More gas guzzlers due to Trump? Not necessarily

US President Donald Trump ordered a review of the Obama administration's decision in January to finalize stiff fuel economy stan
US President Donald Trump ordered a review of the Obama administration's decision in January to finalize stiff fuel economy standards for the 2022-2025 period

The White House clashed with environmentalists over President Donald Trump's retreat from tough future auto emission standards, with both sides predicting potentially big consequences for America's car fleet.

Appearing in Detroit, Trump ordered a review of the Obama administration's decision in January to finalize stiff for the 2022-2025 period.

Trump cast his decision as a defense of American jobs, while his new Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt—an avowed skeptic of climate-change science—decried the rules as "costly for automakers and the American people."

But the Natural Resources Defense Council warned the move would lead to a proliferation of gas guzzlers, while Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer called the decision "one of the first steps in an all-out assault by the Trump administration to dismantle important environmental protections."

Although Trump's action opens the door to a potentially big change, experts said it is more likely the actual consequences will turn out to be less monumental than suggested by the rhetoric on both sides.

"It's safe to assume, I imagine, we'll have a less strict proposal sometime in the future," said David Whiston, an auto industry equity analyst at Morningstar who predicted major investments in hybrid and more efficient internal combustion technology would have lasting impacts.

"Long term, companies are still going to invest in electric, and plug-in hybrids and hydrogen regardless of what these rules are."

Big investments

US automakers have already sunk large amounts into factories and technology programs to meet tough fuel economy standards in America and other key markets, such as Europe and China, the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) said.

"Anything that puts the US 2025 standards at risk carries with it the risk that the US could once again become a relative technology laggard in the industry, with clear implications for US-based companies' competitive position," the think-tank said.

Trump's move on Wednesday concerns a deal originally struck between Obama and many leading automakers in 2011 that envisioned a series of gradual increases through 2025, when average fuel economy would rise to 54.5 miles per gallon.

To meet the standards, automakers have adopted lighter-weight materials such as aluminum and structural tweaks to promote better aerodynamics, among other moves.

As part of the agreement, the auto industry won a promise for a "midterm evaluation" of the deal scheduled for 2018 to assess the standards in light of technological changes and business conditions.

Obama administration officials finalized the review and upheld the standards in their final days in office, drawing criticism from the industry, which argues the rules are costly and out of step with current market dynamics, including the rising popularity of light trucks in the United States.

Automakers cheered Trump's move Wednesday.

"By restarting this review, analysis rather than politics will produce a final decision consistent with the process we all agreed to... for greenhouse gases and ," said Mitch Bainwol, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

Efraim Levy, an auto industry analyst at the research group CFRA, said relaxing the rules should result in lower costs for automakers that can be passed on to consumers, boosting sales.

Clash with California

At the same time, analysts predict automakers will continue to invest heavily in hybrids and other fuel-efficient and electric vehicles to meet changing consumer tastes in an era when companies like Tesla are pushing the envelope with electric cars.

Pressure is also coming from US states that have adopted tough environmental rules, especially California, which has taken advantage of a provision under the Clean Air Act that permits states to set fuel emissions standards that go beyond federal rules.

An effort by the Trump administration to challenge California's authority would almost certainly wind up in court, where it would create a legal quagmire.

"As much as automakers might want some leniency from the standards, they don't want leniency with much greater uncertainty," ICCT program director Nic Lutsey said.

One outcome of the review could be greater leniency in how are tested for fuel economy, he said, permitting more technologies that boost fuel economy but are difficult to account for during the rule-setting process.

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Mar 16, 2017
The facts are, ordinary gasoline engines can't achieve 54 MPG in real world driving, and even diesel engines struggle. The engine efficiency is severily limited by physics and cost, and the power demand by the size and mass of the vehicle. The only way to achieve that mileage is to force people to buy smaller cars, smaller even than existing sub-compact economy cars.

The regulations have run their own way into imaginary la-la land years ago, and the automakers have been playing lip service to them while cheating the tests. There's no point for the automakers to make cars at great expense if the people don't want them, and the government is in no right to force them.

So then the CO2 argument. 253 million passenger cars produce about 1.2 billion tons of CO2. Total US GHG emissions are about 6.8 billion tons per year, so the cars are make 17% of it. If the fleet average was 40 MPG it would still be 10% and 54 MPG would make it 8%. Diminishing returns for skyrocketing costs.

Mar 16, 2017
So it seems rather that the whole ever-tightening fuel economy standard is designed to push any engine or device that uses hydrocarbons for fuel off the market - and that includes fuel cells and stirling engines etc.

At some point it will mean an indirect ban on car ownership for certain classes of people, namely the poor and the working classes, because hydrogen vehicles certainly can't make it for obvious technical issues, and battery electric vehicles simply cost too much for most, or are otherwise unviable.

Besides, the whole fuel economy argument ignores the point of biofuels and synthetic fuels made out of renewable resources. If your engine produces net zero CO2, then who cares how much fuel it uses? The only person who cares is he who pays for it, and that's their personal choice.

Mar 16, 2017
I'm not sure how this is supposed to protect jobs in any case. Car makers make part of their money from exporting their cars (granted, American car makers not so much...but still). Other markets do have emission standards. it makes litttle sense to manufacture the same car in two different variants if you can sell the same variant in both markets.

It's a bit like the argument of the Brits that with the Brexit they'd no longer need to bow to EU regulations for their products. But since they export a large part of their porducts to the EU it's not sensible to have two assembly lines for an 'EU-compliant' variant in parallel with a 'non-EU-compliant' one - instead of just amking an EU-compliant one and selling it everywhere.

Mar 26, 2017
"ever-tightening fuel economy standard is designed to push any engine or device that uses hydrocarbons for fuel off the market"

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