If the government shuts down on Oct. 1, car companies probably won’t notice much of a change at first.
While many industries depend heavily on government workers for their daily business, automakers, for the most part, do their thing. They have to follow plenty of regulations, to be sure, but they don’t have to talk to the regulators every day.
However, if key government offices shut down for weeks or months, the car companies could start to have problems. For one thing, the EPA will not be able to review emissions certificates for the sale of new models, says Christopher Grundler, director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality at the EPA.
Many cars already have their certificates for the 2014 model year, but some don’t.
If the government shuts down, “that work won’t happen,” Grundler said in an interview this week. “Those people will be home. We’re all hoping to avoid that situation, but if those people aren’t on duty, those certificates won’t be signed.”
It would take a particularly long government shutdown for car companies to feel the impact and an even longer shutdown for customers to be deprived of the latest models. Car companies tend to get their certificates months in advance.
In the first week of October last year, the EPA approved 14 emissions certificates for light-duty vehicles. The following week it approved about 30 more. It’s a trickle, not a flood; if the government shuts down for just a few days, the EPA staffers who review certificates would hardly face a crushing backlog when they returned.
But a longer wait could mess up launch timing. Just ask Mazda, which said this month that emissions testing delays were the reason the diesel variant of the Mazda6 sedan will go on sale in the late spring of 2014 rather than this year.
The recent budget battles have already taken a toll on the EPA’s vehicle laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich., sources say. Employees can no longer work overtime and weekends as they have sometimes done to finish a key round of vehicle testing.
And with President Obama and House Republicans at an impasse over health care reform and the role of government, Washington is tense.
Auto industry lobbyists contacted about the prospect of a government shutdown uniformly declined to comment. They can’t control it. They just want to stay out of it. All they can do is cross their fingers and hope to avoid a shutdown -- just like the EPA.
“We’re all hoping that won’t happen,” Grundler said, “or if it does happen, that it will only be for a very short period of time.”