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More than a climate issue: American auto industry may lose competitive edge with lower emissions standards

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Jeff Tyson

The Trump administration has announced plans to freeze fuel efficiency standards for cars, undoing an Obama-era environmental regulation meant to fight climate change, and setting up a possible legal fight with California.

Max Zhang

Professor of engineering and faculty director at the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability

Max Zhang is professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell University and fellow at Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. He studies sustainable energy systems and the effects of pollutants on air quality and climate change. He says lowering emission standards will do more than harm the environment.

Zhang says:

“By freezing fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks in 2020, the Trump administration essentially kills off the most important regulatory driver to innovations in the American automotive industry.

“Thirty-seven miles per gallon, the new fuel efficiency target by 2026 as the current proposal indicates, can be achieved by strategies such as improving internal combustion engines and modest weight reduction. By contrast, 54 miles per gallon, as the Obama administration proposed, will certainly require auto manufacturers to massively introduce zero-tailpipe emission vehicles such as electric and fuel-cell vehicles to the fleets.

“Therefore, a likely unintended consequence of the current Corporate Average Fuel Economy proposal is to make the American automotive industry less competitive in the near future as European, Japanese and Chinese automakers are all aggressively pursuing research and development in zero-tailpipe emission vehicles.”

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