In the latest move in the EPA’s fight against California over clean air, several automakers including Fiat Chrysler, General Motors, and Toyota have come out on the side of more pollution and more death, as reported late Monday by the New York Times.  These automakers have cast their lot in with the fossil fuel interests running the Trump administration and their efforts which will kill Americans and cost them money via an ill-considered fuel efficiency rollback.

We’ve written before about how this move is bad for business, consumers, and the environment and is quite likely a losing battle for the federal government anyway.  The only group which seems likely to benefit from this on a high level is the fossil fuel industry – a group that seems to be the animating force behind these actions.

Monday’s move comes courtesy of the Association of Global Automakers, a trade group representing automakers responsible for about 1/3 of the US auto industry.  This group is separate from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which led the previous lobbying effort to overturn fuel economy standards.

The Times reports that GM, Fiat Chrysler, and Toyota are among the large companies involved in this effort, though Global Automakers represents other companies as well.  Here are several, as listed on their membership page:

  • Aston Martin
  • Cruise (subsidiary of GM)
  • Ferrari
  • Hyundai
  • Honda (who had already sided with California in this fight) (Update: Honda released a statement saying they are not participating in this litigation, though they are still a member of the trade group in question)
  • Isuzu
  • KIA
  • Maserati (subsidiary of FCA)
  • McLaren
  • Nissan
  • Groupe PSA (Peugeot)
  • Subaru
  • Suzuki
  • Toyota

Executives from Honda, Hyundai, KIA, Maserati (FCA), Subaru, and Toyota serve as directors on Global Automakers’ board.

Of particular note, Don Stewart, Global Automakers’ Executive VP of Public Affairs, has served on the staffs of multiple bought-and-paid-for fossil fuel mouthpieces in Congress.  These include Mitch McConnell, who was the top recipient of coal money in his last election year and John Cornyn, who is the top recipient of oil & gas money in all of Congress this year.  The EVP of Public Affairs is the position often responsible for driving lobby organization policy efforts like this one.

GM and Fiat Chrysler are not themselves among Global Automakers’ members, but each has a subsidiary as a member.  GM joins this effort despite their claim to be all-in on electric vehicles and GM’s investors telling them to push back against the rollback plan.

In addition, several EV-related companies are included in the group’s membership:

  • Bosch, who produce components for the automotive industry including lots of EV components, like car chargers and electric motors (they also make e-bike motors)
  • Byton, a Chinese EV startup
  • Panasonic, Tesla’s partner in the gigafactory and main battery supplier

Global Automakers CEO John Bozzella claims that they are pursuing this action simply because they want “an agreement supported by all the parties.”  He incorrectly states “In 2010 we agreed, all the parties, federal agencies, the state of California, we agreed on one national program. California stepped away from that national program [Ed.: this is a lie]. There were no negotiations between California and the federal government that resolved that split.”

There was a single national standard under President Obama until Mr. Trump and the automakers came along and screwed everything up.  In actual fact, California maintains roughly the same standard, formerly agreed-upon by all parties, and it is the EPA which has deviated from that standard, causing this unnecessary fight.  John Bozzella must know this.  When a person knows something to be true but says the opposite, this is called a lie.  John Bozzella is lying.

This reference to wanting a “single, national standard” is what the Environmental “Protection” Agency (EPA) has claimed as motivation for their recent likely illegal revocation of California’s waiver.

A recap: EPA’s fight against California’s clean air rules

For a “short” recap, under President Obama, automakers, the federal government and California all agreed to a single national standard for fuel economy.  This was widely supported by the public, would save thousands of lives and trillions of dollars in fuel costs, and automakers were under budget and ahead of schedule in implementing the changes.

When Mr. Trump was installed into the oval office after attaining a minority of votes in the 2016 election, virtually all automakers lobbied to sink this national standard.  Then, former EPA head and oil stooge Scott Pruitt floated the idea of withdrawing California’s authority to set its own emissions rules.  California has had that authority for decades under the federal Clean Air Act.

California responded, as is their right under federal law, saying that they would stick with the agreed-upon standard.  Because several other states follow CA rules, this set up a likely “split market” for automakers.  Automakers eventually came to their senses and lobbied the federal government to stop the rollback.  The EPA ignored this and moved forward with their likely illegal action anyway, and is being sued by 23 states over it.

The few automakers with any sense of responsibility to themselves, their investors, the public they sell to, and the Earth they live on decided to side with California and voluntarily implement the agreed-upon single national standard.  These automakers were BMW, Ford, Honda, and VW.

Relevance to electric vehicles

This all relates to electric cars because EVs are very valuable to automakers in reaching fuel efficiency goals.  Because EVs are so efficient, even a small number of sales can bring up a company’s average tremendously.

Under the previously agreed-upon national CAFE standards, automakers would have needed to reach an average of 54.5 mpg by 2025 – on the much more lenient CAFE scale rather than EPA.  For comparison, Tesla reached a “CAFE manufacturer performance” rate of 518.7 mpg in 2017 – 14 times higher than the requirement for that year.

California’s standard also includes additional credits for EVs which make them even more valuable for automakers.  Undoubtedly, the implementation of this standard would benefit the EV market – and all of our lungs – greatly.

Why are these automakers involved?

What’s interesting about this move are the companies involved.  Some, like Fiat Chrysler and Toyota have shown much anti-EV animus in the past, so it’s not surprising to see them taking this position against the public interest.

FCA, in particular, has the worst fuel economy of any major US automaker and has had to pay tens of millions in fines in the past for their gas-guzzling ways. This was even prior to the implementation of President Obama’s fuel efficiency standards.

But others are very surprising.  Nissan has one of the best fuel efficiency ratings of any automaker and also produces the all-time best-selling EV model in the world, the Nissan Leaf.

Honda, too, has great fuel economy – which is probably why they previously joined with California.  Yet an industry group they are a member of has come out against California in the same fight.

Update: Honda spokesperson Marcos Frommer told NYT “Honda is not a participant in this litigation and is not contributing any funds supporting our trade association’s activity in this area.” He also stated that Honda already plans to support California’s higher emissions standards through 2026.  Honda has not committed to withdrawing their participation in Global Automakers.

Hyundai, KIA, and Groupe PSA are all taking electric cars rather seriously, with potentially compelling new models coming out soon.  PSA, being a European company, surely understands that they must meet European standards, which will not be affected by the temporary bluster coming out of the current EPA.  The same goes for Hyundai and KIA and their Asian headquarter, with many Asian countries (particularly China) cracking down on auto emissions soon.

And Byton and Panasonic just make no sense at all.  Byton is an EV maker, so it can only be harmed by a rollback in fuel efficiency standards.  And Panasonic’s main interest in the auto industry is in producing batteries, primarily for Tesla, which has buoyed their company’s financials in recent years.

Many of these companies may not have directly influenced this decision.  But it seems strange that they would remain members of a group which is making such an ill-considered move that could only serve to harm their business.  Perhaps they should reconsider their membership in this group.

Should we be supporting these companies?

If this rollback is bad for business, consumers and the environment and the EPA’s own analysis shows it will kill people and cost money, then these companies have made a deliberate decision to lobby against the public interest.  Not only will this cost Americans money, but consumers know this – 90% of consumers want better gas mileage.

Companies that lobby in favor of this policy have shown their true colors.  Any greenwashing efforts they make should be overshadowed by their participation in this effort.  They are clearly not serious about sustainability.

If these companies have made the deliberate decision to lobby against the public interest, then the public should withdraw their support from them.

Companies that are members of this trade group may not have signed off on this particular decision, but by remaining members of this group, they show their support of it.  Companies that ought to know better should leave the trade group.

This applies particularly to Byton and Panasonic because of their heavy EV industry participation, to Nissan and Honda due to their high fuel efficiency, and to Hyundai, KIA and PSA for their seemingly-serious upcoming EV efforts and European/Asian headquarter status.

If any of these companies do not support this effort, they should withdraw from their membership in Global Automakers, a trade association that has shown it has a tenuous relationship with the truth.  Surely they can be better served by another lobbying group, or by forming one of their own which may make more intelligent decisions for their business.

What do you think?  Will this effort change how likely you are to buy cars from any of these companies?  Let us know in the comments.

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