Editor’s Note: This column originally published April 10, 2018.
I drive a 2012 Chevy Cruze. It gets an average of 32 miles to the gallon of gasoline. That’s a top selling point for me when buying a car since my job can take me from Baxter to Reasnor and back again in any given day.
Fuel efficiency in vehicles has gotten much better over the past decades — partly because of better technology under the hood, new design elements and market demand for better gas mileage. But the pace of innovation also sped up partly because of fuel efficiency standards enacted by the federal government. The Obama administration put these into place as part of a first step to combat climate change, reducing the amount of fuel used and level of greenhouse gas emission from American manufactured cars, SUVs and trucks.
Now that there’s been a change at the helm in the White House, U.S. car companies have reversed course and say these fuel efficiency standards are a costly burden and want them to be removed. The Trump administration’s EPA is all too willing to oblige, but it’s a bad U-turn.
One of the biggest polluters in the world are the fleets of fossil fuel-burning vehicles in industrialized nations. Deregulating is going to remove the urgency at which car companies are racing toward new mass-produced, zero-emission electric vehicles. This shift is not only vital for the environment, but also for the United State’s place in the world as a technological innovator.
Countries like China — a government that the Trump administration has entered into tariff disputes over stealing U.S.-based companies’ intellectual property — are building the clean technology infrastructure to turn themselves into a clean energy model. The Asian economic powerhouse is still the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, heavily reliant on coal-fired power plants but that could quickly change.
Easing these standards is mostly political, part of a greater effort by the Trump administration to erase policies put in place by the Obama White House. It’s also a way to extend another olive branch to American blue-collar workers who helped elect the president. But this will only be a temporary boost — if at all — to automobile manufacturing. As market demand shifts to electric-powered vehicles, this will end up hurting workers as car companies’ sales growth of internal combustion engines starts to slow.
Americans love horsepower under the hood but if entrepreneurs like Elon Musk at Tesla get their way, we will not have to sacrifice towing capacity and power when we trade in the V8 for an electric motor. But if we relax these stop-gap fuel efficiency standards, we might as well shift progress into reverse.
Contact Mike Mendenhall at