Automakers Spent $49 Million in 2017 Lobbying Washington to Make Cars Dirty Again


It was the most money spent on lobbying since the recession in 2008

American automakers, imports, and even electric-vehicle manufacturers spent a combined $49 million dollars in 2017 on Washington lobbyists to sway the minds of elected federal officials as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration considers new fuel economy targets for vehicles beginning 2022. It’s the most money spent on lobbying by automakers since 2008, when the Detroit Three—on their last legs—sought bailout help from the U.S. federal government.

The lobbying totals come from The Center for Responsive Politics’s Open Secrets website, which tracks lobbying spending and federal campaign contributions from a wide range of industries, including automotive manufacturers. Since President Trump’s election in November 2016, automakers have seized the opportunity to lobby a business-friendly administration widely perceived as being opposed to environmental regulations. Six months after President Trump’s inauguration, the administration started to openly consider lowering fuel economy targets previously locked in by the Obama administration, which would have pushed automakers to attain an average 50 mpg by 2025.

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The top spender in Washington lobbying efforts was General Motors, which derives a significant portion of its profits from the pickups and SUVs that would be hardest hit by stricter fuel-economy targets. The Detroit automaker spent $8,640,000 on lobbying in 2017, which was $3 million more than the second biggest spender, Toyota Motor Corp. ($5,779,000), Ford Motor Co. ($4,295,718), Fiat Chrysler Automobiles ($4,270,000), and Honda Motor Co. ($3,265,330) round out the top five biggest spenders for 2017. On the opposite end of the list is Mazda Motor Corp., which spent just $90,000 in direct lobbying efforts for 2017, which is just 12 percent of the $740,000 Tesla spent during the same period.

Nissan, Daimler, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Kia, Tata, BMW, and Lucid directly spent a combined $8.2 million in lobbying, about $400,000 short of what General Motors spent on its own in 2017. The numbers above don’t truly represent the total money spent on lobbying by automakers. Industry groups such as the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers ($8,100,000), Association of Global Automakers ($3,523,759), Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association ($666,123), American Automotive Policy Council ($560,000), and Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association ($240,000) additionally lobby on behalf of the automakers that fund them.

Automakers will soon find out how effective their lobbying efforts has been in rolling back fuel economy standards. NHTSA plans to release proposed fuel economy standards in March.

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