Major automakers urge Trump not to freeze fuel economy targets

They want negotiations with states to keep increasing standards

WASHINGTON — Major automakers are telling the Trump administration they want to reach an agreement with California to avoid a legal battle over fuel efficiency standards, and they support continued increases in mileage standards through 2025.

"We support standards that increase year over year that also are consistent with marketplace realities," Mitch Bainwol, chief executive of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing major automakers, will tell a U.S. House of Representatives panel on Tuesday, according to written testimony released on Monday.

The Trump administration is weighing how to revise fuel economy standards through at least the 2025 model year, and one option is to propose freezing the standards through 2026, effectively allowing automakers to delay investments in technology to cut greenhouse gas emissions from burning petroleum.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not formally submitted its joint proposal with the Environmental Protection Agency to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review. Even so, last week, California and 16 other states sued to challenge the Trump administration's decision to revise U.S. vehicle rules.

Auto industry executives have held meetings with the Trump administration for months and have urged the administration to try to reach a deal with California even as they support slowing the pace of reduction in carbon dioxide emissions that the Obama administration rules outlined.

One automaker official said part of the message to President Donald Trump at a meeting on Friday will be to consider California like a foreign trade deal that needs to be renegotiated. Automakers want to urge him to get automakers a "better deal" — as opposed to potentially years of litigation between major states and federal regulators.

On Friday, Trump is set to meet with the chief executives of General Motors, Ford, Fiat Chrysler and the top U.S. executives of at least five other major automakers, including Toyota, Volkswagen AG and Daimler AG, to talk about revisions to the vehicle rules. Senior EPA and Transportation Department officials will also attend.

Environmental groups are eager to keep the rules in place, saying they will save consumers billions in fuel costs. A coalition of groups plans to stage a protest outside Ford's headquarters in Michigan.

The Obama administration's rules, negotiated with automakers in 2011, were aimed at doubling average fleetwide fuel efficiency to about 50 miles (80 km) per gallon by 2025. At the time, the federal government, California and the states that follow its standards, and the automakers were all on the same page.

Heidi King, the Trump administration's nominee to head NHTSA, which oversees Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rules, is set to have a confirmation hearing on May 16 before the Senate Commerce Committee.

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