Car Companies Accused of Engaging in a ‘Coordinated Campaign to Undermine Australian Climate Regulations’

Car Companies Accused of Engaging in a ‘Coordinated Campaign to Undermine Australian Climate Regulations’

InfluenceMap, a global think tank focused on climate policy, has released a report on what it says are the Australian car industry’s efforts to thwart the development of strong fuel efficiency standards for the country.

Fuel efficiency standards are rules put in place on automakers that require the introduction of more environmentally friendly vehicles. At the time of writing, Australia is one of very few countries in the world that doesn’t have such standards, which has been cited as a reason for why electric vehicles are so scarcely available down under. The government is currently seeking feedback on fuel efficiency standards from the public and industry, to be developed as part of Australia’s EV strategy.

Now, according to a report from InfluenceMap, it appears that members of Australia’s auto industry have attempted to delay the development of strong local fuel standards.

InfluenceMap claims that the research draws on more than 500 documents obtained through FOI requests from the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) and Australia’s 15 largest automakers. The think tank said that the FCAI is deliberately trying to influence the development of weak fuel efficiency standards, and that the chamber has attempted to lobby policymakers on developing significantly weaker climate policies than other countries.

All of this said, while leading FCAI members Hyundai and Toyota both appeared to argue for numerous flexibilities in adopted fuel efficiency standards during the National Electric Vehicle Strategy consultation period (as pointed out by InfluenceMap), other FCAI members such as Tesla, Volkswagen, and Volvo have been pushing for stronger standards, according to the think tank.

InfluenceMap has also mapped out what it calls ‘The FCAI playbook to weaken Australian climate policy’, arguing that the organisation has lobbied for voluntary standards with no penalties, weak 2030 targets, and loopholes that allow for further combustion engine vehicle adoption. The organisation is said to be lobbying for weak standards by downplaying electric vehicle adoption, ignoring government modelling, and by promoting alternative technologies, such as hydrogen vehicles.

The report also drew on what InfluenceMap called the FCAI’s “history of weak policy development in Australia”, including a meeting with the Department of Infrastructure to propose a voluntary standard in 2020, based on a model developed with members of the oil industry. A ‘credit and debit’ system was also proposed, along with a lack of financial penalties for breaching the standards.

Naturally, the report has alarmed advocacy organisations, in particular Greenpeace, which is historically no fan of Toyota.

“Today’s report is yet another troubling indictment of the fossil fuel-powered car lobby’s continued efforts to sway policy-makers to weaken climate legislation,” Greenpeace Australia Pacific campaigner Joe Rafalowicz said.

“Implementing strong, mandated fuel efficiency standards this year will mark the first step to opening up the Australian market to more EVs and ensuring that demand for them can be met. Strong standards mean catching up to the rest of the world – with no loopholes, no dodgy accounting tricks, and equity built-in so that more Australians can access electric vehicles sooner.”

Climate advocacy organisation Solar Citizens said that the tactics appear similar to that of the fossil fuel industry when moving to renewables.

“This covert behaviour is right out of the playbook of the fossil fuel industry – delay-ism is the new denialism. The Australian public shouldn’t have to put up with this level of corporate spin,” Solar Citizens clean transport campaigner Ajaya Haikerwal said.

“The auto industry and their vested interests are getting in the way of the amazing cost of living savings presented by electric vehicles. Aussies are already bleeding at the hip with ludicrous petrol prices, so it’s time we modernised our transport sector with cost-saving technology the rest of the world has had for over 10 years.”

The adoption of strong fuel efficiency standards is important. If our policies are too weak, then we’re not solving any problems – companies will continue to send less environmentally friendly cars to Australia, while sending electric vehicles and PHEVs to priority markets with strong fuel standards, such as those in Europe.

The FCAI’s CEO Tony Weber responded to Gizmodo Australia’s request for comment:

“Our voluntary standard was established back in 2019 in the absence of a federally mandated standard. The government has announced its intention to develop a standard, and we are working with them to set an ambitious yet achievable target for emissions reduction. We have been asking for this for almost a decade. The Australian consumer must be considered if this standard is to be effective. Rarely is the consumer mentioned in any commentary from ‘greens’ groups. Price and product availability are essential factors in reducing emissions in Australia’s context.

“We are concerned that the London-based InfluenceMap appears to be creating documents and representing them as FCAI commentary. This is inappropriate and misleading. The world has moved on from 2019. Australia’s motoring industry has moved on. It’s time these groups moved on as well.”

Gizmodo Australia has reached out to Hyundai and Toyota for comment on the report.

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