The White House has sent a message to automakers on emissions: side with us, or face Donald Trump's wrath by siding with California, i.e. "it's my way or Interstate 5". That was the message delivered during a "tense" conference call between the Trump administration and executives in the auto industry, according to Bloomberg, which also included senior officials from the EPA and the NHTSA.
The call, which took place in late February, came after Trump's administration had repeatedly terminated talks between federal regulators and California officials in an attempt to maintain a common emission standard across the industry. Executives in the industry have been urging the two sides to reach an agreement to avoid a legal battle with California, which is in the unique position of being able to establish its own standards.
The call to automakers came after the White House admitted that months of talks with the California Air Resources Board had failed. The White House said in late February: “Despite the administration’s best efforts to reach a common-sense solution, it is time to acknowledge that CARB has failed to put forward a productive alternative.”
CARB spokesman Stanley Young disputed this, saying the administration had broken off talks "and never responded to our suggested areas of compromise - or offered any compromise proposal at all."
In August, the Trump administration had recommended capping tailpipe carbon emissions standards and fuel economy requirements at 37 mpg after 2020, instead of the 47 mpg mandated under rules put in place by the Obama administration. The proposal also called for revoking California's authority to set its own greenhouse standards for vehicles.
Meanwhile US automakers, caught in the middle, have been urging compromise, and a solution that will avoid a messy legal battle and negative effects on operations across the industry.
Industry officials on the call were told that automakers should publicly state their support for the Trump administration's direction or back California's tougher standards. This has put automakers in a worrisome position of getting caught between the wrath of the President and the nation's largest auto market.
"A coordinated program with every stakeholder is in the best interest of Ford’s customers, and is the best path forward to achieve reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and support critical investments in new technologies," Ford spokeswoman Rachel McCleery said.
Additionally, the President was said to be reviewing the findings of a Commerce Department report on whether imported cars posed a national security risk. Automakers worry that these findings could result in further tariffs - and a further decline in demand - for the industry.