Toyota: Keeping Friends Close and Enemies Closer

Something funny, or diabolically clever, is happening over at Toyota. Everyone’s favorite hybrid-peddling automaker is hooking up with the “Big Three” U.S. automakers to oppose stronger CAFE standards. What the? Why would a company that makes a 55 mpg car lobby against a 35 mpg standard alongside companies who it is soundly whooping in the marketplace?

Thomas Friedman of the NY Times has his hypotheses Et Tu, Toyota?

Now why would Toyota, which has used the Prius to brand itself as the greenest car company, pull such a stunt? Is it because Toyota wants to slow down innovation in Detroit on more energy efficient vehicles, which Toyota already dominates, while also keeping mileage room to build giant pickup trucks, like the Toyota Tundra, at the gas-guzzler end of the U.S. market?

Here is what Toyota is saying to its staff on the matter. Basically, boo hoo stronger standards on light trucks/SUVs are just too hard:

An internal memo from the veep at Toyota (Irv Miller)

A Message from Irv Miller

Dear Associate:

Toyota is currently the target of a campaign by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) that accuses us of opposing increases in the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for cars and light trucks. The assertion by this group that we are actively lobbying against increased fuel economy standards is just flat wrong, and we want you to be aware of the company’s position on this important issue and the facts.

FACT: Toyota has long supported an increase in the CAFE standards. Moreover, Toyota has always exceeded federal fuel economy requirements. We’ve never waited for federal mandates.

Under the current CAFE standard, an automaker’s average miles per gallon for cars must exceed 27.5 and light trucks must exceed 20.7. Trucks weighing less than 8500 lbs. must average 22.5 mpg for model year 2008, 23.1 mpg in 2009 and 23.5 mpg in 2010.

FACT: There are various bills before Congress that would mandate a new target of 35 mpg by 2020 and require both cars and trucks to meet that standard. Our engineers tell us the requirements specified by these proposed measures are beyond what is possible [Emphasis added]. Toyota spends $23 million every day on R&D but, at this point, the technology to meet such stringent standards by 2020 does not exist.

FACT: Toyota supports a proposal known as the Hill-Terry bill, HR 2927, that would set a new standard of from 32 to 35 mpg by 2022 (up to a 40% increase) and maintain separate categories for cars and light trucks. That won’t be easy, but we believe it is achievable.

To help set the record straight, I have posted a message on this topic on the company’s blog. To learn more, visit the blog by clicking here–>
http://blog.toyota.com/2007/09/a-call-to-actio.html [That link didn’t work, I think this is the post he is referring to: http://blog.toyota.com/2007/09/irvs-sheet-a-ca.html]

More from Friedman:

Don’t be fooled. Japan and Europe already have much better mileage standards for their auto fleets than the U.S. They both have many vehicles that could meet the U.S. goal for 2020 today, and they are committed to increasing their fleet standards toward 40 m.p.g. and above in the coming decade. So Toyota, in effect, is lobbying to keep U.S. standards — in 2022 — well behind what Japan’s will be.

Representative Edward Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat who heads the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, said to me that Toyota could meet a 35 m.p.g. standard in Japan and Europe today, “but here — even though they bombard Americans with ads about how energy efficient Toyota is — they are fighting the 35 m.p.g. standard for 2020.”

The weaker bill the car companies are backing: The Hill-Terry Bill, HR 2927.

Roundup of recent news stories/blog posts about Toyota’s cracking green halo.

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