Trump And Automakers Discuss Regulation, California Showdown

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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Representatives of the auto industry visited the White House on Friday to discuss the best approach to reforming the nation’s fuel efficiency standards.

As part of the White House’s overall deregulation agenda, President Donald Trump is aiming to roll back U.S. fuel efficiency standards. A draft proposal by the Transportation Department calls for holding fuel efficiency requirements at 2020 levels through 2026, instead of allowing them to tighten as planned under the previous administration. The auto industry had long argued the mandates enacted under the Obama White House were too stringent. However, they are also concerned of the looming showdown between the White House and California leaders, who are vowing to move forward with their own, more strict vehicle regulations. (RELATED: Trump Transition Team Urges POTUS To Hold Line On Fuel Efficiency Ruling)

Senior U.S. executives from Volkswagen, Toyota, Nissan Honda, BMW, Daimler and Hyundai joined the chief executives of Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler in a roundtable discussion with Trump and other administration officials. Leaders of two auto trade groups also took part in the meeting.

Despite being critical of the Obama-era standards, the industry does not want to see a complete freeze of the fuel efficiency requirements. They also want to see the White House and California reach a consensus on national standards rather than entering a protracted battle that might result in carmakers dealing with two separate standards: one by the federal government and another, more strict, standard set by the country’s most populous state. Trump’s proposal includes a measure that challenges California’s ability to set their own rules, enraging Democratic leaders in The Golden State.

The president also took time during the meeting to criticize NAFTA, a free trade agreement between North American countries that the auto industry supports.

“I’ve never been a NAFTA fan, as you know,” Trump stated during the meeting. NAFTA has been a terrible deal for the United States and one of the worst trade deals in history. We have some bad deals in this country — between the Iran deal, NAFTA — Mary, we can look at any deal. Bad deals. But now we’re going to good deals.”

Industry leaders released a statement following the gathering, suggesting that a negotiation with California had been discussed.

“The Administration will soon issue a range of proposals for future fuel economy and greenhouse gas regulations, and we look forward to reviewing their notice of rulemaking and providing comments along with other stakeholders,” read a statement from Global Automakers President John Bozzella and Auto Alliance President Mitch Bainwol. “We also appreciate the President’s openness to a discussion with California on an expedited basis.”

The White House meeting did contain a few lighter moments. Trump showered praise on Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne. Fiat announced in January it was moving a plant from Mexico to Michigan by 2020, bring 1,500 jobs and investing $1 billion into the upcoming facility.

“That’s what we like. In fact, right now, he’s my favorite man in the room,” Trump said, drawing laughs. “No, big announcement. And I’ll tell you, the people in Michigan very much appreciate it. It’s a big deal. Leaving Mexico; going to Michigan. That was very well received. I appreciate it. Thank you.”

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