Time for a U-Turn

Automakers’ History of Intransigence and an Opportunity for Change

Published Dec 6, 2017


The experience of driving a car today is much different than what drivers experienced in the 1950s. Cars had no seat belts, no airbags, and they traveled, on average, just 15 miles on a gallon of gas. Thanks to strong federal policies, cars today are safer, cleaner, and more efficient.

The auto industry, however, has a long history of fighting these same policies, resorting to exaggerated rhetoric, misinformation, and political influence to undermine the public interest. And yet once the policies are implemented, they have managed at every turn to meet federal requirements with innovations that ultimately improve their products and benefit drivers.

In 2009, automakers seemed to turn over a new leaf as they began working with federal agencies to design new, flexible standards so that cars and trucks would consume less oil and emit less global warming pollution. Those standards, implemented beginning in 2012, have worked well—but old patterns are repeating themselves. The industry’s trade groups are again trying to back out on promises they made to the American people.

Time for a U-turn looks at the tactics that automakers consistently deploy to fight against federal rules and standards that deliver better cars to the nation, tactics like exaggeration, misinformation, and influence. It also outlines concrete actions that automakers can take to leave behind their history of intransigence, and ensure that their industry rises to the challenges of the 21st century.

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