California Wins the Gas War, Fickle Automotive Coalition Realigns Position

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

The Coalition for Sustainable Automotive Regulation (CSAR) is officially withdrawing from a lawsuit between California and federal authorities over the coastal state’s ability to establish its own emissions standards. California leadership had vowed to ignore the Trump administration’s proposed rollback and began making binding side deals with automakers (specifically BMW, Ford, Volkswagen, Volvo, and Honda) committed to adhering to the aggressive limits established under President Obama. Unfortunately, this ran the risk of undermining the revised national standards penned shortly after the United States became energy independent. It also set up the CSAR to embrace any entity that had views conflicting with California Air Resources Board.

Federal concerns were that the Golden State setting its own targets would butt heads with the relaxed national benchmarks and ultimately divide the U.S. market and may even influence the types of vehicles that were manufactured for all of North America. But the issue became moot once President Biden broke the record for executive orders by signing 22 in his first week. Predictably, the brunt of these were designed to instantly undo any actions taken throughout the duration of the Trump administration and included one directing the Department of Transportation and EPA to reconsider the 2019 decision to remove California’s authority to limit tailpipe emissions by April and revise the fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles by summer.

Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, General Motors dropped out of the lawsuit after backing the Trump administration shortly after the U.S. election. “We believe the ambitious electrification goals of the President-elect [Biden], California, and General Motors are aligned, to address climate change by drastically reducing automobile emissions,” GM CEO Mary Barra said in a November letter addressed to various environmental groups.

It wasn’t long before Toyota, which had also joined the Coalition for Sustainable Automotive Regulation — along with Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Subaru, and the National Automobile Dealers Association — said it was similarly “reconsidering” its position.

Meanwhile, companies backing California ( especially Ford) suggested opponents should change their minds. Before long, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (AAI) — which represents many of the world’s largest automotive conglomerates and tech firms — issued similar messaging that members should support the Biden-Harris energy plan. It even vowed to work with the administration on establishing a revised nationwide program that utilizes California in addition to reaching net-zero carbon production from automobiles and transitioning the whole nation toward electric vehicles.

They appear to have taken its advice to heart, too. On Tuesday, the Coalition for Sustainable Automotive Regulation announced that it had realigned itself with the new administration much in the same way GM had in November.

From CSAR:

The Coalition for Sustainable Automotive Regulation (CSAR) chose to intervene in a lawsuit between California and the federal government to support a unified fuel economy and greenhouse gas (GHG) program. We are aligned with the Biden Administration’s goals to achieve year-over-year improvements in fuel economy standards that provide meaningful climate and national energy security benefits, reduce GHG emissions and promote advanced technologies. In a gesture of good faith and to find a constructive path forward, the CSAR has decided to withdraw from this lawsuit in order to unify the auto industry behind a single national program, with ambitious, achievable standards.

We don’t anticipate hearing much more from the Coalition for Sustainable Automotive Regulation and presume any future announcements to closely resemble messaging from the Alliance for Automotive Innovation.

[Image: Marc Bruxelle/Shutterstock]

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.

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  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Feb 03, 2021

    "Should one buy a very good car now..." Proposed QOTD: What would be a "very good car" to buy now, if one bought into this line of thinking? [Edit: Arghh bad aim. (I love it when I'm wrong.)]

  • CKNSLS Sierra SLT CKNSLS Sierra SLT on Feb 03, 2021

    CARB is easy to bash unless you grew up in Southern California. I'm not for government overreach, but my first hand knowledge and observation call tell you that CARB did a whole lot of good. Growing up in the 60's in Southern California there were about 20 million people in the state. I used to visit my Grandma in the San Gabriel Valley-with the San Gabriel Mountains all but invisible to the naked eye-less than twenty miles away as the crow flies. Playing on the black top at school or at my Grandparents house my throat used to ache and my eyes would water-all due to very thick smog. Fast forward 50 years later-the state has 40 million residents ( and more motor vehicles than any other state) and the air is cleaner than it's ever been-mostly due to CARB regulation. So yes-there can upsides to regulation. I have since moved and retired 9 years ago.

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  • Probert No, they're not the future. BEV sales are growing every year, and, along with sound energy policy, result in cleaner air, lower CO2, foreign policy not based on oil, and will continue to drive like a smooth powerful nearly silent turbine. Some 19% of new car sales in 2023 were BEVs - this will continue.
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