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Emission Standards: Are Automakers at Odds with Customers?

Consumer groups contend that automakers such as General Motors are in conflict with buyers who value fuel economy. (BetsyWeber/Flickr)
Consumer groups contend that automakers such as General Motors are in conflict with buyers who value fuel economy. (BetsyWeber/Flickr)
January 28, 2020

LANSING, Mich. -- Some top automakers, including Michigan-based General Motors, are standing behind Trump administration efforts to reduce emission rules for vehicles. But are they shooting themselves in the foot?

Fiat Chrysler, GM and Toyota are siding with the Trump administration's efforts to revoke California's right to set its own vehicle-emission standards. The Union of Concerned Scientists commissioned a survey to see where customers stand on the issue.

Pollster Matt George asked 1,000 Toyota owners their opinions of the automaker before and after informing them about the company's decisions on emission standards.

"From the beginning of the survey to then after they found out more, their favorability dropped by a third - it went from 98% total to 66% total," George said. "And those are people who responded extremely, very or somewhat favorably towards the company itself."

By the end of the survey, the number of consumers who said they would consider switching brands doubled. Trump's proposed SAFE - Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles - rule calls for automakers to increase the fuel efficiency of vehicles by 1.5% annually, rather than the 5% percent level under Obama administration standards.

As manager of cars and energy policy at Consumer Reports, Shannon Baker-Branstetter explained their research found a full rollback of clean car standards would raise new vehicle costs by $3,300 by 2025. She noted the Trump administration's own numbers appear to show net loss from the rule, and disputes claims it would prevent 12,000 highway deaths.

"Using reasonable assumptions and analysis, we found that the rule is more likely to cost lives. But really, changing fuel-economy standards in general does not have an impact on safety," Baker-Branstetter said. "And so their argument that you can't improve fuel economy and safety at the same time is just not true."

More than 75,000 people signed a consumer petition sent to General Motors, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler, Nissan, Subaru, Mazda, Hyundai, Kia and Mitsubishi asking for their support of clean car standards. Baker-Branstetter contended the automakers are risking the loyalty of their customer base unless they reverse course.

"Automakers are in conflict with their buyers," she said. "We find overwhelmingly that consumers do value fuel economy and want to continue to see the improvements."

According to Consumer Reports, Michigan stands to lose $9.9 billion annually if the 1.5% annual standard is rolled back.

Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - MI