WASHINGTON -- The outcome of Tuesday's midterm elections may change the mix of red and blue in Congress, but it won't have much impact on the auto industry.
During the past several election cycles, the state of the industry was at the center of the campaign arena, with raging debates over bailouts, bankruptcies, government stakes in car companies, federal subsidies for electric car makers and the impact of the president's health care reforms on small businesses such as auto dealerships.
But now that General Motors and Chrysler are free of government ownership and Tesla's loans are paid off, the industry has been largely decoupled from the winds of political ideology in the legislative branch. The National Automobile Dealers Association has advised its members to accept Obamacare as established law and to begin adapting to it.
Rather than in Congress, the industry's agenda is being hashed out in the various regulatory agencies controlled by the executive branch, such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the EPA and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Even then, regulations governing fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions are well understood, the product of years of hard work and coordination between regulators and automakers.
And while the midterm review to shape corporate average fuel economy regulations from the 2022 to 2025 model years is on the horizon, that process will be an administrative one in which the outcome is governed by hard data with little room for partisan politics.
"The CAFE midterm evaluation will be less about ideology than process," said Mitch Bainwol, CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which includes GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and BMW among its members. "Decisions will be driven by evidence rather than philosophy, by market realities rather than theory."