The US has begun the process of relaxing fuel economy standards to make it easier for manufacturers to meet the rules, and as you can imagine, it’s pretty controversial.
While European and Japanese legislators are tightening the rules to force manufacturers to keep innovating and designing cleaner combustion, America is taking a different route, choosing to ignore studies suggesting that cutting emissions could prevent over 200,000 annual premature US deaths that are linked to air quality.
The American automotive industry asked President Trump almost immediately after his inauguration to reverse the promises they had been forced to make by the Obama administration, as part of its drive to reduce emissions and push the industry to develop and use cleaner technology solutions.
Trump’s government has now opened a process of inviting public comment on the subject, despite it being widely reported as being just a case of jumping through legal hoops before the fuel economy and emissions rules are actually relaxed.
As recently as January this year, the EPA – a known ‘enemy’ of the current administration’s – had tried to ‘lock-in’ the rules so that they couldn’t be changed before 2025. That means a target of 54.5 US miles per gallon by that point, which is no easy feat for an industry that thrives on pickups and SUVs.
Now, though, as Donald Trump seeks to make it easier for American car makers, it looks increasingly likely that the target will be lowered. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which includes Toyota, General Motors and Volkswagen, is urging the government to make it happen, because for them it means lower costs and higher short-term profits.
Meanwhile, plenty of opponents of the proposed move, like the Yale School of Forestry and Environment Studies, say it won’t save auto industry jobs – but will mean increased air pollution. There is, they claim, no evidence to suggest emissions laws have cost American jobs.
Of course, rolling-back efficiency targets also means that the American car industry will be allowed to fall behind its equivalents in Europe and Japan as technology advances. Toyota and Volkswagen will be developing advanced solutions in their other markets anyway, but the danger is that American brands that focus almost totally on North America could soon realise that they’re technologically outgunned; a realisation that could ultimately force a sale to foreign investors anyway.
Then again, there’s going to be another president on the horizon by 2025, if not sooner, so the rules might be changed back. The political posturing will continue…