Senate Moves On Auto Safety, NHTSA "Revolving Door" Legislation, Stands Firm On Dealer Finance Oversight

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
senate moves on auto safety nhtsa revolving door legislation stands firm on

The Treasury may be standing by GM’s “payback” claims, but the Congress hasn’t exactly been looking for ways to do the auto industry any favors. In fact, a toxic brew of political fallout from the financial crisis, auto bailout, and Toyota recall scandal has seems to have inspired a backlash against the industry that came to a head this week in the US Senate. Legislation has been introduced that would prevent NHTSA officials from taking jobs with automakers for up to three years after they leave the agency, and yet more is being drafted which could require a vast array of standard safety equipment on all cars sold in the US and could even add a federal fee to new car sales. Adding insult to injury, a much-hoped for exception to dealer financing oversight in the new financial reform bill appears to have fallen victim to Senate negotiations. Did nobody tell the old guys that they’re investors in the auto industry?

But it was Toyota, not the state-owned automakers, that figured most heavily in the Senate’s proposed regulatory binge. Senator Barbara Boxer (C-CA) introduced legislation aimed at ending the “ revolving door” between NHTSA and industry lobbyist jobs, a topic of much discussion in the Toyota recall hearings. According to the LA Times:

Only jobs involving direct communications with NHTSA would be prohibited, and only top NHTSA officials, or those involved in safety regulation, would be subject to the rule. The bill filed by Boxer would impose a $55,000 fine on individuals and $100,000 or more for automakers, in case of a violation.

Yawn. Most automakers are probably moving in this direction anyway, what with the post-Toyota recall PR environment. The more interesting piece of legislation emerging from the Toyota hearings is a comprehensive auto safety bill that the Detroit News says is being drafted by Senate Commerce Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA). According to congressional aides speaking to the DetN,

the authors are considering imposing a small fee on new car sales that would fund an increase in the budget of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Say what? For more distracted driver initiatives, complete with Oprah-meets-Eliot Ness photo-ops? So, what else do the authors envision this bill doing?require all automakers to install anti-runaway technology, such as brake override systems, stop-start technology and event data recordersSince when does stop-start technology have anything to do with “anti-runaway” safety? Apparently we’re going to have to wait until draft legislation is released later this week to find out. The same goes for the dealer finance oversight legislation, which appears to have died in the Senate. Republicans have only just allowed floor debate to begin on financial reform legislation, and we likely won’t hear definitive news on a possible dealer finance exception until tomorrow.In the meantime, if you happen to be a member of the House of Representatives, and you’re starting to feel badly about how your Senate colleagues have been treating the industry, take heart. You have an opportunity to make it all right, and in a way that will largely benefit a government-owned automaker. According to the DetN, GM is joining auto suppliers and others in lobbying for the passage of changes to the Alternative Minimum Tax currently before the House [ bill text here]. The changes would allow AMT credits from capital investments to be taken immediately, preventing companies from having to prepay AMT and claim credits in subsequent years. With GM announcing $2.3b in North American plant investments in the last ten months, this legislation would work out marvelously. And why make The General pay tax on the taxpayer’s money, especially the part that’s actually going towards creating new jobs?
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  • Geozinger Geozinger on Apr 28, 2010

    "In the meantime, if you happen to be a member of the House of Representatives, and you’re starting to feel badly about how your Senate colleagues have been treating the industry, take heart. You have an opportunity to make it all right, and in a way that will largely benefit a government-owned automaker..." So which is it? Is the gov't helping or hurting their investment? Is this part of the conspiracy to kill the competition or to kill GM? I can't seem to keep up with the twist and turns of logic here. OTOH, I looooove the Imp. Maybe we could get a law passed to build those things again.

  • Accs Accs on May 03, 2010

    Ya know... We could avoid all of this b.s and hassle.. if only everyone listened to me... Start producing STICK SHIFTS instead of automatics. Let people finally start driving their cars.. instead of this.. b.s.

  • Dukeisduke I'm not convinced that the "software update" installed by Hyundai/Kia dealers on later cars without an immobilizer (like my middle daughter's 2014 Kia Forte sedan) actually does anything. I'm able to lock the car with the remote, which is supposed to disable the ignition, then reach in through an open driver's window, insert the key, and start the car. That shouldn't happen.I opened a case with Kia corporate two weeks ago and haven't gotten a response.
  • Wjtinfwb I see all three backing away quietly and slowly. Between political winds and corporate green mandates plus the previously mentioned mandates, automakers will have to thread a needle between public demand and acceptance, and the extremely loud voices of the minority screaming for fossil fuels to be abandoned by 2030, which of course won't happen. Ford jumped in early with the Lightning and Mach-E, but since has tempered their enthusiasm and probably spent less money as the Lightning shares a lot with the gas F-150. GM however has built some bespoke platforms out on the edge that will end up being a gigantic waste of money. The Hummer EV is a joke and the new Silverado EV while impressive is both expensive and less practical than an electric version of the current gas Silverado could have been. The Cadillac EVs are the dumbest move yet, especially their upcoming 400k model. Ford seems to have a leg up on GM in Hybrid which would seem like a better interim measure, I'd be surprised if a Hybrid Explorer isn't in the works and could see a Gas/Electric Expedition and Super Duty being successful as well. US energy policy and gas prices into the next administration will play a significant role in consumer demand, if prices stay high and supplies artificially constrained, demand will increase for more efficient cars and trucks. If we go back to a self-sufficient energy policy and prices drop, demand for Hybrid's and EVs will moderate even more.
  • Wjtinfwb Poor cousin to the Blazer & Bronco that dominated this segment. The 1st Gen Ramcharger was a much better and better looking truck, with the 440 available and without the AMC Pacer style real windows. The Bronco and Blazer felt and looked much more modern and cohesive than the Mopar's, and that's not saying very much. Probably attractive to the Mopar faithful but for the rest of us... No thanks at any price.
  • Not Ford will have a great reckoning with its EV production goals. Their EVs haven’t been as popular as initially anticipated and have been dealing quality issues (persistent recalls on Mach E) or disappointing performance (cold weather and towing greatly diminishing range on Lightning).Their top selling vehicle remains the ICE powered F-series. Consumers will only tolerate so much price increase as Ford tries to subsidize the massive losses it incurs with EV production. Being forced to eat profit off of 2-3 ICE F-series to offset losses from a single Lightning will quickly prove to be unsustainable business. This is the very same company that abandoned cars entirely to focus on more profitable trucks.
  • LYNN DELANEY Mine is a 2001 Pure White Miata. I bought it at Concord Mazda. I love it but Imay be about to get rid of it I guess. It's been in my garage for quite awhile. Why? 1. I don't have a lot of money (I'm a retired teacher) And I've had issues with it that require financing. For example when you insert the key and turn it nothing happens. Why? I got it at Concord Mazda and somehow. it came to my condo shared garage to die and has remained such to this day. If you want to experience it you put the key in the keyhole and turn it but silence ensues and you wonder why but you know it's because the key was "programmed and it worked when you brought it home but not since.I'm told it requires a new battery but I've not had the financial energy to deal with it. I love my Miata but will I keep it? I'm unsure. Next step? Install a new battery...When it came home from Concord Mazda it was perfect for a quick minute. I tested it. I drove it around my block in Oakland, California just one time. That was the end of it. Since them I'm told it needs a new battery. It's a 2001. Shall I go ahead and splurge?