Trump turns his stable genius on auto industry
If you follow the inexhaustible torrent of bilious braggadocio that is Donald Trump's Twitter feed — and honestly, what serious student of abnormal psychology can look away? — then you know that the incumbent president would be way better at running most everything — Israel, the European Union, FOX News, etc. — than the very unimpressive people who currently run them.
So no one should be surprised that Trump has at last focused his very stable genius on the U.S. auto industry, which he means to save from the inept CEOs who preside over its leading companies.
The immediate targets of the president's wrath are Ford Motor Company, Volkswagen of America, Honda and BMW, who went behind the president's back to sign an auto emissions deal with California.
Under an agreement made public late last month, the four companies pledged that their fleets will average about 51 miles per gallon by 2026. That's lower than the 54.5 mpg standard the Obama administration had imposed on the industry, but considerably more aggressive than the rollback to 37 mpg the White House wants to use.
Together, the four companies make nearly a third of the vehicles sold in the United States, and other manufacturers are expected to follow their lead soon.
Why would automakers voluntarily agree to fuel economy standards tougher than the federal government's?
The only explanation the tweeter-in-chief can find is that the industry's CEOs have lost their minds.
"My proposal to the politically correct Automobile Companies would lower the average price of a car by more than $3,000, while at the same time making the cars substantially safer," Trump said in a tweet Wednesday, adding that the 37 mpg standard he has proposed would have "very little impact on the environment."
"Foolish executives!" the sage of the West Wing concluded.
The Legendary Henry Ford and Alfred P. Sloan, the Founders of Ford Motor Company and General Motors, are “rolling over” at the weakness of current car company executives willing to spend more money on a car that is not as safe or good, and cost $3,000 more to consumers. Crazy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 21, 2019
Critics paying slavish homage to the facts might point out that there is no credible evidence to support any of the president's assertions. In fact, his own Environmental Protection Agency staff argued in email correspondence obtained by the Associated Press that rolling back the Obama fuel economy standard would result in more auto fatalities, not fewer.
But the car CEOs who rebuffed the president's fuel economy standards in favor of California's less-permissive ones would never be so nasty as to challenge the president's facts. Their public rationale for embracing California's standards was more pragmatic:
"These terms will provide our companies much-needed regulatory certainty by allowing us to meet both federal and state requirements with a single national fleet, avoiding a patchwork of regulations while continuing to ensure meaningful greenhouse gas emissions reductions,” the four companies said in a joint statement.
The Trump administration wants to cancel a waiver that allows California and 13 other states to establish fuel economy standards more aggressive than the federal government's. But California and 18 other states promise they'll go to court to preserve their regulatory authority, and the four automakers' deal reflects their judgment that California will ultimately win that fight.
According to published reports, senior executives from Toyota, Fiat Chrysler and General Motors were all summoned last month to a White House meeting where a senior Trump administration official pressured them to embrace the president’s standards. But Mercedes appears poised to join the California alliance any day now, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom says he's "very confident" that other automakers will sign on in the near future.
Avenging an insult
The president's latest Twitter tantrum might be defensible, or at least comprehensible, if he actually believed that more aggressive fuel economy standards pose a threat to the industry, passenger safety, or vehicle affordability.
But the Washington Monthly reports that what set the president's teeth on edge was the idea of car company CEOs negotiating with California behind his back.
"At one White House meeting," the magazine reported, "Mr. Trump went so far as to propose scrapping his own rollback plan and keeping the Obama regulations, while still revoking California’s legal authority to set its own standards, according to the three people familiar with the meeting. The president framed it as a way to retaliate against both California and the four automakers in California’s camp, those people said."
The car company CEOs can hardly be faulted for concluding that the radical regulatory rollback Trump proposed was designed to benefit the fossil fuel industry, not their own, and their companies would be be better off to grasp the regulatory certainty offered by the California deal.
I'm betting that General Motors, Toyota et al won't let the president's thin skin and puerile tweets prevent them from reaching the same, responsible conclusion about their own companies' best interests.