Automakers should get review of mileage rule
If President Donald Trump orders a review of automotive fuel economy standards as he reportedly will do, he will be affirming an important principle: Government should keep its promises. The president is expected as early as this week to grant a request made by 18 automakers, including Detroit’s Big Three, to review the mileage mandates the companies and President Barack Obama agreed to in 2011.
That current pact seeks to double fuel economy of the car and light truck fleet to 54.5 miles per gallon. It originally contained the commitment to a mid-term review to determine whether the standards could be met.
Obama blew away that promise on his way out the door. The Environmental Protection Agency announced in January that it had completed its review and determined there was no need to change the standards.
A comprehensive review was to come later this year or early next that would have allowed vehicle manufacturers to present evidence on the state of both technology and the marketplace.
Technically, the automakers could meet the 2025 standard — if they made and sold mostly electric and hybrid vehicles. But that would require a major shift in consumer preference.
Low gasoline prices, which neither state nor federal lawmakers have shown the willingness to boost through higher taxes, continue to fuel the demand for larger cars and pickups.
Light trucks in 2016 outsold cars for the fourth straight year, posting a 7 percent sales increase to capture 60 percent of the market, according to Auto Alliance, an industry group.
Meanwhile, plug-in vehicles made up less than 1 percent of sales last year, and when combined with hybrids are just under 3 percent of the total market.
The weak consumer response comes despite intense marketing efforts by the manufacturers and heavy subsidies from taxpayers.
Automakers can’t be accused of ignoring the fuel economy mandates. Bloomberg reports that in 2014 top automakers spent roughly $100 billion on product development, much of it on increasing mileage and reducing emissions.
But technology — estimated to add nearly $4,000 to the average vehicle price — will not be enough on its own to get to the 2025 target. Consumer demand for hybrids and electric vehicles must increase sharply.
That’s what federal regulators predicted would happen in 2011 when the timetable for raising fuel economy was put in place. The government’s marketplace projections were way off base, and that alone should justify a review.
Environmentalists are protesting that a decision to withdraw the EPA’s denial of a formal evaluation process signals a gutting of protections put in place by the Obama administration.
Reinstating the review does not mean the standards will be rolled back. After hearing from the automakers and examining the data, the EPA may reach the same conclusion it did in January.
But automakers agreed to the mandates only after being guaranteed a thorough mid-term review. Fairness demands they get what was promised.
— Detroit News