If you've ever wondered why the American automakers have such a hard time competing in their home market, all you have to do is look at the latest move from the American government. It's going to exempt the worst gas-guzzling European luxury cars from having to meet U.S. CO2 standards. Companies like Mercedes, BMW, and Porsche can continue to sell cars that don't meet those standards, all with the gentle blessing of generous Uncle Sam.
Do you think for a second that the American government would ever let GM, Ford or Chrysler sell vehicles that pump out more greenhouse gases than the law allows? No, never.
John McElroy is host of the TV program "Autoline Detroit" and daily web video "Autoline Daily". Every week he brings his unique insights as an auto industry insider to Autoblog readers.
The cars getting this exemption represent some of the most profitable products for the companies that make them. Cars like the Mercedes S600 or BMW M6 which are rated at 13 miles per gallon (18 l/100km), or Porsche Cayenne Turbo S which is rated at 14 mpg.
These are "halo" cars for these brands. They help make these brands aspirational. And they help them sell all the other cars in their lineups. While these are the kinds of cars that are near and dear to the hearts of all enthusiasts, is it fair to grant them CO2 exemptions?
No, it's blatantly unfair on two levels. First off, it's unfair to American automakers (and Japanese and Korean) who cannot get this kind of exemption. As Cadillac and Lincoln continue to try and claw their way back to the top of the luxury segment there's no way they can effectively compete if they have to meet the law and their European competitors do not. Second, the cars that are getting these exemptions are only within the reach of a fairly wealthy clientele. In other words, these emission standards only apply to ordinary citizens, not the rich.
The federal government justifies these exemptions by saying it doesn't involve very many cars, and they will be in effect for only four years. Specifically, the exemption applies to automakers who sell fewer than 400,000 cars annually in the American market. Some excuse. This still exempts to about a quarter of the cars that they sell in the U.S., and it ignores the fact that BMW and Mercedes each sell well over a million vehicles on a global basis.
California is also granting CO2 exemptions to these companies, but it applies to all the vehicles they sell and will be in effect for the next seven years. Remember, this comes from the state that loudly proclaimed it was finally going to force Detroit to do something about CO2 emissions. Can you imagine the uproar if GM, Ford and Chrysler asked California for the same exemptions?
None of this makes any sense to me. It's not as if we're talking about small, low-volume automakers who are struggling to survive and need more time to figure out how to develop new technology to meet these CO2 regulations. With Mercedes, BMW and Porsche we're talking about some of the most powerful and technologically advanced automakers in the business.
Clearly the German automakers are quite adept at lobbying American politicians. In Washington this exemption is referred to as "the German Provision." No doubt their dealers played a key role in getting such special treatment. Yet I can't blame them for looking out for their own interests.
What I find so troubling in all this is that special dispensation is being granted by the American government to foreign automakers to ensure that the jet set can keep their toys.
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