Harrop: Automakers alienating buyers by siding with Trump

Why would Toyota and others move away from cleaner vehicles? Because defying Trump has consequences.

By Froma Harrop / syndicated columnist

Ask not why the Trump administration must dismantle America’s environmental laws with such gusto. By now, that’s a given. Instead, let’s ask why some automakers, businesses that must plan years in advance, are siding with a president intent on sowing chaos in their own industry.

The issue at hand is President Trump’s pointless crusade to strip California of its unique right to limit tailpipe emissions of vehicles sold there. You’ve got to wonder whether the companies backing Trump administration efforts — GM, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler, Subaru and Nissan — are out of their ever-loving minds.

This comes at a time when apocalyptic fires are consuming much of the West as rampaging water drowns other regions; all under the wrath of a warming planet. Americans, young ones in particular, have rightly labeled climate change the existential threat of our time.

Automakers understandably don’t want to make two sets of vehicles, efficient models for California, the District of Columbia and the 14 states (Washington state, included) that follow California’s lead, and less-efficient ones for the rest of the country. (The higher price charged for the technologically advanced vehicles would be more than made up by lower fuel bills, according to Consumer Reports.)

The Obama administration solved the schism problem by coordinating with California and the carmakers to establish a single set of standards for improving mileage. Trump will most likely roll back higher standards already in place for later years and cap them at the first goals: a fleet average of about 37 miles per gallon by 2020.

Happy to work with California are Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW of North America. With growing numbers of Americans combining a strong desire for clean energy with a dislike of Trump, these companies are well positioned to bite into the other automakers’ market share.

Ford has invested in upping the mileage of its popular F-150 truck, America’s bestselling pickup for more than 40 years. Since 2008, its fuel efficiency has risen by 50 percent. All the while, the trucks are adding towing power and horsepower.

Ford has just unveiled the fully electric Mustang Mach-E. What is this creature? It’s an SUV whose body bears resemblance to the Mustang pony car. The top-end version of this electric vehicle comes with the equivalent of 459 horsepower and goes zero to 60 mph in “the mid 3-second range.” One of the three drive modes is labeled “unbridled.”

Clearly, this vehicle is about more than fuel efficiency.

Why Toyota has backed Trump’s efforts to weaken efficiency standards remains a mystery. This is the company that gave birth to the Toyota Prius; the popular hybrid that became an icon of environmental awareness.

Toyota owners have apparently been complaining to the company about what looks like a change of values. Perhaps fearing a boycott by formerly loyal customers, the company stated that it was not trying to appease Trump but that the federal government is the best authority to regulate tailpipe emissions.

Under Trump, it clearly isn’t.

Honda, meanwhile, boasts that its brand represents the most fuel-efficient fleet of vehicles sold in the U.S. It undoubtedly doesn’t want to be seen succumbing to pressure from Washington.

Get this. The Trump administration has launched an antitrust investigation of the four companies bucking his wishes. Consider the warped thinking that might lead to legal action against companies for wanting to voluntarily make cleaner cars.

One can only guess the intimidation Trump has applied against automakers willing to work with California. That several foreign-based companies have joined with him has led to speculation about tariff threats.

Let’s just say that more and more Americans are voting with their dollars for green products. Automakers will ignore them at their own risk.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. Email her at fharrop@gmail.com.

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