As automakers yet again lobby Washington to roll back planned fuel-economy targets for 2025, they've employed some familiar tactics to drive the point home to lawmakers.

It cannot be done. It will cost too much. It will destroy the industry and kill jobs. Consumers do not want this. The science is not clear. The market will solve it.

If you were to believe automaker rhetoric, the entire car-building industry in North America has been constantly under threat, its mere existence hanging by a thread year after year.

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But according to the the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit science advocacy group, the claims from automakers over the years are dishonest at best—whether about proposed fuel economy, pollution, or safety regulations and the extreme challenge of meeting them.

The group published a report in December, titled Time for a U-Turn: Automakers’ History of Intransigence and an Opportunity for Change, that outlines numerous times since the 1950s that automakers have opposed stricter regulations.

Later, those same makers turned around and solved the supposedly insurmountable challenges—and almost always for costs low enough that they had little effect on sales, their main concern.

Figure 3: Passenger-car fuel economy targets under CAFE standards by year [graph: John Briggs]

Figure 3: Passenger-car fuel economy targets under CAFE standards by year [graph: John Briggs]

From early emission restrictions that combatted smog, through adding the first airbags for drivers, to the eventual fuel-economy fight among automakers, states, and the feds, the report lays all out all the shrieking and predictions of doom in glorious, gory detail.

Unfortunately, the report likely won't make an iota of difference when it comes time for the Trump administration to decide on reworking the forthcoming 54.5 mpg fuel-economy target for 2025.

At least, however, it can educate voting taxpayers on what's really going on when automakers resist change.

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If nothing else, it's also a good education for those of us interested in the inner workings of the automotive industry over much of the last century.

The Union of Concerned Scientists' goal is to show regulations opposed by automakers have in fact contributed to measurably better, safer, more efficient products than ever.

It also "outlines concrete actions that automakers can take to leave behind their history of intransigence, and ensure that their industry rises to the challenges of the 21st century," the report says.

Talk about an uphill battle.


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