AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s false claims on fuel economy rules

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President Donald Trump speaks to the 75th annual AMVETS National Convention in Louisville, Ky., Wednesday, Aug.21, 2019. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

DETROIT | President Donald Trump is misrepresenting the facts about his proposal to freeze Obama-era fuel economy requirements at 2021 levels.

In multiple tweets Wednesday, Trump blasted auto executives as “foolish” and weak and accused the companies of being “politically correct” for resisting the plan, which two of his agencies are putting together in a final regulation.

Trump favors a freeze to the standards put in place under former President Barack Obama that gradually rise through 2026. But automakers have repeatedly said they want one national standard with gas mileage increases that give them flexibility because consumers are moving away from more efficient cars to SUVs and trucks. Four automakers, Ford, BMW, Honda and Volkswagen, have signed an agreement with California to back higher standards.

Under the federal Clean Air Act, California has the right to set its own mileage and pollution standards, but the Trump administration wants to challenge that. Automakers fear having two standards will force them to pay more to design different models for California — and any other states that opt to impose higher standards — and the rest of the nation. Companies also fear a long court battle that would make the standards uncertain.

A look at Trump’s claims and reality:

TRUMP: “My proposal to the politically correct Automobile Companies would lower the average price of a car to consumers by more than $3000, while at the same time making the cars substantially safer. Engines would run smoother. Very little impact on the environment! Foolish executives!”

TRUMP: “The Legendary Henry Ford and Alfred P. Sloan, the Founders of Ford Motor Company and General Motors, are ‘rolling over’ at the weakness of current car company executives willing to spend more money on a car that is not as safe or good, and cost $3,000 more to consumers. Crazy!”

THE FACTS: Trump is inflating the projected savings to consumers under his plan, minimizing the potential environmental harm and may be exaggerating the safety benefits. He’s also incorrect that Sloan founded General Motors; in fact, it was William Durant who founded the company in 1908, combining several companies that produced Buick, Oldsmobile, Cadillac and other vehicles. Sloan was a longtime president, CEO and chairman of GM, leading the company from the 1920s to the 1950s.

Trump’s own administration, in documents proposing to freeze the standards, puts the cost of meeting the Obama-era requirements at around $2,700 per vehicle. It claims buyers would save that much by 2025, over standards in place in 2016. But that number is disputed by environmental groups and is more than double the estimates from the Obama administration.

Trump’s tweet also is ignoring money that consumers would save at the gas pump if cars get better mileage. A study released Aug. 7 by Consumer Reports found that the owner of a 2026 vehicle will pay over $3,300 more for gasoline during the life of a vehicle if the standards are frozen at 2021 levels. The administration’s proposed freeze would hold the average fuel economy for the new-vehicle fleet at 29.1 mpg in real-world driving, while the Obama-era standards would raise it to 37.5 mpg by 2026, according to Consumer Reports.

A White House spokesman had no immediate comment on how Trump came up with his claims.

In regards to the environment, Trump claims his proposal would cause little harm, but documents from his own administration say that U.S. fuel consumption would increase by about 500,000 barrels per day, a 2% to 3% increase. Environmental groups predict even more fuel consumed, resulting in higher pollution.

Trump’s statement that cars would be substantially safer also is in dispute. His administration argues that lower-cost vehicles would allow more people to buy new ones that are safer, cutting roadway deaths by 12,700 lives through the 2029 model year. But Consumer Reports says any safety impact from changes in gas mileage standards are small and won’t vary much from zero.

There’s little basis for Trump’s claim that engines would run more smoothly. Early versions of cars with more fuel-efficient transmissions, turbochargers and technology that stops engines at red lights were rough, but those have been refined.

“The automakers have figured out how to use this technology and make the cars smoother driving, too,” said Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports director of auto testing.

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