While President Trump pushes to retool Obama-era fuel economy rules, the White House may also be working on a protectionist measure that could impose even stricter emissions standards on cars imported to the U.S.
According to The Wall Street Journal, two U.S. automotive executives suggested that such an idea was presented in White House talks last week by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. The executives made it clear that the auto industry had not requested the changes or backed them.
One hurdle that the White House may face with the plan is violating WTO rules which forbid new non-tariff U.S. barriers.
According to the newspaper's report, Trump asked several agencies, including the EPA, to look into existing laws to subject imported cars to tougher emissions standards. The report suggests that the EPA is working to craft a legal justification for the plan, although legal justification for different emissions standards on imported cars presents a challenge.
The plan, if moved forward, would affect European automakers more than Asian automakers because they import more cars from outside of the U.S., according to sales figures from Autodata. Foreign automakers operate 17 assembly plants in the United States and 12 of them are owned by Japanese and Korean automakers.
Imported vehicles accounted for about 21 percent of the 17.2 million sold last year in the United States, according to Autodata.
Auto industry observers are keeping a close eye on the White House and on Trump as a shakeup in the industry based on government policies could be on the horizon
-- by Ruben Porras