All we have to do is decide to use it.

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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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