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Trump administration won't defeat California's fuel economy standards

Jan 2, 2017

U.S. car companies are unlikely to get much relief from strict fuel economy standards under the next administration.

That's according to Rebecca Lindland of Kelley Blue Book.

She says car companies already did most of the work required for the year 2022.  They're unlikely to throw it all away and start over if the standards change.

"You know, it's like training for a marathon," says Lindland, "and then saying, 'Oh, no, sorry, just kidding.  It's only a 10k.'"

Lindland says the Trump administration could decide to ease the final standard, a 54.5 mile per gallon average, but the new regulators put in charge of the U.S. Department of Transportation will have only so much power.

"Easing would be great, I think they (automakers) would take it," she says, "but that California ZEV mandate hangs out there really huge as well.  California has had jurisdiction over fuel economy standards since the 70s.  It's not going to change."

That ZEV mandate is California's regulation that will require automakers to make up to 18% of new vehicles zero emission vehicles (ZEV) -- which means electric vehicles, either battery-powered or hydrogen-powered.

That puts car companies in a tight spot, because they have to build cars for California and the 16 other states that follow California's lead.  So Lindland figures that easing the federal standard won't help them much. 

That, plus car companies are global these days.  So even if the Trump administration were to gut fuel economy standards, automakers will still have to incorporate costly fuel saving technologies in the cars they sell in China, the world's biggest car market, and Europe, the world's third biggest car market.