A new open letter to the world’s automakers:
Well, you didn’t listen to the last missive from this column, published in many California newspapers last fall. As a result, you wasted several months and millions of dollars in legal fees arguing that California’s new greenhouse gas regulations are illegal because they might conflict with federal fuel economy rules.
U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Ishii essentially laughed your arguments out of his Fresno courtroom in December, echoing an earlier decision by fellow federal Judge William K. Sessions III in Vermont. Both jurists held you had no case.
But now you’re feeling good again, because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in keeping with President Bush’s longtime denial that climate change is real, refused this month to grant California permission to enforce its new law, denying permission at the same time for 16 other states that are on record wanting to adopt the same measure.
But you must know this: just because President Bush has been a longtime denier of the reality of global warming doesn’t mean his successor, regardless of party, will take a similarly troglodytic approach.
This means even if California loses its lawsuit to overturn the EPA decision, it still won’t be long before you have to modify your cars and trucks to reduce the amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases they emit. To do this, your vehicles will have to become even more fuel efficient than required by the new federal energy regulations Bush has just OK’d, rules that won’t force you to reach their ultimate goal of an average of 35 miles per gallon until 2020.
Since it’s obvious you’re going to have to change the specifications of your cars pretty soon anyway, why not start doing it now? Why keep resisting when you know you’ll have to do it anyway?
For the long-term truth here is that you will only be able to stay in business in California and much of America (the 17 states now wanting to implement California’s standards account for well over half the automotive sales in this country) if you build cleaner and more efficient cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles.
The truly smart car companies out there will begin building the cars of the future as soon as they can, taking advantage of consumers’ predictable desire to reduce their need for high-priced gasoline.
There’s a reason that Toyota has surpassed General Motors in the last year or so as the leading seller of cars in America: Years before it had to, that Japanese company dared to bet on the intelligence and environmental consciousness of U.S. citizens and built the hybrid Prius, which eventually became a hot seller. Toyota will soon offer hybrid versions of all its models.
Which demonstrates that it can be done, that making fuel efficient, cleaner cars is both possible and a wise economic move.
Aping Toyota, the rest of you also now offer a bunch of hybrids, none as popular as the Prius, which leads the hybrid market because of its quality and because it got a leg up on the competition.
Now there’s a chance for someone else to leapfrog Toyota by hastening the commercial appearance of hydrogen fuel cell cars, one of which will be offered soon by Honda on a lease-only basis. Market these in quantity and with all the amenities motorists enjoy, such as air conditioning and keyless entry and power windows and locks and GPS systems and leather seats and consumers who like to stay on the cutting edge will buy them, with masses of others to follow.
But instead of this, you’ve had your pet senators from car-producing states work to make the new federal rules less stringent than they could have been and you’ve argued fruitlessly that the California regulations - remember, they will be enforceable soon whether you or President Bush’s EPA director like it or not - will force you to make two kinds of cars, one type for California and another for some other places.
But doing just this never bothered you before. Remember the days of California cars and “49-state cars” that didn’t meet this state’s tougher smog standards? Plus, you can short-circuit this entire problem by selling California cars everywhere.
The bottom line is that the company that acts on the California standards first will be the one that does best for years, maybe decades, afterward. Those that fight hardest against the new reality will become dinosaurs, perhaps even moving into the automotive boneyard now occupied by the likes of Kaiser, Studebaker, NSU and Daihatsu.
So do yourself a favor and get with the future, which as usual takes its cues from California. Cease the obstructionism that has seen you resist every new smog control tactic ever tried.
Act logically for once and we’ll all get relief from your incessant lawsuits and start doing more of our share to keep this planet habitable.
Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated second edition. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.