Like the departing administrations before it, President Obama and his team are busy wrapping up outstanding issues as they prepare to leave office. On that list were two big issues with implications for the auto industry going far beyond President Obama's tenure. One was handled with care and diligence; the other has prompted serious questions about the objectivity and fairness of the proceedings.
First, after an extensive period of public comment and technical review, the Department of Transportation issued proposed rules for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications. These rules, long sought by the industry, will establish standards for vehicles to communicate with each other and with infrastructure, thus avoiding collisions, easing congestion, and saving lives, time, and money. These rules are an important step toward a world in which automated vehicles can become a reality.
In contrast, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decided that there would be no changes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for passenger vehicles. This was after the regulatory agencies issued a 1,200-page draft technical assessment report in July, and stated as recently as September that a final decision on the standards would be made by the incoming administration in 2017. Apparently, something caused the EPA to accelerate the decision. Was it the election? We may never know with certainty.
What we do know is that we were promised a thorough, fact-driven mid-term evaluation based on the most up-to-date data provided by the automakers. We were also promised that the EPA would coordinate the mid-term evaluation with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration the entire way. Looking at the proposed determination, it doesn’t appear to take into account some basic but important facts: the price of gasoline, consumer eagerness (or reluctance) to purchase electric vehicles, the fact that Americans seem to like their SUVs, and the reduced return on investment from green technologies in an era of cheap gas.
When the EPA announced their decision, Global Automakers asked that it be withdrawn, or at least that the public be given an extended time to comment on it. We’re still waiting for a response. The fact is, our members remain committed to a national GHG and fuel economy program, but EPA’s process foul takes us off that course and obscures the important issues that should be at the heart of the review.
These two decisions by the current administration will affect billions in investments and have profound implications for manufacturing in America. The first decision was arrived at in the proper manner. It should come as no surprise that the proposed rules for V2V enjoy broad support from the auto industry and safety advocates. The second seems to have been rushed and tainted by politics.