US President Donald Trump. Picture: AFP/JIM WATSON
US President Donald Trump. Picture: AFP/JIM WATSON

Washington — US President Donald Trump lashed out at car makers that have pushed back on his administration’s plan to weaken fuel-efficiency requirements, dismissing them as “politically correct”.

“My proposal to the politically correct Automobile Companies would lower the average price of a car to consumers by more than $3000, while at the same time making the cars substantially safer,” Trump said in a tweet on Wednesday. “Engines would run smoother. Very little impact on the environment! Foolish executives!”

The tweet was apparently prompted by a compromise that Ford Motor, Honda Motor, BMW and Volkswagen (VW) have reached with California’s clean-air regulator to bolster the fuel efficiency of vehicles sold in the US up to the end of 2026, defying the Trump administration’s plan. Gavin Newsom, California’s Democratic governor, has called on other vehicle makers to join the pact, though none have thus far.

The deal represents the most clear-cut example of automotive industry unease with the Trump administration’s August 2018 proposal to dramatically ease fuel economy and vehicle greenhouse gas emissions standards drafted by the Obama administration, which sought to boost average fuel efficiency to roughly 50 miles per gallon (roughly 20km per litre) by 2025.

The Trump administration instead recommended capping mileage requirements at a 37-mile-per-gallon (roughly 9km per litre) fleet average after 2020, and revoking California’s authority to regulate exhaust greenhouse gas emissions, which it’s done in co-ordination with Washington for several years.

Trump regulators have argued that capping fuel economy standards at 2020 levels would lead to less-expensive new cars than under the current rules, allowing consumers to replace their older vehicles with newer, safer ones more rapidly and avoid thousands of traffic fatalities.

Experts and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) career staff have disputed those assertions.

Vehicle makers, for months, have urged the Trump administration to moderate the plan, fearing a lengthy legal battle over California’s regulatory powers would throw the critical standards into uncertainty for years. Those efforts have had little sway so far on the White House, which rejected a plea by 17 car makers last month to work out a compromise with California.

The companies also want to avoid a split market — with federal mileage requirements in most states and more stringent rules in more than a dozen states that adhere to California’s standards. The states that follow California standards account for more than a third of all US automobile sales.

“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!” Trump said later on Wednesday in another tweet. 

Ford, in a statement on Wednesday evening, said the company was “proud to lead the way in taking the right actions for the environment while at the same time protecting consumer affordability and the short- and long-term health of the industry.”