On March 16, 2017, over 200 US auto manufacturers and suppliers conferenced in Dearborn, Michigan at ‘Fuel Economy Detroit’ to learn the latest about the technologies and trends “shaping the fuel-efficient and lightweight cars of tomorrow.”
With respect to improving fuel economy, experts addressed gasoline and diesel engine technology solutions, the role of vehicular weight reduction, and the significance of lubricants; with respect to emissions “the status and outlook to 2025 for GHGs,” bridging emissions certification requirements and long-term real-world emissions performance, the opportunity for large CO2 reductions with natural gas engine technology, and the real pay-off time to the customer of PHEVs (Plug-in Hybrid and Electric Vehicles) and EVs.
The day before President Trump also came to Detroit and, in an appearance at a former bomber plant (now used for testing self-driving cars) announced that “the assault on the American auto industry is over,” and that the US will be “the car capital of the world again.” To this end, he said, his administration would review the next round of tougher fuel-economy standards confirmed in the waning days of the previous administration, a review that could lead to a rollback.
In the US, fuel-economy standards — Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards —have been federally regulated over the past four decades, initially focusing on reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, and latterly on reducing ‘greenhouse’ pollution from tailpipe emissions. A pillar of President Obama’s environmental policies, in 2012 they were amended to require a near doubling of the average fuel economy of new cars and trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, thereby forcing automakers to speed development of highly fuel-efficient vehicles, including PHEVs and EVs.
When the promised review of these amendments, particularly those covering model years 2022 to 2025, in the last days of the previous administration left them unchanged saying the car companies had many affordable options to help them comply, the industry protested that the review was too hasty, had failed to consider that lower gas prices were increasing demand for more profitable but less fuel-efficient light trucks and SUVs, and that the technology development posed a steep and expensive challenge.
Executives from General Motors, Ford Motor, and Fiat Chrysler took these concerns to President Trump—and hence his response on the impact of these regulations on American manufacturing and jobs. Indeed, The New York Times has reported, “Mr. Trump will not be granting the industry’s request for a broad review of fuel rules free of cost: He is expected to press carmakers to increase investment and add jobs … in the United States.”
Predictably, environmentalists have responded negatively, some groups, and the states of California and New York are rumored to be commencing legal action of some sort. Auto industry spokespersons sound appreciative but hardly triumphant, the Associated Press reporting that executives attending the Dearborn conference have assessed the impact of looser fuel economy standards as possibly allowing for sales of more trucks in areas where they’re popular, but that, otherwise, as global companies, their pursuit of fuel-efficiency technologies will proceed unabated.