Special Coverage

NADA Convention & Exposition

SAN FRANCISCO – The fight over stricter fuel economy and vehicle-emissions standards is just beginning and “it’s our fight,” says Annette Sykora, new chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Assn.

“The fight has just begun, because Congress has provided only part of the framework for a national fuel-economy policy,” Sykora says during her first address to dealers at the 2008 annual NADA convention here.

“There are still a lot of unknowns,” she continues. “There is still a struggle in the courts, on the regulatory front and in some states. The outcome of these battles will affect the kind of cars we sell.”

NADA joined others in the auto industry last year in persuading Congress to adopt comprise legislation that calls for a corporate average fuel economy for cars and trucks of 35 mpg (6.72L/100 km) by 2020. That’s a 40% increase over today’s standards.

NADA takes pride in that lobbying effort, but Sykora, a Texas dealer and the group’s first woman chairman, says there’s no time to relax, because “every future decision about fuel economy can directly impact our business.”

Car buyers select vehicles that meet their needs, and they should decide what works and what doesn’t, she says. “It’s that simple. You can’t wave a government wand and make consumers buy a particular type of vehicle.

“We don’t want policies that stifle consumer demand. We want to accelerate it. We know our customers want fuel efficiency, but we also know they won’t sacrifice safety and functionality – or pay extra.”

The auto industry is an easy target, says Sykora. “The debate in Washington over the past year proves it.”

She credits Congress for providing a good start towards “a rational federal program for fuel economy,” but sees more legal, regulatory and legislative fights ahead.

One such battle is between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the State of California, which wants a waiver to enforce tailpipe-emissions standards that are stricter than the EPA’s.

NADA backs the EPA in denying the waiver, but California is pressing its case.

“We have to continue to fight to make sure whatever policies come out don’t do more harm than good,” Sykora says. “We can’t just get our cars and sell them. We have to recognize we’re part of a broader industry.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com