Trade associations merge after clean cars strife

Source: By Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Two powerful auto industry trade associations today joined forces in an effort to present a unified front regarding President Trump’s rollback of clean car standards and other matters.

The trade associations — the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers — merged to form the Alliance for Automotive Innovation.

The new lobbying powerhouse is headquartered in Washington, D.C., with offices in Detroit and Sacramento — two hotbeds of auto industry activity.

Leading the new organization is John Bozzella, an auto industry veteran who previously served as a top executive at both Chrysler Group and Ford Motor Co.

In an interview, Bozzella said the Alliance for Automotive Innovation will strive to be “the clear and authoritative and influential voice” for policymakers on Capitol Hill and around the country.

“We have an opportunity to represent here not only the auto industry as it has been traditionally defined, meaning automakers, but also this association will represent suppliers, tech companies and other new entrants to the mobility space,” he said.

To that end, the alliance’s members include traditional players like Ford as well as newcomers like Panasonic Corp., a Japanese electronics company.

The merger comes after the two trade associations faced internal divisions over Trump’s rollback of clean car standards.

In July, three members of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers — Ford, Volkswagen AG and BMW of North America LLC — reached a voluntary deal with California regulators to improve fuel efficiency in the coming years.

The deal, which also includes Honda Motor Co., stands to significantly undercut the rollback if it takes effect. But it faces a significant challenge from the Department of Justice, which has launched an antitrust probe into the participating companies.

The Association of Global Automakers confronted similar disagreement among its members in October, when it filed a motion to intervene in clean cars litigation on behalf of the Trump administration (Climatewire, Oct. 29, 2019).

Honda refused to endorse the motion, saying it opposed the Trump administration’s efforts to block California from setting tougher vehicle emissions standards than the federal government.

“Honda is not a participant in this litigation, and is not contributing any funds supporting our trade association’s activity in this area,” Robert Bienenfeld, assistant vice president at American Honda Motor Co. Inc., said in an email to E&E News at the time.

The clean cars rollback is a joint rulemaking between EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a division of the Department of Transportation.

The first part of the rollback was finalized in September. It involves withdrawing California’s Clean Air Act waiver for greenhouse gases, which lets the state set tougher vehicle emissions standards than the federal government.

The second part of the rollback is expected to be finalized in the coming months. It’s expected to involve weakening vehicle fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards through model year 2026.

Asked whether the new organization would take a position on the rollback, which is formally known as the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule, Bozzella demurred.

“With regard to the specific regulations, we haven’t seen part two of SAFE. So I have no idea, frankly, where we’ll be on that,” he said.

“But at this point, if you step back and think about the work we need to be doing broadly, we have a lot of work to do beyond model year 2026 to make sure we continue to reduce emissions while providing consumers with what they need and want,” he added.

Asked about the California waiver, Bozzella similarly said: “We don’t have a position or a stake in the litigation related to preemption and waivers.”

The CEOs of several major automakers today praised the new organization, saying it would help unite the industry at a pivotal time, as it faces upheaval from regulatory rollbacks as well as Trump’s trade war.

“In the challenging decade to come, this new unity is exactly what’s needed to address policies that will effectively advance and improve the future of human mobility for our customers and society,” Rick Schostek, executive vice president of Honda North America, said in a statement.

General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra agreed, saying the new alliance will help the industry “come together with a stronger voice.”