Monday, October 24, 2022






        Toyota Motors makes a sport utility vehicle called the “4Runner.” But the company, like rival General Motors, might better be called a classic front-runner.


        Another term for that might be “bandwagon jumper.”


        Back in 2017, when then-President Donald Trump began trying to remove California’s ability to set its own smog standards – granted in the federal Clean Air Act signed by Republican President Richard Nixon in 1970 – General Motors and Toyota backed his effort with a lawsuit later imitated by attorneys general of 17 Republican-controlled states.


        The two companies were tired of California forcing them to develop innovations, from the first smog control devices to catalytic converters to hybrid cars and electric vehicles.


        But some of their competitors demurred. Ford, Volkswagen, Honda, BMW and Volvo all joined a lawsuit by former state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra that held up Trump’s effort long enough for him to lose the 2020 election, regardless of his obdurate, false claims to have won.


        Now the federal threat to California’s smog-control authority has disappeared, at least for a few years, with President Biden reversing the Trump-era Environmental Protection Agency’s effort to thwart the switch to electric cars and trucks and stymie this state’s efforts to clean up its air, while also getting away from fossil fuels.


        One result of that election outcome was a complete reversal by GM. That company’s chief executive, Mary Barra, changed her tune almost the instant Biden was inaugurated.


        Rather than resist California’s authority, Barra pulled GM from its Trump-backing role in early 2021, saying she agrees with Biden’s plan to make electric vehicles more widespread and popular.


        “We believe the ambitious electrification goals of (Biden), California and General Motors are aligned,” she said. It would have been difficult to be more blatantly opportunistic.


        Toyota waited longer before becoming another example of corporate bandwagon jumping.


        Just two days before California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) used its restored Clean Air Act authority to order sales of new gasoline powered cars and trucks to end in 2035, Toyota this year announced it would no longer be opposed. Like GM’s statements, this was a 180 degree reversal of position.


        Neither company admitted its prior stance was wrong or mistaken. Neither asserted Trump’s administration forced it into anything. But both say they’re now firmly in the EV camp, vowing to produce many new totally zero emission vehicles.


        CARB Chair Lianne Randolph tweeted a welcome aboard to Toyota. “We’re pleased to see that Toyota has now recognized California’s authority to set vehicle standards,” she said. “Although we’ve had differences in the past, we look forward to advancing (EVs) together on positive footing.”


        The carmakers’ response to California’s new EV mandate is plainly political bandwagon jumping at its most blatant. It also stands in stark contrast to past forecasts of disaster from automakers every time CARB set new standards for them to meet.


        GM is a classic example. When CARB early in this century gave automakers 10 years to start selling zero-emission cars in significant quantities, GM said that was impossible. At the very same time, its publicists were lending demonstrator models of the company’s first, primitive EV to automotive reporters around the country – a clear demonstration of two things: 1) The company’s right hand did not know or care what its left hand was doing, and 2) EVs could be built to be both roadworthy and high-performing.


        It was much the same for Toyota: The company opposed as impossible or too expensive every incremental step toward clean-air cars. Nevertheless, it developed the Prius hybrid, which became the best-selling passenger car in California.


        Meanwhile, Toyota’s newest statement reversed its longtime claims that making cars ever cleaner would not be possible. The Japan-based company said it “continues to share the vision” of CARB in reducing greenhouse gases and making vehicles carbon-neutral. “We are excited about our efforts to extend zero-emissions activities beyond our core vehicle business.”


        Make no mistake: If the 2020 election results had been different, California’s clean-air authority surely would have disappeared and neither GM nor Toyota would have changed its stance.


        That’s something idealistic car-buyers might want to consider when deciding which brand of new car to buy.



    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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