Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/7/2011 (3044 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
FOR more than two years, President Barack Obama has talked tough about the need to bolster fuel economy standards to reduce pollution and dependence on foreign oil.
Yet as Obama starts to mount a 2012 re-election campaign, there are disturbing signs he may cave on fuel economy standards to placate Detroit and improve his chances to win Michigan and other states in the general election.
Up until this month, the White House was telling automakers and congressional leaders the president might require cars and light trucks to average 56.2 miles per gallon by 2025. That's not as aggressive as a 62-m.p.h. fuel economy standard sought by environmentalists, yet it still would be ambitious undertaking — resulting in enormous reductions of fuel use, greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants that cause ozone smog.
Yet things changed quickly in the days prior to the July 4 weekend. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood visited a General Motors plant in Detroit and made comments suggesting the administration was backing off from a 56.2-m.p.g. standard.
"We are going to talk to our friends in the industry," LaHood said. "We are going to make sure we get it right for them and for what we believe is in the best interest of the country."
LaHood's comments follow intense lobbying by U.S. automakers and certain governors and U.S. senators. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., has challenged the 56.2-m.p.g. standard, as has Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.
Industry leaders claim a standard that tough would add at least $2,000 to the price of an average new vehicle, and force them to limit or stop production of certain larger models.
There's no doubt that more fuel-efficient vehicles will cost more. But what the auto industry neglects to mention is that tough standards will save consumers in reduced fuel costs.
According to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, consumers could save $5,500 to $7,000 over the life of a vehicle with a 56.2-m.p.g. standard.
Michigan will be a crucial state in a tight reelection bid, so we can understand why the Machiavellian side of Obama might pivot to placate the auto industry.
Yet if he does so, California has an ace in its hand. It has authority to set its own standards for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, which effectively govern fuel economy. Since California is such a large market, and others states have the option of adopting whatever standards the Golden State approves, California could play the role of leader should Obama get weak in the knees.
Of course, this is the last thing Detroit wants. A patchwork of state and federal standards doesn't help it in designing, manufacturing and marketing cars once the economy recovers.
That's why it would be smart for all automakers — not just Honda and some in the U.S. — to acknowledge the technology is there for breathtaking advances in vehicle fuel economy.
The way forward is clear. Is there the will?