30 senators pressure carmakers to join Ford in California mpg deal

Keith Laing
The Detroit News

Washington — A group of 30 U.S. senators is urging General Motors Co., Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and a dozen other automakers to rebuke the Trump administration's effort to roll back gas-mileage standards and join an agreement on mpg rules reached between California and four car manufacturers, including Ford Motor Co.  

The letter, spearheaded by U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., calls on other automakers to "join the recent agreement between California and Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW to continue progress toward producing less-polluting vehicles.

"As representatives of states that signed the Nation’s Clean Car Promise, we believe that General Motors joining this agreement would save consumers money, reduce emissions, and provide regulatory certainty to the auto industry," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to GM CEO Mary Barra that was released as an example. 

"In the absence of an agreement between the Federal government and states, the California agreement is a commonsense framework that provides flexibility to the industry to meet tailpipe standards while also taking important steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save money on fuel for consumers," the letter continued.

A group of 30 U.S. senators is urging GM, Fiat Chrysler and a dozen other automakers to rebuke the Trump administration's effort to roll back gas mileage standards and join an agreement on fuel economy rules reached between California and four car manufacturers, including Ford.

Letters were set to the heads of Aston Martin, Fiat Chrysler, GM, Hyundai, Jaguar, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Porsche, Subaru, Toyota and Volvo.

Absent from the list of 30 senators — all Democrats — were Michigan U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township. 

Jeannine Ginivan, a spokeswoman for General Motors Co., said the automaker has not joined the voluntary gas mileage agreement with California because the company's "focus remains on working with all parties on a solution that would involve a 50-state solution and a national electric-vehicle program.

"As we have stated, the pathway includes continuously improving fuel economy and our commitment to an all-electric future," she said. 

Fiat Chrysler said in a statement it was committed to continuing the improvement of its fleet's fuel economy. 

"We have been clear throughout the federal rule-making process that the current standards need to be adjusted to reflect changing conditions in the marketplace," the company said. "This discussion acknowledges that is true." 

Under the terms of the deal negotiated directly between the California Air Resources Board and Ford, VW, Honda and BMW, the carmakers would voluntarily increase the average fuel economy of their fleets to about 50 miles per gallon by the end of the 2026 model year.

The four carmakers agreed to increase the average fuel economy of their fleets from 2021 levels by 3.7% per year, reaching an average of nearly 50 mpg by 2026. If the Trump administration is successful in its effort to roll back the Obama-era mpg standards, other automakers would be bound by less restrictive federal rules. 

The move comes in the face of the Trump administration's two-year push to freeze fuel-mileage rules at about 39 mpg for model years 2021 to 2026. The White House has also pushed to revoke a longstanding waiver allowing California and other states to set their own stricter auto emissions standards. 

The Trump administration announced last year its intention to ease stringent gas-mileage rules that would have required fleets averaging nearly 55 miles per gallon by 2025. The administration proposed a freeze in the mandate after 2020, touching off a fierce battle with California, which helped craft the Obama-era rules.

The two sides attempted to negotiate a potential agreement, but the White House announced in February it was pulling out of the talks and moving forward with its proposed freeze. 

Gloria Bergquist, spokesperson for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents domestic and foreign-owned car manufacturers in Washington, said the deal reached between between California and the four automakers shows the state was acknowledging for the first time that the model year 2022-2025 standards developed by the Obama administration were not attainable and needed to be adjusted.  

"Now 30 US Senators are also acknowledging that the Obama standards are not attainable and need to be adjusted," she said. "There is momentum growing among blue state policy leaders that the Obama standards are not attainable and need to be adjusted."

Thirteen states and Washington, D.C., have adopted California’s mileage rules, meaning automakers could be left with one set of rules for a quarter of the country and another set for the remaining states. 

Rebecca Lindland, founder of RebeccaDrives.com, an auto-industry and car review website, said the other automakers are unlikely to face backlash from customers because fuel economy is typically a secondary concern for car buyers. 

"They make their choices known through what they purchase," she said, noting that surveys have also historically shown fuel economy ranks lower than other factors on car buyers list of pre-purchase concerns. 

"And that continues to be the most fuel efficient version of what they already want to buy," Lindland continued. "We're continuing to see consumers buying more and more car-based SUVs that get pretty decent fuel economy and they're OK with that." 

The letter to the carmakers was signed by U.S. Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del.; Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.; Edward J. Markey, D-Mass;, Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Ben Cardin, D-Md.; Bob Casey, D-Pa.; Chris Coons, D-Del; Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.; Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Kamala D. Harris, D-Calif.; Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.; Chris Murphy, D-Conn.; Patty Murray, (D-Wash; Jack Reed, D-R.I.; Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii; Tina Smith, D-Minn.; Tom Udall, D-N.M.; Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.; Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.


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Twitter: @Keith_Laing