Even if you don’t care about climate change, you do like to breathe.
I do care about climate change. But not as much as I like to breathe.
Our fuel economy regulations for cars and trucks were rewritten in 2012 to help curb emissions and climate change. President Trump announced this week that his administration will roll back those standards to ease the financial stress on auto companies, which see these rules as a threat to their profitability and the free market.
But really, the rollback may be a bigger threat to our fresh air and the ability of all us to breathe freely.
Consider California, Where Change Cleared the Air
30 years ago it was impossible to breathe in Southern California. Visitors flying into Los Angeles descended from the clear blue sky through a thick brown cloud of smog to land in a hot, sooty LA basin. Going outside meant burning eyes and stinging lungs. Even on clear days, bands of grey and brown smog hung in the air.
In 1982 the state passed stringent emissions rules. New cars had to be specially built to be sold in California; if you moved there from another state it could be costly to bring your car and have it upgraded to comply with the state’s smog standards. Most people sold their cars and bought a new one in California. The state still has the most stringent emissions standards and not all cars sold in the US can be registered in California.
The Air Cleared Quickly and a New Industry Was Born
The result? Over a very short period—a dozen years or less— the air cleared. People realized how easily and quickly they could impact the environment. They embraced the challenge to find more sustainable ways of getting around. Electric vehicles, hybrids, fuel cell cars all came to the market first in California. Many are developed there (Tesla, for example). Many, such as the Toyota Mirai fuel cell car, are only sold there (for now).
What California proved is that not only can good goals bring good change, but that if you, as a buyer, embrace what matters to you most, you, too, can effect change.
Rolling Back Standards: Is This a Threat to Clean Air?
Our president this week went to Detroit to meet with auto makers and announced that his administration will roll back corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards put in place by the Obama administration in 2012 to help curb climate change. CAFE standards require that the fuel economy of new cars averages 54.5 MPG by 2025. That would mean that automakers would have to sell a heck of a lot of 100+MPG or electric cars—more than the market demands.
It’s not that automakers don’t want to meet that goal. It’s that getting there is expensive and may cost them profits and market share. The estimate is that it will cost each auto company $1 billion per year in research and development between now and 2025 to meet that goal. A lot of money, yes, but not as much as most automaker’s annual net profit.
Add that to the fines they will pay (and many are already paying) for not meeting current CAFE requirements, the cars they will produce that will sit on dealers lots unsold as buyers opt for Tahoes over Volts, and the extra money they’ll have to put into marketing, incentives and discounts to finally sell all those cars.
However, the Path Is Already Set For More Fuel Efficient Cars and Trucks
Even before the CAFE standards were in place, many auto makers were on the path to greater efficiency. The trend that started in California has spread throughout the country and the world, and it’s pretty universal. No one likes spending more than they have to on gas, and everyone likes to breathe fresh, clean air.
Understanding this, Toyota developed the gas/battery hybrid (near zero emissions) Prius and started an industry-wide trend in efficiency. In 2011 General Motors rolled out the Chevrolet Volt and began another trend that was adopted by virtually every automaker: the plug-in hybrid. These innovations will continue not because of—or lack of— government regulation, but because the industry wants to provide you with the best, most convenient options.
So, What Can You Do?
Vote with your wallet. Let auto makers know what is important to you. Support their good efforts when and how you can. Keep up on developments. Know your options when you shop for a new car. Know the differences between engine types and which ones are the best for your lifestyle. There is an option out there that will meet almost every need; find it and support your opinion with your purchase.
CAFE schmafe. Trump schmrump. You are the market that automakers listen to and respond to.