Seventeen of the world’s biggest automakers are urging Donald Trump to step back from his attempt to gut Obama-era tailpipe emission standards for cars and light trucks, warning that the sweeping deregulatory effort “threatens to cut their profits and produce ‘untenable’ instability in a crucial manufacturing sector,” the New York Times reports.
“The carmakers are addressing a crisis that is partly of their own making,” the Times notes. “They had sought some changes to the pollution standards early in the Trump presidency, but have since grown alarmed at the expanding scope of the administration’s plan.”
Now the companies are asking Trump “to go back to the negotiating table on the planned rollback of one of President Barack Obama’s signature policies to fight climate change.” Signatories included Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Volvo, BMW, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Subaru, and Volkswagen, but not Fiat Chrysler.
When Trump’s draft rule is published this summer, it’s expected to freeze fleet mileage standards at about 37 miles per gallon, compared to the 54.5 mpg by 2025 in Obama-era regulations, the Times explains. “The policy makes it a near certainty that California and 13 other states [at one point, 19 states in total—Ed.] will sue the administration while continuing to enforce their own, stricter rules—in effect, splitting the United States auto market in two.”
Which is why the companies are panicking. “For automakers, a bifurcated market is their nightmare scenario,” the Times states. While one letter to Trump warned of “an extended period of litigation and instability” should his plans be implemented, a similar one delivered simultaneously to California Governor Gavin Newsom urged a standard that is “midway” between Trump’s and Obama’s.
“We strongly believe the best path to preserve good auto jobs and keep new vehicles affordable for more Americans is a final rule supported by all parties—including California,” the automakers told Trump.
But there were no early signs that either side was moving toward the middle. White House spokesperson Judd Deere tried to blame California for the impasse, claiming the state had “failed to put forward a productive alternative.” Newsom said he had no interest in a “midway” deal that would erode his state’s tailpipe regulations.
“A rollback of auto emissions standards is bad for the climate and bad for the economy,” he wrote in an email. “I applaud the automakers for saying as much in their letter today” to Trump. “We should keep working towards one national standard—one that doesn’t backtrack on the progress states like California have made.”
The Times notes the automakers have put themselves in a tough spot.
“Criticizing the president’s plan comes with risk for the automakers,” writes reporter Coral Davenport. “The White House has courted their support for his moves and, privately, some officials have said they fear industry criticism could lead the president to retaliate by imposing tariffs on auto imports. That, too, could be painful, because many cars and components are now made or partly assembled across the border in Mexico or Canada.”
At the same time, “they also fear the costs of the uncertainty and regulatory headaches that potentially await them should Mr. Trump’s rollback go through as planned.”