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Toyota sided with Trump in California fight. Will it pay a higher price than others?

Eric D. Lawrence, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Business News

Over the years, Toyota has built a reputation among consumers as an auto company that pays more than lip service to environmental concerns.

Before status among green-focused consumers meant Tesla, the Toyota Prius held sway, with the likes of Larry David and Jessica Alba among the confirmed or rumored drivers.

But a science advocacy group says Toyota's decision, which the automaker defends, to side with the Trump administration against California over emissions rules could damage that image.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, which is on the opposite side of Toyota in this legal battle, is pointing to results from a poll it commissioned that highlights a dramatic drop in favorability for the Japanese automaker over the issue.

The group is banking that Toyota consumers, more so than others, will react negatively when they learn that the company supports the Trump administration's effort to revoke California's authority to set its own emissions standards, an issue near and dear to people concerned about air quality and climate change.

Ultimately, the group says it wants the issue to be on consumers' radar but doesn't plan an extensive shaming campaign.

 

Toyota is not alone in siding with the Trump administration position. General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Nissan among others also support the administration in the legal fight, even as Ford, Volkswagen, BMW and Honda have a deal with California on mileage and emissions standards. The Union of Concerned Scientists joined a federal court fight to try to stop the administration from revoking California's waiver under the Clean Air Act. California, which has more than 30 million motor vehicle registrations, sets emissions standards that are followed by more than a dozen states.

"Toyota is one of the leading companies of this, but I think more than anyone else, they've built a brand on being green," Dave Cooke, senior vehicles analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists. "Hybrids have been core to their identity in the U.S. over the past two decades. ... Obviously we would hope that when they see the impact that this could have on their brand that it would cause them to rethink the support."

The potential reputational damage, the union says, is borne out by polling of 1,000 Toyota consumers nationwide, both Democrats and Republicans, from last month.

"Initially, 78% of all Toyota owners said that they would definitely purchase another Toyota. After learning more about the lawsuit, that number drops to less than half of all Toyota owners (47%)," according to the results, which were provided to the Free Press. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

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