It’s like déjà vu: carmakers want to weasel out of higher MPG standards like they wanted to weasel out of airbags

One of the themes in the news this week has been the haggling over higher miles-per-gallon standards between the Obama Administration and U.S. automakers.  The most comprehensive reports have been in The New York Times and The Washington Post.

As usual, the Obama Administration proposal is mild and industry-friendly.  Raising the U.S. fleet average to 56.2 MPG by 2025 makes us slackers when we compared to the 60 MPG that European countries intend to reach by 2020.  But getting five more years to underachieve Europe by more than 6% isn’t good enough for U.S. carmakers, at least in their U.S. markets.  Remember that Ford, GM and Chrysler will certainly reach the European standard for the cars they sell in Europe rather than exit those markets.

Carmakers are making the ridiculous claim that consumers won’t purchase what will be smaller and more expensive cars.  The claim is ridiculous, because if high fuel efficiency autos are all that’s available, then that’s what people will buy.  Additionally, with the price of gasoline going up, consumers are already trending towards smaller vehicles.  Finally, let’s not forget that larger vehicles can also become more fuel efficient, although never as fuel efficient as a smaller car using the same set of technologies.

According to the Times article, there are already indications that the Administration will back down.  Evidently an anonymous inside source is saying that 56.2 MPG is a negotiating position only. 

As Cassandra Peterson, AKA Elvira Mistress of the Dark, would say, “Hello, it’s like déjà vu.”

In 1977, Jimmy Carter’s Department of Transportation mandated airbags (or automatic seatbelts) by 1983.  Carmakers protested, saying that consumers wouldn’t pay the extra money for extra safety.  Industry-supported propaganda proposed the truly absurd notion that airbags weren’t so safe.  The Reagan Administration reversed its direction on the issue several times and it wasn’t until deep into the Clinton Administration in 1994 that all cars sold in the United States had to have airbags, on the driver’s side.

It sure seems as if history is repeating itself, doesn’t it?

Buttressing the carmakers’ position are 15 governors, 14 of them Republicans, who recently sent a letter to the Administration asking it to slow down the transition to more fuel efficient vehicles.  Let’s take a look at their two main arguments; my refutations are in italics:

  1. The governors say that Americans need their big gas-guzzlers to transport cargo such as “skis, farm equipment and children’s car seats.” How are they managing in Europe, where I understand some farming is done and lots of people ski?  It’s because a) the car companies there are developing technologies that cut fuel consumption; and b) Europeans are used to driving smaller cars, something Americans will have to get used to doing if we want to address the challenge of man-induced global warming.
  2. The governors also worry that consumers will postpone new car purchases so they can keep their gas guzzlers, thus threatening automotive manufacturing jobs and postponing compliance.   Maybe it was in a dream, but didn’t this same group of 15 oppose the ending of tax subsidies for buggy whip makers 130 years ago because it threatened jobs? (LOL)  Seriously folks, any loss of jobs will be temporary, because sooner or later, all cars wear down. The argument that tougher standards will take longer to meet is also a red herring, since some consumers will postpone new purchases no matter what the standard.  With a lower standard, the actual energy savings will undoubtedly be lower, just as 75% of 90 is less than 75% of 100. 

Let’s face it, the auto industry and its political lackeys don’t like change.  You make a lot more money making superficial changes to your products and selling them year after year than you do when you have to invest in developing new technologies and retooling production lines.  In other words, carmakers think they’ll make more money if they don’t have to abide by a higher standard.

But the higher MPG standard is absolutely necessarily, and the sooner the better.  Car emissions are the second most significant cause of environmental degradation and global warming (burning fuel for electricity is number one).  If we continue to burn gasoline as if it were water or air, the result is going to be a horror story so frightening that not even Elvira will want to want to watch it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *