Green group: The U.S. auto industry "owes us" better mileage and emissions standards

Writing in the USA Today this morning, advocates for the Safe Climate Campaign opined about the need for U.S. automakers to “behave responsibly” and “shun their gas-guzzling ways” in compliance with the Obama administration’s mileage standards — something that they apparently now owe to the American people, not merely for the sake of common decency, but especially after receiving taxpayer bailouts from the federal government. …Face. Palm.

Rising phoenix-like, the domestic auto industry now recognizes it is competing in a global market with companies already making hybrids, electric vehicles and other efficient models. …

Even so, automakers need to be watched. Even as they signed on to the president’s signal environmental achievement, their lobbying won loopholes. The rules set weaker requirements for fleets with larger vehicles, favoring U.S. car companies, which build mostly large models. The standards use a sliding scale based on size to determine how much each company’s fleet must improve mileage and cut emissions. A company that shifts to big cars from compacts has leeway to produce a fleet that falls below 54.5 mpg. …

Having agreed to support a strong national mileage and emissions plan, the auto industry is at a crossroad. It could drive itself back into a ditch, turning out new fleets with the same old gas-guzzlers that ignore what consumers want and the environment needs. Or it could seize the opportunity to turn itself around, taking the wheel as America fights global warming and its oil habit.

After pocketing $80 billion in taxpayer bailouts, Detroit owes us responsible behavior. The U.S. needs to cut its oil addiction. Drivers want to save on gas. We all need a safer climate. Automakers hold the key.

Blergh. The level of self-contradiction is amazing, but I’m going to try to untangle this web of economic fail just a little bit: First of all, above everything else, all businesses want to make money. No business can expect to “ignore what consumers want” and remain profitable — is the U.S. auto industry really addicted to churning out “gas-guzzling” vehicles just for their own sick, twisted, enviro-hating pleasure? No! Automakers want to keep making SUVs and trucks and etcetera because people want to buy them. If hybrids and electric cars and whatnot are really everything they’re cracked up to be, consumers will want to buy them willingly and automakers will willingly and competitively supply them. Automakers don’t need to be “watched” as if they’re somehow the nefarious enemy of ostensible social progress, and especially not if it means being afforded more rent-seeking opportunities by becoming more entangled by the politics-over-pragmatism wiles of the federal government.

And secondly, as far as ensuring the most fuel-efficient vehicles possible, incentives already abound for automakers to work for better fuel efficiency and to compete to produce the best vehicles: People like to save as much money on gas as possible, and ergo, when determining between otherwise comparable vehicles, they will choose to buy the one that gets the better gas mileage. I can guarantee you that automakers aren’t just now realizing that they’re “competing in a global market” — and competition is a much more powerful and effective force for innovation and efficiency than arbitrary government standards will ever be. If it’s really that easy and poses zero negative economic costs, why stop at President Obama’s upcoming requirements that automakers come up with cars that meet a 54.5 mpg standard by 2025? Why not 75 mpg by 2020? Better yet, why not have them produce hovercrafts that are powered by moonbeams, immediately?

Besides the unnecessary costs that accelerating these mileage and emissions standards will impose upon new cars’ affordability (which will then have other ripple effects throughout the wider economy), has anyone paused to consider — oh, I don’t know — the effects that these standards will have on safety? Maybe?

Another, far worse consequence of the skyrocketing mileage requirements is that many cars will need to be made smaller, lighter, and with thinner metal and more plastic, to achieve the new “corporate average fleet economy” (CAFÉ) standards.

These vehicles – even with seatbelts, air bags and expensive vehicle modifications – will not be as safe as they would be if mileage weren’t a major consideration. They will have less “armor” to protect drivers and passengers, and less space between vehicle occupants and whatever car, truck, bus, wall, tree or embankment their car might hit.

The NHTSA, Brookings Institution, Harvard School of Public Health, National Academy of Sciences and USA Today discovered a shocking reality. Even past and current mileage standards have resulted in thousands of additional fatalities, and tens of thousands of serious injuries, every year – above what would have happened if the government had not imposed those standards.