Commentary

Nowhere does the Big Lie work so well as in Washington.

While normal people worry about being caught making even minor fabrications, elected officials in our nation’s capital get away with telling untruths every day.

That’s because their lies are so breathtakingly huge that regular folks find it impossible to believe someone in a position of authority could utter such colossal distortions of reality.

The latest whopper comes from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) as she tries to dismiss auto maker complaints that a new fleetwide fuel economy standard of 35 mpg (6.7L 100/km) by 2020 she is pushing will devastate the industry.

“BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Ford, General Motors, Porsche, Volkswagen, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota – all have agreed to push fuel economy well above 40 miles per gallon (5.9L 100/km) in Europe, but they say they cannot achieve these standards in the United States,” Feinstein says. “Does that make sense to anyone in America? I think not.”

As Feinstein surely knows, it makes perfect sense. Here’s why:

Thanks to high taxes, European fuel costs are double those in the U.S. Consumers used to paying $6-$7 per gallon are extremely motivated to buy smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Unlike North America, there is zero demand for fullsize pickups in Europe that murder corporate average fuel economy numbers. Big pickups are the most popular vehicles in the U.S.

More than 50% of new vehicles sold in Europe are powered by diesel engines, which get about 30% better fuel economy.

Because diesels are so efficient, European governments have encouraged diesel use by lowering taxes on diesel fuel, making it more affordable than gasoline.

Europe also long ago mandated the use of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, which enabled the introduction of today’s clean diesels that dramatically lower emissions.

As Feinstein knows, the U.S. has been downright hostile to the diesel engine.

Now that U.S. oil companies finally are offering ULSD in the U.S., new-generation clean diesels can meet California’s strict new standards, but larger engines require sophisticated urea injection exhaust aftertreatment systems that add significant cost on top of the higher price of a diesel.

Feinstein and her fellow car-haters in Congress want to force auto makers away from being customer-driven companies to building vehicles the Government wants us to drive. That’s an ugly reality.

In order to get anywhere near Europe’s vehicle fleet averages, the U.S. would have to add $3 per gallon in fuel taxes in order to match Europe’s fuel prices and also alter consumer behavior.

That will never happen, so Congress will have to create incentives to compensate for costly fuel-saving technology, which cannot be offset by fuel economy savings with the U.S.’ relatively cheap gas.

This would include tax breaks of about $3,500 for the purchase of any hybrid-electric or diesel-powered vehicle, plus oil industry mandates requiring more U.S. diesel-refining capacity.

But Congress won’t pony up such big incentives, and the oil industry won’t spend $1 billion per refinery to make more diesel.

So as is too often the case in Washington, misleading the American public with a huge lie is the only politically expedient choice.

dwinter@wardsauto.com