Romney promises a hard look at mpg standards, EVs, China, union drives
A Mitt Romney White House could reverse Obama administration support for higher fuel-economy standards and electric vehicles.
That's among changes that could happen, based on Romney's campaign positions. If the son of former American Motors chief George Romney defeats President Obama on Nov. 6, it could also mean changes for the auto industry in such areas as foreign trade and support for measures that make it harder for unions to organize workers.
Romney has described new Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards finalized by the Obama administration in August as "extreme" and has argued that they will limit consumer choices.
But if Romney were really to scrap the rules, automakers would face new rounds of uncertainty. After years of fighting government attempts to increase fuel economy requirements, automakers now support the rules.
They have begun spending what ultimately will amount to many billions of dollars to develop the necessary technologies. Changing the rules again could create even more problems, said Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a lobbying group that represents most major automakers.
"Once those rules are set into place, it can be more challenging to change them," Bergquist said. Now, she said, "We know what's ahead of us."
Romney told The Detroit News in June that he would seek "a better way of encouraging fuel economy" than using federal fuel-economy requirements "as the sole or primary vehicle."
He told the newspaper: "The best approach is to try and build vehicles that people want, rather than having the government telling the companies what they must make.
"I would work with the manufacturers to find ways to encourage fuel economy on the part of the consumer. But trying to have the manufacturer push the product on the consumer -- that the consumer doesn't want -- is not the right approach."
Romney has not offered any specifics about the approach he would favor instead.
Automakers OK with CAFE
Even if Romney left the new rules largely intact, a midterm review to be completed by April 2018 could give his administration -- in a second term -- an opening to relax the targets for the 2022-25 model years.
The standards call for vehicles to average 54.5 mpg by the 2025 model year -- equivalent to real-world performance of about 40 mpg -- with targets that increase 4 percent annually until then.
Bergquist said automakers would rather that Romney, if elected, focus on building consumer confidence and helping more people be able to afford buying a vehicle.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and EPA, which wrote the standards, say higher upfront costs will be more than balanced out by fuel savings over the life of the vehicle. But the National Automobile Dealers Association has warned that the higher prices could keep millions of shoppers from being able to afford or get financing for vehicles that fit their needs.
Less juice for EVs
According to his Web site, Romney would shift the federal government's role in encouraging EVs and other fuel-saving technology.
Romney "will promote innovation by focusing the federal government on the job it does best -- research and development," according to the site.
Romney has expressed his distaste for direct investment in startups with criticism of the federal Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loans to companies such as Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive. Last fall he called for a congressional probe of the loans, which he termed "historic opportunities to line the pockets of major campaign fundraisers."
The $25 billion loan program, started during the George W. Bush administration, has also loaned $1.4 billion to Nissan for EV and battery production in Smyrna, Tenn., and $5.9 billion to Ford Motor Co. to convert several plants to the production of fuel-efficient vehicles and components.
As a practical matter, Romney would have little effect on the program, which has stopped making loans while under election-year fire, disappointing several small EV makers that had sought funds to survive. More than $16 billion of the original $25 billion pool remains unallocated.
Romney also has criticized a federal grant program for battery makers. In debates, Romney specifically criticized Ener1 Inc., which received a $118 million federal grant and then filed for Chapter 11 reorganization.
Generally, Romney also would shift from the Obama administration's preference for EVs to a more technology-neutral stance. Romney's Web site says he would "encourage the use of a diverse range of fuels including natural gas in transportation."
Among his other positions that would affect auto-related businesses:
n Romney has sharpened his rhetoric against Chinese trade policies, accusing China of being a currency manipulator. Romney's Web site says he would confront "nations like China that cheat on trade and steal American jobs."
n Romney has said he supports right-to-work laws and would seek to prohibit card-check certification of a union, a practice through which a union is voted in when a majority of workers sign cards favoring the union.
Card checks have been used in some organizing drives in the auto industry instead of secret-ballot elections. Romney's Web site says he would seek to amend the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 to guarantee secret-ballot elections in every union certification vote.
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