Abstract: Regulating and Re-regulating the Automobile: The Challenge of Emissions

Ann Johnson


In 1970 Phil Myers, president of the Society for Automotive Engineers, wrote that individual consumers would not choose to spend more money for cleaner cars, and therefore government regulation had to shape the market for the common good. Myers cast himself as a spokesman for industry, speaking in favor of the 1970 Clean Air Act. For Myers, the new standards of the 1970s would incentivize a new approach to the technology of emissions control. Rather than considering emissions control a problem of capturing harmful exhaust gases, auto manufacturers began to reconsider the nature of the combustion process and whether optimizing combustion might be combined with exhaust gas capture to produce a far cleaner automobile than engineers imagined possible. This was the message of Myers' address in 1970&#151;engineers should oppose any hard standard on emissions because technological innovations would make feasible ever <em>higher</em> standards. Myers was clear about the role of government: to shape, by constraint, consumer choice. Governments had to manage markets to facilitate technological development. Myers saw the automobile as an "emerging technology," whose continued existence (but changing form) depended on technological innovation, government regulation, and consumers.