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Automakers put on a show in Detroit as policy storms loom in DC

Ryan Beene and John Lippert, Bloomberg News on

Published in Automotive News

Made in China

"We export Highlanders to Russia. If we lose NAFTA, and if my costs go up, Russia is going to say, 'You're now much more expensive. You're no longer competitive with the Toyota plant in China. I think I'm going to buy my Highlanders from China,' " Lentz said in an interview at the auto show. "That's what I worry about."

U.S. regulators also will soon signal the fate of Obama-era vehicle efficiency rules, which hold sway over investments in cleaner cars, trucks and SUVs. Car and light truck fuel economy standards from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are due by March 30. The proposal will signal how the Trump administration plans to alter ambitious efficiency targets enacted under Obama.

Automakers pressed Trump and other administration officials to take a second look at the standards, which carmakers say need adjustments in light of surging light-truck sales, low gasoline prices and tepid demand for plug-in vehicles.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV CEO Sergio Marchionne told reporters at the show that he expects "some relaxation of the standards," saying "there is a closer alignment of the industry with the administration today than we've seen in a long, longtime."

Automakers in 2011 agreed to a trio of coordinated rules overseen by the EPA, NHTSA and the California Air Resources Board that get more stringent each year, ending at a fleet average of more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025. That's equivalent to about 36 miles per gallon in real-world driving. Several states that follow California's clean air rules have said they would sue to prevent a rollback of the auto standards.

Self-Driving Next Steps

Automakers devoting substantial resources into autonomous vehicles meanwhile are paying close attention to the Senate, where a self-driving vehicle bill bill is lingering after being derailed by opposition late last year. House lawmakers passed their own self-driving bill last fall.

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The bills seek to establish the first regulatory framework for driverless vehicles and allow companies some workarounds to safety rules holding back the technology until formal rules can be written.

Michigan Senator Gary Peters, a Democrat and co-author of the Senate's bill, in an interview described the bill as both a boon for road safety and a "moonshot for artificial intelligence" that will power self-driving cars.

"The technology in my mind is just as big as when the first car came off the assembly line," Peters said.

(Tommaso Ebhardt and Keith Naughton contributed to this story.)

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