By on March 6, 2019

The Trump administration has long been at odds with California and a coalition of supportive states that hope to block the rollback of Obama-era fueling regulations the current Environmental Protection Agency deems “unsustainable.” The EPA also says it’s inconsistent with consumer behavior. But automakers have behaved somewhat erratically on the matter, forcing the president to request (by proxy) that they make up their minds and pick a side before a final decision is made.

While industry leaders previously backed the more stringent regulatory framework set in place by the former president, they quickly converged on Washington after Trump assumed office in 2017, requesting a softening of Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards. After blowback from California and environmental activists, automakers took a more measured approach, publicly stating that they support green initiatives and reducing their own carbon footprint — and suggesting that a national deal be reached that pleases all parties.

Fence-sitting time might be over.

Basically, automakers don’t want to have to sell to separate markets inside the United States. Manufacturers already have to contend with increasingly strict standards in other countries, so dividing the U.S. is a non-starter for them. While it was hoped that a compromise could be reached with California, things didn’t shake out that way. The White House now wants an answer.

Officially, neither the White House and Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers has said anything on the matter, but Bloomberg reports the Trump administration requested automakers make up their minds during a conference call last month. According to the report, the White House said they need to either support the administration’s plan to roll back regulations or fully endorse California’s stricter ones.

It was probably always going to be this way. Despite months of negotiations, neither side ever seemed particularly interested in finding shared ground on the issue. Most accounts of the meetups ended with representatives saying talks were ongoing … with little to indicate any real progress was being made.

“Despite the administration’s best efforts to reach a common-sense solution, it is time to acknowledge that [the California Air Resources Board] has failed to put forward a productive alternative,” the White House said last month.

Meanwhile, CARB spokesman Stanley Young claims the administration broke off communications prior to Christmas, “and never responded to our suggested areas of compromise — or offered any compromise proposal at all.”

From Bloomberg:

The request has added to industry anxiety about getting caught in a conflict between Trump and the nation’s biggest auto market, the people said. The president is also reviewing the findings of a Commerce Department inquiry into whether imported cars and parts threaten national security, which automakers worry could provide the basis for new tariffs.

The Trump administration in August recommend capping tailpipe carbon emissions standards and fuel economy requirements at 37 miles per gallon after 2020, instead of rising to roughly 47 mpg under rules adopted by the Obama administration.

The joint proposal by the EPA and the traffic safety administration also called for revoking California’s authority to set its own greenhouse standards for vehicles, a move that could lead to yet another legal battle between Washington and Sacramento.

It’s doubtful automakers will start weighing in. If they do, most are expected to cautiously endorse global standards to maintain an environmentally conscious image. How that will impact the Trump administration’s decision on how to handle the rollback is unclear. It’s assumed that the White House is primarily pressing for the regulatory reduction to appease companies that voiced concerns about their ability to cope with the existing standards. If they truly no longer care, there’s a chance the administration will abandon its deregulation goals and focus its remaining energy elsewhere — rather than become entangled in a prolonged legal battle with California.

However, that’s far from a definitive scenario. The White House has already placed quite a bit of muscle behind the rollback, having taken the position that research data proves the current standards are not in line with what consumers want or need.

[Image: CC7/Shutterstock]

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18 Comments on “White House to Automakers: Choose a Side in the Great Gas War...”


  • avatar
    Fred

    Side with the Trump administration and what happens if he loses? Worse for them we get a progressive and the new green deal becomes a reality. Choose wisely.

    • 0 avatar
      probert

      —or show some balls and realize that to make cars competitive in the world market, you’d better adopt an develop efficiency tech and ignore whatever this admin decides. Unless it’s all about near term profits and making some hay on sub prime loans before they crash. Sadly, I know where my bet is placed.

      • 0 avatar
        jacob_coulter

        Nobody is stopping the car companies from making cars more fuel efficient if they want to. If they truly thought that put them in a better position for sales, they would.

        • 0 avatar
          bts

          Necessity is mother of invention

        • 0 avatar
          Astigmatism

          Corporate incentives in our system do not encourage long-term thinking; by the time the long-term result emerges, the guys who caused it have long since moved on and closed out their stock options. Why do you think the domestics all needed to get bailed out in 2008?

        • 0 avatar
          MoparRocker74

          Car companies ARE making cars more fuel efficient. In the real world, my friends 392 Charger gets 27 mpg on the highway. That’s a 485 hp muscle car that seats 4 and can decimate anything that doesn’t cost tens of thousands more. Id mpgs were a major concern, why did she drop $44K on this machine instead of half that on a corolla? The only thing these regulations do is kill off the cars people WANT. At that point your only choice is buy something you hate or more likely buy a used version of what you do want. Neither is good for the manufacturers, especially not the D3.

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      “Side with the Trump administration and what happens if he loses?”

      This.

      But even if he doesn’t lose in 2020, product planning is well underway for what the automakers will be selling in 2024, and beyond.

  • avatar
    ect

    If there are 2 different standards across the US, manufacturers would likely opt to simply make every vehicle to the higher standard.

    • 0 avatar
      jatz

      Agreed, and as with the foregoing two decades we’ll just have to accept whatever’s available while increasingly hating it. Gotta have a car.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      I call this “the California effect”.

      But you see it with global car models, too. The US doesn’t give tax breaks for low displacement engines. But many countries do, so we get low displacement turbos here, too.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      There have been 2 different standards for decades and now that there are 12 or 13 states of Californication many vehicles are 50 state emissions compliant.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Ford dropped the old 1.6 ltr EcoBoost in favor of the 1.5 ltr because so many foreign markets have regulations about 1.5 ltr and below being preferred.

  • avatar
    Robbie

    Isn’t there a case to be made that because of its geography, California needs different pollution standards for cars? I am thinking of LA and San Francisco in particular. What works for Florida (flat, wind blows in from the ocean) may just not work for California.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      That was true once but new cars are long since improved to the point that they no longer contribute a meaningful share of local air pollution.

      The CO2 that the green religion is now fixated upon is as locally harmless in LA as it is everywhere else.

  • avatar
    MoparRocker74

    The stupidity of this argument is bewildering. ALL of the fuel efficiency regulations need to be wiped out. To argue otherwise is arguing against your own freedom of choice. If you like high mpg or electric cars, by all means pony up YOUR hard earned money and buy one. But quit whining when the majority of Americans reject that and buy what we WANT within our means. The market has repeatedly rejected greenie-mobiles and its because they just aren’t any good. Using bully tactics to force people into cars we hate isn’t gonna work.

  • avatar
    MoparRocker74

    The stupidity of this argument is bewildering. ALL of the fuel efficiency regulations need to be wiped out. To argue otherwise is arguing against your own freedom of choice. If you like high mpg or electric cars, by all means pony up YOUR hard earned money and buy one. But quit whining when the majority of Americans reject that and buy what we WANT within our means. The market has repeatedly rejected greenie-mobiles and its because they just aren’t any good. Using bully tactics to force people into cars we hate isn’t gonna work.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    I’ve always thought that CAFE and the other fuel-economy-related rules and regulations are the wrong approach. If you want fuel conservation, tax the burning of fuel in all its forms and let people decide best how to avoid the tax. Lower other taxes and the result can even be revenue neutral. But please phase it in gradually!

  • avatar
    Dman

    Perhaps the administration can show where it is written that someone needs to take a side. Just more dumb arsed “your with us or agin us” mentality thats made Washington a s*&t stain.


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