LOS ANGELES – A war of words erupts in the push for new fuel-economy regulations, after California Air Resources Board officials accuse the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers of undermining work toward a unified national standard and warn auto makers to steer clear of the trade organization.

In a Feb. 7 letter sent to seven of the auto makers represented by the AAM, CARB Chairwoman Mary Nichols rebukes an AAM letter sent to two congressmen in early January that questions California’s commitment to a national standard.

Nichols writes in the letter she is “alarmed and disappointed” the alliance “has misrepresented that cooperative spirit in recent letters to Congress.”

She urges the targeted auto makers – General Motors, Chrysler, Ford, BMW, Toyota, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz – to distance themselves from “future efforts by the Alliance to undermine the achievement of our mutual goals to set standards that will provide American consumers with cleaner and more efficient vehicles.”

Gloria Bergquist, AAM vice president-communications, tells Ward’s the group is confused by the Nichols letter.

After all, she says, when the trade group sent their letters to U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-CA, and Fred Upton, R-MI, they were simply voicing an industry concern California might end up adopting its own set of standards for model years 2017-2025, despite efforts to keep the state and federal regulations aligned.

After CARB, the U.S. Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency announced Jan. 24 a single timeframe for proposing 2017-2015 fuel economy and greenhouse-gas standards, “we thought we were all on the same page,” Bergquist says.

“Our goal is one national program for 2017-2025 that sets fuel economy at the maximum feasible level without negative impacts on affordability, jobs, safety and vehicle utility.”

The last thing the AAM wants is a return “to the old days of piecemeal, patchwork fuel economy standards,” she says. “We were supportive when (the) EPA and CARB recently announced that California was not going to be undertaking its own fuel-economy rulemaking but instead would work with EPA on a proposal for September.”

The brouhaha, she says, is like “getting a Dear John letter when you thought things were so good.” CARB spokesman Stanley Young says the agency “takes offense” because the AAM’s communications “made it appear that we have not been collaborating hand-in-glove” with federal officials.

California not only adopted the federal standards for the 2012-2016 model years, but has taken a leading role in crafting a unified national approach to greenhouse gases for years, not only during the upcoming regulatory cycle, he says. That’s why Nichols called the AAM’s statements about CARB “disingenuous at best.”

Whenever the alliance decides to “return to the spirit of cooperation it’s shown over that last 18 months” and stop casting “aspersions” about the state’s inability to follow federal mandates and “work with national agencies,” CARB will gladly cooperate with the group again, says Young.

Prior to the January announcement, the regulatory panel had intended to propose its own 2017-2025 emission standards by this coming spring.