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Driving the wrong way

Driving the wrong way

24 February, 2020

In the last few months, sustainability has driven a wedge between car manufacturers and created a political live wire.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration reversed the fuel economy standards put in place by the Obama administration, which allows states to set their own fuel efficiency standards and emissions mandates. Result – a significant decline in future fuel economy requirements (from the Obama era’s 54 miles per gallon to Trump’s 37).

The State of California has put in a legal challenge to reverse this, and car manufacturers are now taking sides. At first glance, the debate seems clearly demarcated as good versus bad, but the line-up is perhaps surprising. What’s Toyota, for example, doing with Trump? Isn’t California the Prius’s first and most familiar home? The media certainly piled in to castigate the company for failing to put its money where its mouth is.

The complicating factor is that the debate actually revolves around whether fuel economy standards should be set at a state level or a federal level. And so, although first instincts advocate for California, which has more ambitious targets, you also have to consider the scale of change that can be achieved overall.

The car manufacturers on Trump’s side are sticking with the concept of federal rule – while asking for national targets, which help them develop a national fleet and avoid a patchwork of regulations. If these targets were set at an ambitious enough level (even a compromise between California’s and Trump’s), it would arguably have a bigger impact than having just one state’s standards would. Good for business – and good for the planet. The plot thickens…

In an ideal world, of course, the federal administration would applaud California’s ambition and set a similarly high national target. But in the meantime, we call for impact to be a priority over politics and corporate pugilism…

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