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Carmakers Fight Calif. CO{-2} Limits

Suit Says State Lacks Authority To Impose Rules

By Greg Schneider
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 8, 2004; Page E01

Major automakers moved yesterday to fight a tough anti-pollution law in California, on the same day a new study slammed them for failing to reduce emissions linked to global warming.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents most of the major car companies except for Honda and Nissan, said yesterday it will join a group of California auto dealers in a lawsuit challenging a state law requiring cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent over the next 12 years.

Traffic backs up on Interstate 15 on the California-Nevada border. Automakers are challenging California rules that would add more than $3,000 to the cost of a vehicle. (Gene Blevins -- AP)

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The step pits the group against California's popular governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has supported the measure, and comes at a time when the auto industry is working harder than ever to appear environmentally conscious. But companies say the requirement is prohibitively expensive and would force them to make dramatic improvements in vehicle fuel economy as the only way to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, the primary heat-trapping gas thought to cause global warming.

Only the federal government has authority to regulate fuel economy, alliance spokesman Eron Shosteck said. "We need one national fuel economy standard that takes into account all the variables, such as safety, economic impact and consumer choice," he said, adding that some vehicles could not be produced for California under the law. "Consumers need to be able to make that choice, they shouldn't have the choice made for them."

Several New England states emulate California's air quality laws and are looking at the measure, and Canada is considering such a step as well. California alone accounts for about 12 percent of all new cars and trucks sold in the United States each year, so the requirement could affect the way carmakers build vehicles everywhere. The state has estimated that the law would cost roughly $3,000 per vehicle, but the auto industry puts estimates much higher.

Environmental advocates say the industry is resisting a change that consumers want. "The car companies are missing the boat," said David Doniger, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council who will assist California in fighting the lawsuit. "They should be locking up their lawyers and turning loose their engineers."

Even the most environmentally conscious car makers are failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their new cars and trucks, the Union of Concerned Scientists said yesterday in a study ranking the best and worst manufacturers for the 2003 model year.

Japanese companies held the top three spots in the study, with Honda Motor Co. rated as the "greenest" automaker for the third straight time in a report the environmental advocacy group compiles every two years. General Motors Corp. fell to last place among the U.S. market's six biggest auto manufacturers.

But none of the six companies has made significant progress in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, the study found. The companies instead have concentrated technology on reducing hydrocarbons, which cause a different type of pollution: smog.

"GM is public polluter number one. They're the only company that moved backward on both smog and global warming pollutants," said David Friedman, research director for the group's Clean Vehicles Program and one of the study's authors. Six years ago, he said, GM had the cleanest car and truck fleet of all domestic manufacturers, but its ranking has tumbled even as the company has embarked on new advertising campaigns touting environmental technology.

"They clearly care about the image, but they don't seem concerned about the actual impacts," Friedman said.

A GM spokeswoman said the study, which was based on government statistics, unfairly penalized companies that sell a lot of trucks. "We give consumers probably the widest array of vehicle choice of any automaker, and a lot of consumers choose larger and larger trucks," GM spokeswoman Joanne Krell said. "Honda, to my knowledge, is not building the same full line of products that GM is, so comparing them is not comparing apples to apples."

The study did contain some bright spots for domestic car companies. It rated Ford Motor Co.'s cars as the second-cleanest of all, behind Honda's but ahead of Toyota Motor Corp., which has gotten enormous publicity for its gas-electric hybrid Prius. Ford sells far more trucks than cars, though, which dragged its overall score down but still left it as the top domestic performer.

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