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Ralph Nader > Uncategorized > I Think I Can’t, I Think I Can’t…

As has been their practice for over 20 years, the domestic automobile
Companies once again are mounting an intense propaganda campaign to advertise their “inability” to meet air pollution control standards. This time General Motors, Ford and Chrysler executives have been singing the same tune about the impossibility of meeting the federal government’s 1975 automobile emission standards. Congress gave the industry this deadline in a 1970 law.

What the giant auto corporations say they cannot accomplish in 1975, two small Japanese auto companies have already accomplished. According to official U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) test results, Honda and Toyo Kogyo have easily met the 1975 standards for 50,000 miles with their respective vehicles, the Honda and the Mazda. In these durability tests, the Japanese vehicles performed well under the levels of emmissions permitted for carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen.

In addition, the National Academy of Sciences, in a mid-February report prepared for Congress under the Clean Air Act, concluded that the auto industry would be able to meet the 1975 standards with four types of systems. These are a (1) modified conventional engine equipped with an oxidation catalyst, (2) carbureted stratified charge engine (Honda), Wankel engine equipped with a thermal reactor (Mazda), and the diesel engine (Mercedes-Benz). Contrary to the domestic industry’s whining, the NAS found that the domestic manufactures could meet the 1975 standards with modified conventional engines equipped with an oxidation catalyst.

By this time, the domestic auto companies could have had numerous other engine choices which would have worked better and cheaper. Since the late Thirties, theyknew that their cars were connected with the periodic smog which would occur in Los Angeles. In the early Fifties, independent scientists proved that auto exhausts contributed to photochemical smog. During the Fifties and early Sixties, California pollution control authorities demanded that the auto manufacturers control their vehicle emmissions.

A California law over a decade ago required that new cars sold in that state be two years equipped with exhaust controls after the state certified the effectiveness of at least two workable control devices. The auto companies said that such modest controls could not be adopted until the 1967 model year. But when California certified the control devices of two non-automotive companies, GM, Ford and Chrysler suddenly announced that they could indeed install such devices in 1966 vehicles. Their switch was clearly prompted by the risk of having to use the devices of the non-industry certified companies.

In 1969 the real reason for the auto industry’s uniform unwillingness to clean suit up their engines came to light when the Justice Department filed an antitrust against the domestic manufacturers and their trade association, the Automobile Manufacturers Association, for conspiring to restrain the development and marketing of auto exhaust control systems since early 1953. The evidence brought together prior to this suit by a Los Angeles grand jury outlined the cross-licensing agreement and other close associations between these so-called auto competitors that forged this illegal, united front of inaction. In September 1969, the domestic auto companies entered into a consent agreement with the government agreeing never to engage in such a conspiracy again.

Continuously obstinate to all government pleas, however, GM and other domestic auto companies persist in installing a less effective but/more expensive exhaust control system — the catalyst-equipped vehicle which will carry a gouging sticker price increase of $230 above the 1970 vehicle price or about $160 above current vehicle prices according to the NAS study. Where were these companies when the basic concept of the stratified charge engine was first suggested in the early 1920’s or when numerous otherlow polluting engine designs were waiting to be refined decades ago? To drive its point home, Honda converted a 140 cid engine Vega to stratified charge and easily met the 1975 standards at low mileage.

Instead, the U.S. companies continue to stick to the overheavy, grossly inefficient, repair-prone internal combustion engine which tosses the costs of upkeep and low fuel mileage (aided mightily by heavier and heavier accessories) on the motorists. What these corporate mastodons need is more competition from smaller companies and strong antitrust enforcement.