Pawa Law Group, P.C.

Automobile Industry's Latest Fearmongering Belied by History

There They Go Again: A Short History of Corporate Incompetence and Falsehoods That Have Left Our American Automotive Industry in Ruins.

Catalytic Converters

  • 1970: Congress considers legislation --the Clean Air Act -- to require the reduction of smog-forming and other pollutants by 90 percent by 1975-76.
  • During consideration of the Clean Air Act, the Automobile Manufacturers' Association lobbies against the bill and sends a memo to Congress stating:
    "It presently appears that it will simply not be possible for vehicle manufacturers to achieve the control levels specified in the bill with any fossil fuel-burning engine-including steam, gas turbines, etc., as well as internal combustion engines. All technology known to the automobile industry indicates this to be the fact. In view of this, manufacturers unable to meet the control levels specified in the bill would be forced to shut down, unless provided with emergency standards relaxation by Congress. "
    Click here to read the 1970 Memorandum by AMA.
  • Dec. 31, 1970: Clean Air Act enacted
  • 1970-73: GM, Ford and Chrysler oppose the requirements to use catalytic converters. GM is the primary opponent of mandatory catalysts. All three companies seek an extension of time from EPA.
  • April, 1972 Ford claims that to deny the automakers more time to comply with these limits "would shut down a major portion of the automotive industry and wreak havoc upon the American economy."
  • May, 1972. EPA denies the extension of time. The Big Three appeal to federal court, which orders EPA, in February, 1973, to reconsider the manufacturers' claims of economic harm under a less stringent standard of evidence.
  • March, 1973. GM testifies at an EPA hearing that "if GM is forced to introduce catalytic converter systems across-the board on 1975 models, the prospect of an unreasonable risk of business catastrophe and massive difficulties with these vehicles in the hands of the public must be faced. It is conceivable that complete stoppage of the entire production could occur, with the obvious tremendous loss to the company, shareholders, employees, suppliers, and communities. Short of that ultimate risk, there is a distinct possibility of varying degrees of interruption, with sizable dislocations"
    Click here read the 1973 EPA transcript (PDF).
  • 1973: Chrysler President John J. Riccardo calls the Clean Air Act limits "beyond the capability of known technology."
  • May, 1973: EPA agrees to relax the Clean Air Act standards for two years and states that the decision is based primarily on industry's claims of dire economic consequences.
  • Six weeks later, GM, finding the devices work just fine and also increase fuel economy by 20-30 percent, announces that all of its 1975 models will be equipped with catalytic converters.
  • In the early 1970s as all this was going on, the President of GM was Edward Cole. Cole had called on oil companies in January, 1970 at a speech to the Society of Automotive Engineers to take the lead out of gasoline to facilitate the use of catalytic converters and said that starting with model year 1971 all GM cars would be able to run on unleaded gasoline. Yet his company spent the next thee years fighting against catalytic converters until its sudden announcement -- after obtaining its requested slow-down of the rules -- that catalytic converters were ready to go. He has a son named David Cole who, according to a 1990 Washington Post article is "director of an independent auto research center at the University of Michigan." Is this the same David Cole with a nearly identical professional affiliation who prophecies economic doom in the January 27, 2009 New York Times if the car companies are forced to comply with the California greenhouse gas emissions rules?

Sources: Michael Weisskopf, Auto-Pollution Debate Has Ring of the Past, Despite Success, Detroit Resists, Washington Post, March 26, 1990; Clarence M. Ditlow, Fedeal Regulation of Motor Vehicle Emissions Under the Clean Air Amendments of 1970, 4 Ecology Law Quarterly 495 (1975).

Zero Emissions Vehicles

  • 1990: California establishes zero emissions vehicle program to require two percent of vehicles for sale in California in 1998 and ten percent of vehicles for sale in California in 2003 be zero emission vehicles, such as hydrogen fuel cell and battery electric vehicles.
  • 2001: CARB changes the ZEV regulation to allow auto companies to meet the 10 percent requirement through three new vehicle categories; upshot is that only 2 percent of vehicles would have to be battery electric or hydrogen.
    Click here to read article.
  • 2002: GM, Chrysler, and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers sue California on the theory that the ZEV program is preempted by the federal fuel economy law. Judge Robert Coyle issues a preliminary injunction against the ZEV rules and California appeals.

  • 2003: Under massive pressure from industry, the California Air Resources Board caves and abandons the requirement in the ZEV program for electric cars and settles the case by applying the new rules retroactively.
  • Aug. 2003: Robert Lutz, who was then Chairman of GM North America states: "The thought of one of the Big Three getting in serious financial difficulty to the extent of Chapter 11 is just ludicrous." John O'Dell, GM 'Car Guy' Aims to Empower, LA Times, Aug 18, 2003
  • 2003: GM repossesses all its EV1 electric vehicles and crushes them over the vocal protests of owners and clean car advocates.
  • Jan. 2004: GM's Lutz describes hybrids are merely an "interesting curiosity." Click here.
  • March, 2006: When asked by Motor Trend Magazine in 2006 what was the worst decision of his tenure, GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner responds: "axing the EV1 electric-car program and not putting the right resources into hybrids"
    Click here to read article.
  • March, 2007: Larry Burns, Vice president of General Motors Research & Development and Strategic Planning, says about the ZEV program and GM's decision to kill the EV1: "If we could turn back the hands of time, we could have had the Chevy Volt 10 years earlier" Newsweek, March 12, 2007.
    Click here to read article.

And now, GM, Chrysler, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, and the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers are suing California and other states seeking to strike down the states' greenhouse gas laws. They apparently have learned nothing, even as they drag their companies to the brink by refusing to modernize. Indeed, in January. 2008, GM's Lutz said that global warming "is a total crock of sh_t." Click here to read article. How long until we once again hear the statements of regret?