The Trump administration’s decision to reconsider 2025 car and truck fuel economy standards feels like déjà vu all over again. We’ve been here before, and the results were not pretty.
I sell cars. My family has been in the car business for more than 80 years. One of the hardest financial times we have ever had was when the price of oil spiked and stayed high beginning in 2004. Our domestic dealerships were saddled with huge gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks we could not sell. The only thing that saved us was our import dealerships, because they provided fuel-efficient choices. That’s what consumers wanted then.
Right now HurricaneHarvey is driving up gas prices, underscoring how risky it is to count on cheap gas. Yet even when the price is low, consumers still want fuel-efficient vehicles. Given the choice between an SUV that gets 20 miles per gallon or one that gets 30, they choose the more fuel-efficient vehicle, all other things being equal. The only reason consumers have that choice is because of the car and light-duty truck standard agreed upon by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, California regulators and the automakers back in 2012.
That standard, which set emission and fuel economy goals through 2025, is flexible and based on the size of the vehicle. SUVs and larger vehicles have different, lower standards to meet than sedans or coupes do. So, for example, automakers can choose to only make SUVs, and only meet the lower standards. The automakers’ argument, that they can’t meet the standards because low gas prices create greater consumer demand for SUVs, doesn’t hold water.
What happened in 2004 and crescendoed in 2008, with oil at $140 a barrel, is sure to happen again. Oil prices will spike; it is only a question of when. If we have learned anything in our 100-year plus dependence on oil, it is that the price never stays the same. And we cannot control it — we can only protect ourselves against this volatility by decreasing our dependence on oil. The joint EPA and NHTSA standards are critical to doing just that. Those who argue that our abundant domestic production insulates the U.S. from price spikes do not understand the world oil market. The U.S. might have ample supply, but we cannot control the global price. That is the purview of those whose proven reserves — like Venezuela and Saudi Arabia — far outstrip ours.
That’s why our nation needs strong car and truck fuel standards. They help decrease our dependence on oil, reduce the amount we have to pay at the pump, and limit our vulnerability to those who don’t like us and the economic disruption they can ensue.
For an auto dealer like me, these standards protect my business. In 2008, the domestic automakers’ lack of fuel-efficient choices hurt my bottom line. It helped destroy theirs. We have had new standards for a number of years now and business has been booming. Hard to believe that it was only eight years ago that two of our “Big Three” auto manufacturers were going through bankruptcy.
In November, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers called on the president to reopen the completed midterm evaluation and roll back the standards. But Alliance comments last month suggesting support of high fuel economy standards raise the question, why redo the midterm review?
If the standards are rolled back, our automakers won’t invest their genius and innovative energy in developing the technology needed to protect consumers and compete in the global auto market. The rest of the world is racing away from oil. France and England recently announced they are banning the internal combustion engine by 2030. And both mainstream and less conservative analysts agree that new technologies — including self-driving cars, electric vehicles and ride-sharing platforms — are poised to disrupt the automobile industry forever.
The standards agreed to in 2012 are sensible and realistic. Reams of data released in the first — and already completed — midterm evaluation prove it. The automakers have been meeting the standards for much less cost than even the EPA projected, and have been making huge profits. Of course the new Administration deserves the right to review that data again. But it does not have the right to change the facts.
Instead of pouring their time, energy and money into lobbyists set on abrogating their 2012 commitments, our automakers should be racing hard to win the hybrid, fuel cell and electric vehicle market. History proves they won’t do it on their own. And if they don’t, the rest of us may well end up paying the price, again.