For Trump, Erasing Stringent Fuel Economy Rules Might Be a Wasted Effort

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

It would be fair to suggest that government agencies have held the automotive industry by the testicles with both hands for much of the Obama administration. America’s fuel economy and emissions targets are noble, but have cost manufacturers peace of mind and plenty of money. Enter President-elect Donald Trump, who spent a great deal of his campaign promising to repeal some of those standards and change things for the industry.

Are the current targets too lofty? Most automakers would say yes, but it depends on who you’re asking. However, the odds of Trump rolling back efficiency standards in a meaningful way is on par with us returning to the Bronze Age. While not impossible, it’s incredibly difficult to turn back the tide of progress. Even if the 45th President of the United States did manage to dismantle the EPA, abolish Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations, and convince China to nuke us into the Stone Age, there remains the outside world to consider.

Asia and Europe are pursuing the electric car rather aggressively and it isn’t like the European Union doesn’t have its own fuel economy policies. Even automotive executives are admitting that any changes Trump might make to U.S. gas mileage standards could easily become irrelevant — thanks to emission targets in countries where America’s automakers need to remain competitive.

“Let’s not forget that this is a global issue, and we develop engines for the global market,” Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn told The Detroit News at this year’s North American International Auto Show.

“That means we have to develop for the U.S. but also for something that will serve us in Europe, will serve us in China, will serve us in Japan. So what is really driving alternative energy is a global trend, a global trend independent of what happens locally in big markets. Global trend is driving higher levels of fuel efficiency no matter what happens in the U.S.”

It also must be said that the wheels are already in motion. BEVs, hybrid solutions, and new super-efficient ICEs are all coming down the pipeline because automakers, anticipating a market shift, backed those projects.

While General Motors CEO Mary Barra claims she would like to see economy and emission standards streamlined to help vehicle affordability, she also said GM is committed to environmental stewardship on a global scale. Barra claimed that the possibility of Trump bulldozing EPA regulations won’t affect her company’s focus toward enhanced economy and electrification.

“From a portfolio perspective, when you look at the Bolt EV and along with the other hybrid vehicles that we have, the investment in fuel cells, we see the Bolt EV and building on the learnings of the Volt to be the platform that we’re going to launch off of to have a much broader electrification portfolio as we move forward,” she told reporters at the NAIAS.

Let’s also not forget that the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation have done everything in their power to lock-in the 2025 mileage rules before the new administration can take office. And, even if Trump does change the nature of the game, green states — like California — would undoubtedly try and enforce their own ordinances to combat any federal changes.

However, consumers are enjoying low fuel prices and the U.S. has a surging fondness for less-efficient vehicles. Ford CEO Mark Fields is concerned that CAFE standards don’t accurately reflect American tastes and that electric vehicles won’t surpass their niche status. “You can’t meet these goals without consumer participation,” Fields said.

That’s a fair point to make and possibly the only thing that could handicap the march toward an industry average of 54.5 mpg. Trump can impose import tariffs and strong-arm corporate investments from auto companies but, without the help of millions of individuals shopping for new cars in North America, Europe, and China, he’s not going to shrink the gas mileage rating on any window stickers.

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

More by Matt Posky

Join the conversation
38 of 204 comments
  • Sceptic Sceptic on Jan 18, 2017

    Why are the Canadian liberals on this board so upset about Trump anyway? Yes, the US is important to global politics, but Canada is an independent country after all. Get over this inferiority complex, have some dignity. You don't see many Americans upset over the policies of Trudeau or whomever you have as your Prime Minister, do you?

    • See 25 previous
    • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Jan 18, 2017

      @GeneralMalaise CAPSLOCK please. You guys are suckers for bullish!t in CAPSLOCK.

  • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Jan 18, 2017

    "outrageously dishonest media coverage" I do agree that Hitlery got the kid gloves from the press but Trump on the other hand deserves all of the negative press he has received. "Intolerant Left" - Yes. Agreed. It is hard to tolerate racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and pro-Putin narcissistic megalomaniacs .

    • See 9 previous
    • Arthur Dailey Arthur Dailey on Jan 18, 2017

      @Lou_BC And thus another outstanding demonstration of the reason that Trump's Presidency is viewed with such trepidation The fact that so many of his supporters tend to resort to slogans and insults instead of civilized discourse and the use of facts. Just because someone yells the loudest does not mean that what they say is correct. Trump may be a good President. However to date he has appointed 5 ex-Goldman Sachs employees to his Cabinet. That does not appear to be either draining the swamp nor listening to the needs of the middle class. As for past Presidents, I am with Old Man. If I was Nixon, I would have pushed the button/turned the key rather than resigned. Yahooo, just like Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove. And love the Adlai Stevenson reference. However JFK is still 'The Man', threatening Kruschev into backing down, while 'entertaining' Marilyn Monroe is probably the definition of Alpha Male.

  • ToolGuy Friendly reminder of two indisputable facts: A) Winners buy new vehicles (only losers buy used), and B) New vehicle buyers are geniuses (their vehicle choices prove it):
  • Groza George Stellantis live off the back of cheap V8 cars with old technology and suffers from lack of new product development. Now that regulations killed this market, they have to ditch the outdated overhead.They are not ready to face the tsunami of cheap Chinese EVs or ready to even go hybrid and will be left in the dust. I expect most of their US offerings to be made in Mexico in the future for good tariff protection and lower costs of labor instead of overpriced and inflexible union labor.
  • MaintenanceCosts This is delaying an oil change for my Highlander by a couple of weeks, as it prevented me from getting an appointment before a business trip out of town. Oh well, much worse things have happened.I also just got a dealership oil change for my BMW (thanks, loss-leader prepaid plans!) and this didn't seem to affect them at all.
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X Gonna need more EV fuel.
  • Lou_BC There's a company in BC that has kits for logging trucks and pickups. They have "turn key" logging trucks too. What they market is similar to what Ram wants to sell. The rig runs on batteries and a generator kicks in when depleted. On the West Coast logging in the mountains they found that the trucks run mostly on regen braking. The generator doesn't kick in much. Going up mountain, the truck is empty.