WASHINGTON—All stakeholders in the auto industry must unite to ensure the U.S. remains a leader in fuel economy innovation, Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., told attendees at a policy briefing organized by the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association.
"Your voice is stronger when you are unified," Dingell said at the March 20 briefing titled, "Can the U.S. Remain a Leader in Innovation if Fuel Efficiency Standards are Significantly Altered?"
MEMA organized the briefing in advance of the expected March 30 release of the midterm evaluation of corporate average fuel economy standards by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Legislation to stimulate innovation in the auto industry is hampered by congressional ignorance of the industry, according to Dingell.
"Ninety-eight percent of congressmen don't understand automotive issues," she said. "I talked to one yesterday who thought CAFE was coffee."
In 2008-09, Presidents Bush and Obama didn't hesitate to save the auto industry, but they also didn't follow up with auto workers to ensure their support, according to Dingell. This led to the election of President Trump and an administration hostile to regulation—even regulation that helps industry.
"Trump came into Michigan and talked about trade and pensions," she said. "That's what working people worry about.
"The auto industry wasn't a winner in NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement)," Dingell said. "I worry about jobs going overseas, but I don't want unintended consequences."
In advocating for strong CAFE standards, according to Dingell, stakeholders must be united in stressing twin goals. One is protecting the environment, and the other is affordability of new automotive technology.
These goals, Dingell said, are not mutually exclusive. But auto industry stakeholders need to have confidence that public policy will support their efforts in research and development, just as consumers need to have confidence in new technologies.
"There is no consumer confidence in electric vehicles, and every consumer needs certainty," Dingell said. Consumers aren't certain they can recharge their vehicles quickly, find enough places to recharge them, or drive them very far before needing to recharge, she said.
"We need to build roads, and we need to build an electric vehicle infrastructure," Dingell said. "We need to make sure everyone knows the tale you're telling. Tough decisions will have to be made, but the cost of failure will be too high."