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Toyota Blogs vs. NYTimes' T. Friedman on Fuel Economy
Oct 6, 2007 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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On Sept. 21, Toyota's VP Irv Miller posted to its Open Road Blog "A Call to Action - Let's Move Forward on Fuel Economy" Toyota endorsed the slightly improved long-term fuel economy CAFE standards that the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers (seeing the way the wind was blowing) had agreed to in order to head off higher requirements.

While CalCars supports the stronger CAFE standard found in the Senate draft of the Energy Bill, we think a rapid transition to plug-in cars would leave them in the dust! For that reason, Set America Free and the broad bipartisan coalition behind the DRIVE Act has been hoping that its proposals to motivate and support the commercialization of PHEVs would survive the battles over regulatory standards. Meanwhile, the fireworks continue!

This Weds, Oct. 3, we began hearing reports that legislators were getting ready to move ahead to resolve the House/Senate versions of the Energy Bill. That day influential NYTimes columnist Thomas Friedman weighed in with a column, "Et Tu, Toyota." (Friedman, who has been highlighting PHEVs in print and film since 2005, has over the years combined his national security perspective with his understanding of the world economy and environment to say "Green is the New Red, White and Blue."), In this column he memorably said Toyota seemed to be joining Michigan in helping the US auto industry commit assisted suicide.

Within hours, Toyota's Miller fired back a response to Friedman with a new blog, "Once More - We at Toyota Want new CAFE Standards!" That one elicited a wave of people describing themselves as Toyota loyalists posting about their disappointment with the company's that has green image for cars. The Union of Concerned Scientists' vehicles research director, David Friedman (no relation to Thomas) accused the company of mis-using UCS's rankings and said "All of the major automakers have the technology today to meet a 35 mpg fleet average by 2018 in the United States without breaking a sweat." (In saying this, as we discussed recently, UCS is correctly saying this could be done without even taking into account plug-in solutions.) Then we saw a counter-attack from the "you'll have to pry my gas-guzzler from my cold dead fist" supporters. One cited the discredited "Hummer is cleaner than Prius because of production costs" study (we again provide debunking sources below).

Thurs, Oct 4, we chimed in with our views. (Uuntil this time, our submissions to this moderated forum have all been accepted, but as of Saturday morning, our Thursday night submission still isn't up. We're still hoping...)

Here's the URL for Toyota's original posting:­2007/­09/­irvs-sheet-a-ca.html -- and below we reproduce Friedman's column, followed by Toyota's response and our still-unpublished comments. (Read other published comments at the Open Road Blog URL.) If that isn't enough material for you, read the background in the widely-reproduced Associated Press story "Toyota's Environmental Image Challenged" at the Washington Post­wp-dyn/­content/­article/­2007/­10/­04/­AR2007100400026.html and elsewhere, which talks about NRDC and other environmental groups' campaign.

Et Tu, Toyota?
The New York Times Op-Eds October 3, 2007­glogin?URI=http:/­/­­2007/­10/­03/­opinion/­03friedman.html

What is it about Michigan that seems to encourage assisted suicide?

That is all I can think watching Michigan congressmen and senators, led by Representative John Dingell, doing their best imitations of Jack Kevorkian and once again trying to water down efforts by Congress to legislate improved mileage standards for Detroit in the latest draft energy bill.

Look, I get pork-barrel politics. I understand senators from oil states protecting the windfall profits of oil companies. Ditto for farm subsidies. It's an old story: Protect my winnings, and I'll reward you with campaign contributions. I get it. I get it.

What I don't get is empty-barrel politics - Michigan lawmakers year after year shielding Detroit from pressure to innovate on higher mileage standards, even though Detroit's failure to sell more energy-efficient vehicles has clearly contributed to its brush with bankruptcy, its loss of market share to Toyota and Honda - whose fleets beat all U.S. automakers in fuel economy in 2007 - and its loss of jobs. G.M. today has 73,000 working U.A.W. members, compared with 225,000 a decade ago. Last year, Toyota overtook G.M. as the world's biggest automaker.

Thank you, Michigan delegation! The people of Japan thank you as well.

But assisting Detroit's suicide seems to be contagious. Everyone wants to get in on it, including Toyota. Toyota, which pioneered the industry-leading, 50-miles-per-gallon Prius hybrid, has joined with the Big Three U.S. automakers in lobbying against the tougher mileage standards in the Senate version of the draft energy bill.

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?

"Toyota wants to keep its green halo and beat G.M. in the big trucks, too," said Deron Lovaas, vehicles expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "As the world's largest automaker and inventor of the best-selling hybrid car, Toyota has a responsibility to lead, follow or get out of the way as Congress debates the first substantial fuel-economy boost in decades. Shamefully, Toyota has joined forces with older automakers that are getting their lunch handed to them in the marketplace, in part because they've consistently shunned fuel efficiency."

Irv Miller, a Toyota vice president, used the company's corporate blog to refute charges that it is "trying to move America backward on gas mileage." "Nothing could be further from the truth," he said, because Toyota also favors improved mileage standards.

Not so fast. Here are the facts: Thanks to the Michigan delegation, U.S. mileage standards for passenger car fleets have been frozen at 27.5 miles per gallon since 1985. Light trucks are even worse. The Senate energy bill calls for U.S. automakers to achieve a corporate average fuel economy of 35 m.p.g. by 2020. The Big Three and Toyota are lobbying to kill the Senate version and replace it with a loophole-laden increase to 32 to 35 m.p.g. by 2022. (Only the U.S. auto industry would try to postpone innovation.) The difference between the two is millions of gallons of gas.

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."

Mr. Markey said he has tried to persuade Toyota that "a lot of people have bought Priuses or Camry hybrids to fight global warming and reduce our dependence on foreign oil" and "they would be shocked to find out" that Toyota is lobbying against the highest m.p.g. standards for America.

Sad. If Toyota were to take the lead on this front, it could enhance its own reputation and spur the whole U.S. auto industry to become more globally competitive. Hey, Toyota, if you are going to become the biggest U.S. automaker, could you at least bring to America your best practices - the ones that made you the world leader - instead of prolonging our worst practices? We have enough people helping us commit suicide.

Once More - We at Toyota Want new CAFE Standards!­2007/­10/­post.html
Contributed by Irv Miller, Group Vice President, Corporate Communications

The question is fair, but overlooks a more obvious question for a business in the fiercely competitive automotive market. To use a metaphor from track and field, why would a competitor leading the field not want to put them at an even greater disadvantage by raising the high-jump bar as high as it could go? After all, if indeed Toyota has a head start in fuel-efficient technologies such as hybrids, advanced gasoline powertrains, plug-in hybrids and other high-mpg vehicles, why wouldn't it want to make others work even harder to catch up?

The answer is simple: It's because there's a point at which the bar is set too high for all competitors.

Like other major automakers, Toyota is in the business of offering a full lineup of cars and trucks to meet the needs of American motorists. Its success is the result of listening to customers and offering products they want. Those who point to average fuel economy levels in Europe or Japan overlook the real reasons these markets are different: higher fuel prices, steep fuel and vehicle taxes, different driving conditions, smaller vehicles and dramatically different customer tastes. There are no mandated minimum fleet standards comparable to our CAFE requirements.

Like it or not, Americans will continue to need and want variety, including pickups and SUVs. Nobody forces cars and trucks on consumers. They vote with their wallets.

There are those who attach a variety of ulterior motives to Toyota's position, are unhappy that we sell pickup trucks and SUVs, or distrust that we are working with other automakers to help set industry environmental direction.

Friedman calls for Toyota to be a leader. We are leading. Toyota has endorsed higher CAFE standards for years. Recently the Union of Concerned Scientists noted that "Toyota is the only major automaker to consistently improve global warming performance since 2001, thanks to hybrids and better conventional technology." And our passenger-car lineup has the highest CAFE rating in the industry.

As one of the few members of both industry trade organizations, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, Toyota has worked behind the scenes to help gain unprecedented support among arch-rival companies for the best standards that can reasonably be met.

Automakers get it this time, calling for up to a 40% increase to 35 mpg by 2022, the first increase since 1985. In a business where product plans are set six, eight and even 10 years in advance, 2022 is closer than it would appear.

When was the last time any industry asked for a mandate requiring costly changes to product lineups going against the known buying habits of 16 million customers per year? Wouldn't it be great if the airline industry, our public utilities, railroads and trucking companies came to the table requesting low carbon emission mandates?

Automakers are now pulling in the same direction, and Toyota believes it has helped lead the industry in that very positive direction. But you can't bankrupt the industry if you want it to invest in our environmental future.


It's moving to see the level of passion from those who disappointedly say Thomas Friedman's column changed their view of Toyota. The company has shown them what's possible: clean, efficient, affordable cars. It has surprised industry skeptics by proving it can make money selling them. (It was only five years ago that industry insiders said "hybrids suffer from the complexity of two systems" -- and journalists accused Toyota of underhandedly underpricing by $20,000 the advanced technology Prius!)

A case of multiple personalities? This company that's admirable in so many ways defends the modest goals of lagging automakers, whom it joined in suing California to block its 2002 law requiring a 30% MPG decrease by 2016 (which Toyota could have achieved). And smart business planners at Toyota missed several waves of large, highly-profitable SUVS. Now it's making up lost time: Headlining its new line of large trucks is its "built in Texas," mid-teens MPG, ironically-named Tundra behemoth.

In recent months, Toyota has been talking positively and aggressively about plug-in hybrids (and complementing the wave of after-market converters who built awareness and support for this technology). Yet it's disappointing us by saying it's willing to pass on being first to bring to market PHEVs that when propagated throughout multiple vehicle lines could propel the average fleet MPG way beyond any conceivable CAFE standard. (The company now says it's "determined to be best.")

We're hoping for what global investment advisor Alliance Bernstein projects: worldwide by 2030, 72% of the fleet, 85% of new cars will be hybrids or plug-in hybrids (see link on homepage to read this report).

I've seen presentations by Toyota officials indicating they appreciate and intend to take into account the urgency of our dual crises of climate and fossil fuel dependency. How will they answer a fundamental question: Can the world afford for the US fleet to reach only 35MPG in 2022? Toyota is at a crossroads between "business as usual" and "whatever it takes."

Friedman said Toyota "could enhance its own reputation and spur the whole U.S. auto industry to become more globally competitive." Citizens of the world need foresight, courage, leadership and a competitive spirit from carmakers. Will Toyota awaken the industry and inspire its customers -- or slow down and wait for others to catch up?

--Felix Kramer, Founder, the California Cars Initiative

P.S. Off this topic, I see that the ridiculous story of a Prius being worse environmentally than a Hummer keeps coming back for another round. (Nothing ever disappears permanently online. We still get emails telling us that Bill Gates will send us money if we forward a chain letter to our friends.) Find serious rebuttals by Open Road's Irv Miller at­2007/­06/­save_the_earth_.html and by the Rocky Mountain Institute, the Pacific Institute and Joseph Romm at­topics/­integrity_of_science/­case_studies/­hummer_vs_prius.pdf­2oqkv7

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