Howes: UAW old guard in deep trouble despite meager turnout in 1st election

EPA: Detroit Three vehicles lag in emissions, MPG ratings

Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

Washington — Vehicles built by Detroit's Big Three automakers produced the most emissions and had the worst MPG ratings of all major producers in model year 2020, according to new data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

Stellantis NV came in last in a field of 14 automakers for both measures, and the company's fleetwide average got slightly worse over the last five years. Ford Motor Co. was second-to-last and General Motors Co. was third-to-last, though both automakers improved their fleetwide average over the last five years.

EPA's annual Automotive Trends Report released Friday shows a field of major automakers primarily using credits to maintain compliance with federal emissions and fuel economy standards as they continue to sell more trucks and SUVs, even as they improve vehicle efficiency overall.  

The snapshot of current automotive trends contrasts with the vision painted by major car companies of an electric future brought on by billions in investments from automakers and government incentives.

Plug-in hybrids, EVs and fuel cell vehicles made up only 2% of all new vehicles, while EV-only Tesla Inc. remained the leader in the environmental measures. President Joe Biden has said the U.S. should aim for 50% EV sales by 2030, and the Detroit Three agreed to aim for a goal of 40-50% EV sales.

In response to a request for comment, a Stellantis spokesperson noted the company's $35 billion investment over the next four years to develop four multi-vehicle battery electric vehicle platforms.

"However, a full range of complementary policies — consumer and manufacturing incentives and recharging infrastructure — is needed to help move the market toward electrified-vehicle volumes that will benefit the environment over the next decade," spokesperson Eric Mayne said via email.

Spokespeople for General Motors and Ford did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

Federal officials celebrated the overall record, albeit modest, improvements in fleetwide averages and suggested recent investments in green vehicle technology would help spur further changes in the future. 

“Today’s report is a great indicator that automakers are following through with their promise of achieving clean car standards while providing consumers with great vehicle options,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

“I am optimistic that the innovation and marketing power of the auto industry, coupled with President Biden’s unprecedented support for a zero emissions future, will accelerate cleaner technologies, sharply cutting pollution to meet the climate challenge.”

The report comes ahead of a final version of new emissions and mileage standards expected in the coming weeks from the Biden administration. EPA and the Department of Transportation issued preliminary rules that would require automakers achieve a fleetwide average of 52 miles per gallon by 2026, compared with the requirement of 43.3 miles per gallon by 2026 under less stringent standards set under former President Donald Trump. 

Automakers achieved an average of 25.4 miles per gallon for model year 2020 vehicles, and EPA estimated fuel economy would drop to 25.3 MPG for the 2021 model year. According to the report, the market is continuing to shift toward SUVs and trucks rather than sedans, which have a lighter carbon footprint.  

Only Tesla, Subaru Corp. and Honda Motor Co. met existing standards on the merits of their vehicles. All other manufacturers used credits bought or earned in previous years to come into compliance.

Environmental groups have pushed the Biden administration to implement the strongest possible standards and have asked the agencies to eliminate incentives for automakers that help them comply with the rules. Under the current proposal, automakers would be allowed to carry forward credits generated over the last four years, get additional credits for EVs and other "advanced technology," get credits for hybrids or electric full-size pickups, and get more credits for "off-cycle" improvements to efficiency. 

Katherine García, acting director of the Sierra Club’s clean transportation campaign, said in a statement that the report reiterates the need for the EPA to adopt the strongest possible standards. 

"We can’t rely on a regulatory system that allows a massive credit bank for automakers to continue to crank out more gas guzzling cars and trucks," she said. "Strong regulations at the federal level are what will keep the auto industry accountable to electrification."

Dan Becker, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's safe climate transport campaign, also said in a statement that auto companies are cutting emissions more slowly than they had agreed to under former President Barack Obama: "With strong new rules, the administration can take the biggest single step of any nation to fight climate change, slashing auto pollution and requiring automakers to mass-produce clean electric vehicles."

At least one environmental group, the Environmental Defense Fund, found the report encouraging. Chester France, a former official in EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality and current consultant to EDF, cited overall fuel economy highs as a reflection of "continued innovation" amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

“These are the latest in a long line of data points that show us moving toward cleaner cars, and another sign that the future will be zero-emission vehicles," he said, adding that strong emissions standards and further federal investments will "help ensure those vehicles are made in America today and for years to come.”

Twitter: @rbeggin