The Volkswagen cheating scandal has created an important opportunity to forge a single global standard for auto emissions.
Dan Nicholson, General Motors' global powertrain chief, says he'll use his upcoming presidency of the International Federation of Automotive Engineering Societies to push regulators, especially in the U.S. and Europe, to harmonize tailpipe regulations.
For years, automakers have longed for less complexity in emissions rules in world markets. They argue it's wasteful to devote scarce resources to engineer, develop, build, maintain -- and regulate -- autos to meet dozens of separate national emissions standards that essentially all seek the same thing: better fuel economy and fewer greenhouse gases and toxins.
The fact that Volkswagen sold dirty vehicles that met emissions limits only when tested might make regulators resist change. But Nicholson's pitch plays off the deliberate nature of VW's cheating and the humiliation of regulators that failed to catch the automaker for years.
If individual national regulators can barely monitor automakers trying to comply, they have no chance against intentional deception unless the watchdogs pool their limited resources to focus on a single standard.
Even so, emission-rules harmonization is a tough sell. Governments jealously protect their right to set policy. And specific conditions dictate rule-making priorities in different locations, from low-density energy exporters to high-population petroleum importers. Even geography can shape emissions rules, especially when mountainous terrain affects air quality in urban areas such as Los Angeles and Mexico City.
Nicholson should keep pushing. Automakers need their engineers for other urgent tasks. Regulators need more from their modest staffs and budgets.
Of course, cleaner air and less environmental damage should always be more important than clinging to multiple sets of emissions rules and testing methods.
Harmonized emissions standards would aid manufacturers and regulators, benefit motorists and help the planet. That's worth fighting for.