President Donald Trump has been toying with the idea of rolling back fuel economy standards set by his predecessor since taking office, a short-sighted measure that’d appease automakers who were totally fine with the targets even just a few years ago. But the reported justification being offered by Trump’s administration is even sillier than I could’ve expected.
The dust-up over the Corporate Average Fuel Economy targets began over a year ago, when former President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency locked in carmakers to a standard of 54 mpg for light-duty vehicles by 2025. Upset by the move, automakers looked to Trump’s administration to reconsider the measure—and now, it looks like that’s finally going to be set in motion.
But here’s the line of thinking Trump’s team is apparently putting forth, per Bloomberg:
The Trump administration is said to be reviewing the safety advantages of heavier vehicles — a point of controversy among researchers — as it considers lowering future automotive fuel economy targets by as much as 23 percent.
Trump’s staff at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has one draft scenario that suggests reducing fuel economy standards to 35.7 mpg by 2026, from 46.6 mpg under Obama’s targets, reports Bloomberg. As a result, from 2036 to 2045, traffic fatalities would fall by nearly 1,200 per year.
Logically, perhaps that makes sense—the bigger the vehicle, the safer a passenger is—but that doesn’t square with the Trump administration’s justification. Bloomberg cited a number of reports conducted over the last two decades, including one from the National Academy of Sciences that found the “downsizing of vehicles” may’ve increased the number of traffic fatalities over time, but NHTSA has since implemented changes that ameliorated those concerns.
And everyone behind those reports that Bloomberg spoke to was just fine with the Obama-era standards:
Suggestions that an easing of the Obama-era standards would reduce fatalities “does not seem consistent with the findings of this report,” said Therese Langer, transportation program director at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy and a member of the National Academy of Sciences’s committee that produced the 2015 analysis.
Russ Rader, an IIHS spokesman, said that the institute was “supportive of the fuel economy standards as implemented. “The Obama-era changes to the rules, essentially using a sliding scale for fuel economy improvements by vehicle footprint, addressed safety concerns that IIHS raised in the past,” he added.
But here’s a basic point of consideration that’s left unsaid in Bloomberg’s piece. Automakers wanted the Trump administration to reconsider the mpg targets because they’re guided by their business—and their business right now is being flooded with interest in giant gas guzzlers.
Consumers can’t get enough of them nowadays, and so manufacturers are appeasing them by churning out more and more, as if gas is going to remain in the mid $2 range in perpetuity. Except, one day—I’m very certain of this—gas will rise, and people will realize they’re getting screwed by having a massive roving SUV that gets something like 15-20 mpg, and they’ll realize they want something smaller. The demand will shift to light-duty vehicles, and all the supposed safety gains from larger vehicles being considered by the Trump administration now will be an afterthought.