Current standards require new cars to average 27.5 miles per gallon; trucks have to get 23 miles a gallon. But here’s what those figures will be just seven years from now: Cars will have to average 39 miles per gallon. Trucks will have to get 30 miles per gallon.
I have never even driven a car, other than a hybrid, which got that kind of mileage. But that is going to be the required standard, less than seven years from now. For years, the automakers have fought savagely against increased mileage standards.
Their bulldog on Capitol Hill was Congressman John Dingell, Detroit’s human truck, as they called him. He’s been in Washington and on guard for the automobile industry since 1955.
Yesterday, here’s what he had to say about the agreement: “This is a remarkable environmental and national security accomplishment in an era that requires aggressive action to combat global warming and free our nation from foreign oil.”
Six months ago, if you showed me those words, I would have thought they came from Ralph Nader, or Greenpeace.
So - why does everyone all of a sudden think these drastically heightened fuel economy standards are a good idea? For a number of reasons, perhaps the biggest of which is that it doesn’t make any sense to have different state standards for emissions.
There are plenty of areas where the states should have broad leeway to make their own laws. But we all share the same atmosphere. California cannot prevent Nevada air from blowing across the state line. From the automakers’ point of view, having different standards for fuel economy doesn’t make sense either.
They are barely staying alive. They can’t afford, as Congressman Dingell said yesterday, “to be concerned about meeting a patchwork of different state standards.”
For years, California has had far tougher fuel standards than the rest of America. What Detroit wanted was for California to be forced to back off. But that isn’t happening. The nation’s biggest state is immensely rich, and immensely powerful, politically and otherwise.
Plus, for all intents and purposes, Chrysler and General Motors are wards of the government. They are depending on federal financing to keep them going, and help them through bankruptcy.
They are in no position to rock the boat. We are facing a new world here, and Detroit is going to have to be brave. What nobody knows, however, is whether the automakers can possibly achieve these fuel efficiency targets in less than seven years.
In past years, targets have been set, but then amended, pushed back, watered down. It’s possible that the mentality in the boardrooms is, as Free Press columnist Tom Walsh said yesterday, to say anything about 2016 that you need to say in order to survive.
Possibly. Yet things aren’t what they used to be. Every day, Michigan sees a little more clearly just how true that is.