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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Pollution Breakthrough for Volvo

Well, General Motors, Volvo has done it to you again. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has announced that Volvo successfully certified four different versions of its fuel-injected vehicle scheduled for sale next year which far exceed the advanced federal statutory air pollu­tion standards.

Moreover, Volvo, in achieving what GM executives continually said could not be done, used an American-made “three-way catalyt­ic converter and obtained 10 percent better mileage over its current model to boot! In 1967-68, Volvo was asked by the U.S. Department of Transportation for crash data about shoulder har­nesses. General Motors then was flooding the department with spe­cious arguments about how shoulder belts would not save lives.

Volvo, a long-time provider of shoulder safety belt systems, deliv­ered a study of 60,000 accidents in Sweden that showed the great life­saving effectiveness of these belts. As a result, the federal government rejected GM’s phony assertions and issued the necessary safety standard.

Volvo’s recent breakthrough comes as a particular rebuff to GM. The auto giant has been spending much money trying to weaken the auto pollution standards while Volvo want to work and came up with an automobile that far exceeded the final stage federal standards on hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and oxides of nitrogen.

CARB Chairman Tom Quinn was very enthusiastic about the new Volvo at a news conference. Calling the test results “the most significant breakthrough ever achieved” in the struggle for disease-free cars, Quinn claimed that within the next decade the automobile should cease being a major cause of smog.

If Quinn’s assertion that the new Volvo is 10 times less polluting than cars sold throughout the United States can hold up, his prediction may indeed come true. His agency estimates the added price of the Volvo system to be about $25 to $50 per car, with the price going down once mass production starts. The fuel savings alone will more than make up the difference.

The tests also showed the durability of these pollution controls, unlike the rapid deterioration afflict­ing the pollution controls on the Big Three cars.

The hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emission levels from the Volvo system actually tested lower after 50,000 miles than at 4,000 miles, while the more-difficult-to-control oxides of nitrogen were just 14 per­cent higher at 50,000 miles than at 4,000 miles of durability testing.

Volvo has informed Quinn that it may extend use of its three-way sys­tem (0 its entire model line for 1978. If this occurs the Swedish company’s vehicles will exceed all state and federal requirements years before GM anticipates doing so.

The difference here between GM and Volvo — besides sheer size — is the difference between bad faith and good faith in meeting the health needs of people and the law. Volvo it­self has criticized the domestic manufacturers’ repeated negativism regarding the alleged cost of federal safety and health standards as dis­torted information “aimed purely at resisting regulations.”

Quinn wants to generate momentum from Volvo’s break­through to overcome what he calls the joint effort by President Ford and the auto companies “to weaken the Clean Air Act and roll back smog standards” in Congress.

He remembers that the domestic auto companies always have presented a united front. They are stubbornly avoiding the obligation to depollute their vehicles even though they agreed in 1969 to avoid collusion after the Justice Department charg­ed them with a 15-year smog con­spiracy.

Perhaps members of Congress will take the offensive in declaring to Gerald Ford and Henry Ford II that there will be no rollback of the 1970 Clean Air Act.

The callousness of the White House and the Big Three auto companies may possibly be defeated by the repercussions of a little competition and a lot of good judgment from Sweden.