- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2000

It didn't make much news at the time, certainly nothing like that which surrounded the merger of America Online and Time Warner, but there was another union of sorts last month that says something about both a once-dominant corporation and the effect of environmental regulations on it.
General Motors has announced a "powertrain cross-supply arrangement" under which Honda will provide GM with V-6 engines and automatic transmissions, while GM's Isuzu subsidiary will provide the Japanese automaker with diesel engines for the European market. The swap arrangement gives GM access to engines that meet Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV) standards, slated to go into effect during the next few years.
Existing GM engines apparently don't make the cut and nothing on the table is as promising or as cheap (and ready to go) as simply letting Honda handle the engineering. This is seriously embarrassing for GM and for America. The cost/ efficiency considerations can't conceal the fact that for the first time, America's top automaker is relying not on its own engineering prowess but on that of a foreign competitor.
"We have tremendous respect for Honda's technical heritage," said GM President and Chief Operating Officer G. Richard Wagoner Jr. "Together we can strengthen our abilities to develop future technologies." In other words, they admit that Honda has the edge.
But if anyone should be embarrassed about protecting the world from GM engineering, it's the lawmakers and Environmental Protection Agency regulators who established the low-emission standards. The fact is that new cars don't pollute relative to earlier generations of autos. Cars and trucks built in the last decade now emit roughly 95 percent less in the way of nitrogen oxides and other ingredients of smog compared to 1960s vehicles.
As a columnist for The Washington Times once put it, "By any standard based on facts, logic and reason, Greenie Weenies ought to be ecstatic about the modern internal combustion engine. Al Gore should be skipping across the South Lawn, a dandelion clenched between his teeth. Want to clean up the planet? Then trade in that carbon monoxide spewing '68 Beetle for a new one."
A small fraction of vehicles produces the bulk of the pollution today and these are mostly older, out-of-tune cars that could be quickly identified via remote-sensing technology or similar artifice. If it's auto emissions that trouble regulators, they ought to focus on these real offenders. By ratcheting up the standards on all new cars, regulators raise their costs and make it more expensive for offenders to trade up to newer, cleaner models voluntarily. And they have, wittingly or unwittingly, hampered GM's efforts to compete. One need not be a GM customer, shareholder or employee to wonder if the most dangerous emissions these days are the regulatory variety that spew from EPA.


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