Vehicle emissions fight just beginning, US auto dealers say
The fight over fuel economy and vehicle tailpipe emissions is just beginning and America's franchised new car and truck dealers are at the center of it, the head of the National Automobile Dealers Association said this week. 'This is no time for us to relax,' said incoming NADA Chairman Annette Sykora at the association's convention and exposition in San Francisco. She said the association supports the 'aggressive but responsible' increase in the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, CAFE, standard passed by Congress in December that requires vehicles to achieve 35 miles per gallon by 2020 - a 40 percent increase in fuel economy over today's standards.
'In fact, it is because dealers were actively engaged in the CAFE debate that the industry can live to fight another day,' Sykora said.
The current CAFE standard for cars, set in 1984, requires manufacturers to achieve an average of 27.5 miles per gallon, while a second CAFE standard requires an average of 22.2 miles per gallon for light trucks such as minivans, sport utility vehicles, and pickups.
Sykora said the automobile dealers oppose any effort to overturn the December 2007 decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to deny California's request for a waiver of weaker federal standards for emissions from vehicle tailpipes in favor of a tougher state law.
California has introduced a plan to reduce tailpipe emissions and regulate greenhouse gases from cars and light trucks 30 percent by 2016, starting with the 2009 model year. It is the first waiver request concerning greenhouse gases.
At least 18 other states have passed laws following the California Clean Car program, but according to the Clean Air Act, the EPA must grant California's waiver request before any other state can implement its tailpipe emissions program.
'We support a national approach to fuel economy, not a confusing and costly state-by-state patchwork of regulations that could threaten vehicle availability, affordability, safety, and the ability of dealers to engage in interstate vehicle sales and trades,' Sykora said.
California Congressman Henry Waxman, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform issued a subpoena to compel the EPA to provide unredacted copies of five documents, including a key presentation EPA staff made to Administrator Stephen Johnson in October 2007 about California's regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles.
The subpoena follows several requests for these documents that Waxman made starting December 20, 2007.
U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, wrote Friday to the Government Accountability Office, the investigative branch of Congress, requesting an investigation of the EPA's decision to deny California's request for a waiver that would enable them to reduce global warming emissions from vehicles.
'It is unconscionable for the Bush administration to stand in the way and keep California and the other states from stepping up to the challenge of global warming,' Boxer wrote. 'This unprecedented denial must be reversed, and it is critically important to shine a spotlight on how this Administration made this outrageous decision.'
Seven other senators joined in the request for an investigation, all Democrats or Independents.
One senator who signed the letter is presidential hopeful Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, who said, 'The Bush administration's decision to flatly deny the request of states to reduce pollution under the Clean Air Act was unprecedented, and the American people deserve answers about how this decision was made. The Bush administration may believe they're not accountable for their actions, but we're going to pursue this issue until the facts are brought to light.'
Sykora says that whatever the government finally does, the 'consumer will ultimately decide if a federal fuel-economy standard is successful, because you can't wave a government wand and make consumers buy a particular type of vehicle.'
Sykora pointed out that Ford's F-150 pickup has been the No. 1 selling vehicle in the United States for the past 31 years.
'We have a vast country with vastly different transportation needs,' Sykora said. 'We don't want policies that stifle consumer demand. We want to accelerate it.'
Additionally, Sykora warned against the 'jalopy effect,' when car owners keep their older, less fuel-efficient vehicles longer. Unless public policy encourages turnover of the existing fleet, the goals of saving energy and cutting tailpipe emissions will not be achieved, she said.
Sykora, president of Smith Ford Mercury in Slaton, Texas, and Smith South Plains Ford, Lincoln-Mercury, Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep in Levelland, Texas, is the first woman chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association.
The National Automobile Dealers Association, founded in 1917 and based in McLean, Virginia, represents about 20,000 new car and truck dealers, with nearly 43,000 separate franchises.
More than 25,000 attendees - auto dealers, automakers and exhibitors - are attending the auto dealers' 91st annual event. The four-day conference and expo runs through Tuesday.