CA vs. the Rest of America

A huge battle is brewing between the state of California and the rest of America over who gets to decree national fuel economy standards. (Which have morphed into something other than just fuel economy standards.)

It’d be nice if car buyers got to decide, via their purchasing decisions – but that’s off the table.

On the upside, President Trump walked back the had-been-pending federal fatwa that would have required all new cars to average 50-plus MPG by 2025 – citing compliance costs and even (heresy!) questioning whether the government has any business fatwa’ing fuel efficiency requirements in the first place.

California responded with foot-stomping threats to issue its own counter-fatwa, which would impose the 50-plus MPG mandatory minimum on all new cars sold within its boundaries. Gift Card i... Buy New $10.00 (as of 08:25 EST - Details) If it does so, it would have the effect of making California the boss of the rest of us – because the car industry can no longer afford to build one set of cars for California and another for the rest of the country.

Thus, what a handful of bureaucrats in the CA apparat decree threatens to become binding on the whole country.

California has had its own – much stricter – emissions standards since the ’70s, when a bureaucracy called the California Air Resources Board (CARB) came into being.

Initially, the car industry responded to this by building “California” and “49 state” cars. The “California cars” were built for California specifically and had even more emissions control rigmarole than “49 state” cars – and sometimes, less performance – or less of other things.

For example, in the late 1970s and early ’80s, Chevy was only able to sell Corvettes with the smaller 5.0 liter engine automatic transmissions in CA.

Buyers in the rest of the country could still get a Corvette with the larger 5.7 liter V8 and a manual transmission.

The problem is obvious.

Building two versions of the same car gets into money. The car companies could theoretically tell CA (and CARB) to bugger off and just stop selling cars in CA. But CA is a huge market – and over the past several years, other states have leashed themselves to CA’s stricter-than-federal fatwas.

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