Verde-washing in Mexico: Toyota Opposes Clean Car Standards

To many drivers, Toyota’s leadership in fuel-efficient hybrid sales puts them in the pole position for the greenest, most socially responsible car company. That’s why it comes as such a shock to learn from my colleague Rich Kassel about Toyota’s recent deeds south of the border.  In a baffling turn of events, Toyota has been working on a secretive legal strategy to block new fuel efficiency and carbon pollution standards in Mexico, essentially the very same standards that they support here in the U.S.

As described by my colleague Rich Kassel in his blog post, the new standards (“NOM-163”) would essentially just harmonize the Mexican standards with the U.S. standards that achieve 35 mpg by 2016. After all, don’t Mexican drivers deserve the same fuel-efficient, clean cars as their norteña neighbors? In the past, automakers have been rightly admonished for selling dirtier cars outside of the U.S.  

To me, one of the biggest shocks is that Toyota supports the U.S. version of these standards. And in fact, they support the even stronger, next phase of U.S. standards that will double fuel efficiency to 54.5 mpg by 2025.  A cynic might say that Toyota is simply not as concerned about cultivating a “verde” image outside of the U.S. 

It gets even worse. While such litigation would be public in the U.S. court system, Toyota's legal actions have come as a surprise to other stakeholders. Only now are Toyota’s behind-the-scene legal tactics coming to light.

Unfortunately, the Mexican court seems to be siding with Toyota. On September 20, a Mexican court issued an injunction to halt the government’s regulatory body from even considering the proposal, despite the fact that a final rule had not been proposed yet. 

Toyota has had plenty of time to voice their concerns in public. The Mexican government’s proposal had been openly discussed for years among stakeholders in industry, the environmental community and government. The proposal was on track to be finalized before the end of Mexican President Calderon’s term of office later this year.

Mexico stands to lose big time if Toyota is successful. As Rich Kassel notes, “The program will save Mexican drivers an estimated $39 billion dollars (or 513 billion pesos), cut 170 million tons of greenhouse gases, and conserve 70 billion liters of fuel.”  

We had thought that Toyota had learned a lesson after they took a similar tact in the U.S. opposing strong fuel economy standards in Congress.  Back in 2007, Toyota very publicly urged Congress to pass a substantially watered-down version of updated fuel economy standards. Fortunately due in large part to NRDC urging Prius owners-- and at least 100,000 did take action-- Toyota reversed itself and ultimately supported the stronger standard.  (Sees this great tongue-in-cheek video we did that helped turn the tide).

The irony is that Toyota has benefited as much, if not more, than any other car company from the growing environmental consciousness of the American public.  Just yesterday figures were released showing that the Toyota Prius was the best-selling car in California over the first nine months of 2012.  And yet, the same firm whose relatively efficient auto lineup is well-positioned to meet the new 54.5 mpg fuel efficiency standards released in August is undercutting a less-stringent move by California’s neighbor to the south.

Once again, we think the over 1 milliion Prius owners in the U.S. should know that Toyota’s actions do not always match their image. Just like with the 2007 fuel economy standards debate here in the U.S., it’s not too late for Toyota to reverse course, drop their opposition to Mexican drivers having the same fuel-efficient, clean car standards as we have, before their verde image becomes permanently tarnished.

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