Obama Raises the Bar for Cleaner Cars

gas_pumpsIt’s quite amazing that the auto companies, after years of fighting the slightest move toward better CAFE and emissions standards, are now happily signing on to the much more stringent regs the President proposed today. Mr. Obama complimented the diverse group gathered in the White House Rose Garden for having “set aside the past for the sake of the future.”

So by 2016, automakers must meet a 35.5-mpg fleet average and institute a 30-percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions, both first proposed by California and tabled by the Bush administration. The new rules bring in four years sooner the 40-percent cut mandated by 2020 and basically put the whole country on the California standard.

The occasion brought forth the kind of Washington conviviality that often masks painful truths. Consumers will have to pay an additional $1,300 per vehicle. Some $1.4 billion in R&D funds will be needed. Increased gas taxes may well be coming.

The carmakers say having one federal standard (not different ones set by individual states) apply will make their goal much easier to achieve. Baloney. The government is now the major industry stakeholder, the economy stinks, bankruptcy is imminent for GM and already a reality for Chrysler, sales are down 40 percent—and there’s no way they could have held on to the old standards.

Not everybody claims to be happy. One former GM employee in Florida thinks there is too much pressure on automakers.

“The government keeps moving the bar higher and higher and making it that much harder to be successful. If the government keeps changing the rules, I don’t know how they [the carmakers] can keep up.”

One dealer thought the challenge of the new standards could be met and was far preferable to having to conform to a multitude of state standards. But in the end we couldn’t find too many naysayers, and of course the environmentalists are thrilled.

They should be. This is a real step forward in producing more-efficient cars and a cleaner atmosphere, something we all want and need. For the moment, the Obama administration has gotten old enemies to shake hands and, we hope, finally get down to work on the future.

The President says a buyer will recoup the $1,300 cost of a cleaner, more-fuel-efficient car in three years’ time. That’s figured on $3.50 gas by 2016. Do you think these are reasonable assumptions?

—jgoods

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