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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Report from Yesterday's Ann Arbor Town Hall Meeting with Dingell

I was glad to hear Rep. Dingell clearly indicate yesterday that he does see an increase in CAFE standards as a key part of any strategy to achieve the 60-80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that he agrees we need to achieve by 2050.

However, in order to address the loss of US auto manufacturing jobs by the Big 3, the weak increases in CAFE standards that Dingell is proposing will be next to useless. Dingell's proposed CAFE standards of 35 mpg for cars, and 30 for trucks, by 2022, if passed, would be far too little and too late to be of any use to help the Big 3 to close the gap in their production of fuel efficient vehicles with Honda and Toyota, who will probably have a car fleet averaging 35 mpg by 2012 or shortly thereafter.

A weak increase in CAFE standards may be even worse than useless because it will create a lot of debate over CAFE standards without achieving what is most important for the Big 3 US auto producers: pushing the Big 3 to dramatically shift their production to more fuel efficient cars in order to catch up to Toyota and Honda so they stop losing both market share and auto jobs in Michigan and elsewhere.

At their current rate of emphasizing the production of fuel efficient hybrids, and even more fuel efficient plug-ins by 2010 (when Toyota will probably release its plug-in Prius model), Honda and Toyota may quickly reach an average fuel economy of 35 mpg for their fleet of cars by early in the next decade (2011 or 2012).

If Honda and Toyota are already averaging 35 mpg in their fleet of cars by 2012, and American consumers continue to shift their buying pattern to these more fuel-efficient cars, what good will be Dingell's proposed CAFE standards requiring that the US Big 3 reach 35 mpg by 2022? If the Big 3 take until 2022 to reach an avg 35 mpg, the Big 3 will have largely ceased to exist by 2022!

Such a weak CAFE standard would be disastrous for the US auto industry and Big 3 unionized auto jobs, since it would do nothing to alter the current direction of loss of market share and Big 3 auto jobs (in Michigan and elsewhere) to Honda and Toyota.

Dingell says he cares about the jobs of Michigan autoworkers. But if he truly wants to work for unionized auto jobs, rather than for the bad decisions and foot-dragging of the Big 3 auto execs, it is time for Dingell to support much stronger CAFE standards that will have teeth in them, and that will push the footdragging Big 3 auto execs to abandon the path that has been causing them to lose both market share and jobs in Michigan and the rest of the country.

So the primary question for Dingell that arises from his Michigan home district 15 town hall meetings is this: WHAT WILL HE DO TO WORK FOR MUCH STRONGER CAFE STANDARDS THAT require at least 40 MPG FOR CARS BY 2018? And if he thinks such a goal for CAFE standards is too high for the Big 3, what does he think will keep the Big 3 from continuing to hemorrhage jobs to Toyota and Honda, since Toyota and Honda will probably reach an average of 40 mpg for their cars well before 2018?

The bottom line: If Dingell wishes to work for legislation that will save Michigan autoworker jobs, the best thing he can do is fight for greatly increased auto fuel efficiency (CAFE) standards (of at least 40 mpg for cars by 2018).

Anything less than this will not stem the tide of Big 3 losses of market share and jobs to Honda and Toyota. Anything less than this will also not be enough move us toward achieving the major goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.

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