The decision last week by a group of automakers, led by General Motors and Toyota, to side with the Trump administration and against California on fuel-efficiency standards shouldn't come as a surprise.
After all, a smaller group of manufacturers, led by Honda and Ford, sided with California in July in signing a deal that would bring annual improvements in fuel efficiency and emissions in the Golden State until 2026.
While the industry appears divided into two camps based on ability to hit those targets, analysts suggest there are other concerns among manufacturers navigating the Trump era. Those include threats to free trade at a time when the administration is mulling tariffs on imported autos and parts. For some automakers, those tariffs could cause more immediate pain than gradually increasing mpg standards. But there's also a cost to siding with Trump.
Take Toyota. Not only is it the best-selling brand in California, which is the biggest auto market in the U.S., but its hybrid vehicles have long established the automaker's green credentials among consumers.
Some of those consumers took to social media to express their outrage that Toyota — and earth-friendly Subaru — had favored Trump in a legal battle that could strip California of its right to set its own standards, as it has done for decades.
Toyota, which is finishing construction on a pickup factory in Mexico, makes a lot of its vehicles in the U.S. but also imports a lot of them, particularly those from its luxury Lexus division. Toyota has been vocal in its opposition to an import tariff as high as 25 percent that Trump has threatened from time to time.
"Because Toyota has that broader product line — and Lexus is the perfect example of that — they are more involved in importing than Honda," said Alan Baum, principal at Baum and Associates, an auto consultancy. "That puts Toyota in a more exposed position in terms of free trade."
If Toyota and other automakers in the group were seeking to get on Trump's good side — at least temporarily — it worked.
The president thanked GM, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Toyota and the Association of Global Automakers lobby for siding with his plan to loosen Obama-era fuel-efficiency targets. The rollback, Trump said on his Twitter account, will create less expensive, safer cars.