Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez Discusses the Right to Repair
By Douglas McColloch
Marie Gluesenkamp Perez runs a successful auto repair shop along with her husband, Dean, in Portland, Oregon. She's also a freshman Democratic Congresswoman representing Washington's 3rd District, across the Columbia River from Portland, which covers the southwestern corner of the state. A fifth-generation Washingtonian, she campaigned on kitchen-table issues that include "right to repair," the legislative initiative that empowers individuals and their preferred mechanics and technicians to perform their own repairs on everything from PCs to Priuses without having to rely solely on the OE manufacturer. The state of Massachusetts enacted an automotive right-to-repair law in 2012, and grassroots support for a federal version has been steadily growing ever since.
As a freshman legislator, Gluesenkamp Perez may still be learning the ropes in DC, but she is already making her mark on the legislative process. She's currently a co-sponsor of SEMA-supported House Resolution (H.R.) 906, the Right to Equitable and Professional Auto Industry Repair (REPAIR) Act.
A graduate of Reed College with a degree in economics, Gluesenkamp Perez, 35, resides in rural Skamania County, Washington, with her husband, Dean Gluesenkamp, and their son Ciro. Driving Force spoke recently with Rep. Gluesenkamp Perez about right to repair and other number of related issues. What follows here has been edited for clarity and length.
Driving Force: You and your husband run an auto repair business. Tell us a little bit more about that and how you got into it.
Marie Gluesenkamp Perez: We're an independent auto repair shop. My husband started it out of high school. When I first met him, I was a bike mechanic, and the secret of most bike mechanics is that they want to be auto mechanics. It's like the joining the varsity, you know? The first gift he ever gave me was the carburetor off of a weed eater, and things just went from there.
DF: What convinced you to switch gears and run for Congress?
MGP: I didn't want to be represented by the people that I thought were going to likely be representing me and I think that if we want to fix American politics, it's incumbent on small business owners, on normal people to do the work and step up and run.
DF: One of the key issues we ran on in 2022 was right to repair. Let's talk about H.R. 906, of which you're an original co-sponsor, and why it's particularly relevant now.
MGP: Right to repair is a cultural, economic and environmental issue. It touches many bases. I really believe that Americans are unique. DIY is part of our DNA. We believe in fixing our own breaks and doing our own work. And more and more, we're seeing terms of service agreements that really box owners out of fixing their own vehicles. John Deere has been one of worst in this regard. You need the digital key to get into the engine bay or the whole tractor shuts down. I really believe that we're going to be turned into a permanent class of renters if we don't have access to fixing our own stuff. This isn't only about supporting the trades, it's also about protecting American culture. We believe in being stewards of our own goods.
DF: On the subject, how has this bill been received by your constituents? It's our understanding that this problem often is often felt most acutely by rural populations.
MGP: Absolutely. Going back to John Deere, having to drive three or four hours to get to an authorized dealership and have your tractor tied up for months is a hassle. Meanwhile, if you're a farmer, the harvest doesn't wait. There are really only two to three days when hay has nutritional value for livestock. It's when the seed head is fully formed, before it's fallen off the stalk. So if you can't cut hay on time, the price of beef goes up.
It's also an environmental issue because we're filling up our landfills with disposable cars. On the other hand, I can make a Honda Civic run for 500,000 miles if I have access to the parts to fix it. We're basically being locked out of the next generation of service.
DF: The bill has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. What kind of reception has the bill received up to now?
MGP: It's really exciting. We've actually gotten a lot of bipartisan support behind it. The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee [Glenn Thompson, R - PA] is signed on because he knows how important it is to farmers and people in rural communities. And what I hope that your readers can help me do is reach out to their representatives and let them know how important this legislation is.
This is not a niche interest. This is not just about people running repair shops. It is about American identity at its core. We're sort of at this fulcrum point where if we let it go, we will lose a generation of kids who don't know how to work on cars.
DF: What's the most effective way, in your opinion, for constituents to communicate directly with their representatives about the Repair Act and other legislation that's important to them? Phone calls, emails, or something else?
MGP: Phone calls and emails. Try and schedule a meeting, especially if you own a shop. Legislators really listen to small business owners—or they ought to, and if they don't, you should vote them out. When constituents who are keeping family-wage jobs in the communities come to you and say this issue matters to them, that's a powerful constituency group.
People working in the trades have not fully realized their power and influence, so try to get a meeting with your legislators. If that doesn't work, something in writing is great. Get a letter back. And if you don't like the answer, send another one.
DF: Let's talk a bit about the recent EPA rule proposal that is seeking to cut 10 billion pounds of CO2 emissions by 2050. There's no real mandate for electrification in the rule, but it's so strict that up to two thirds of all new cars and trucks being sold by 2032 would need to be electrified to meet the mandate, and that's not very far off. What's your take on this proposed rule change?
MGP: In the county I live in, there are two electric charging stations and both of them are at resorts, so for people like us who live in rural communities, this is not reflective of the reality on the ground. There are not enough electricians, and there's not enough electrical transmission capacity.
We all agree that electric cars can be very good for consumers, but it's important that the transition to EVs is led by market forces that are they really meeting the needs of consumers. Your car is your second biggest investment behind your house, and people don't tend to make those investments solely on a moral basis.
This also needs to make economic sense. One of the limiting factors in market penetration for electric vehicles is the availability of minerals for batteries, so I actually think that hybrid-electric is a much stronger way to reduce the overall emissions of consumer transportation for the average consumer. If you need to take on a 200-mile road trip to grandma's house, you can run on gas, and if you only run around the city on shorter trips, you can run on all electric. We could see much higher rates of market penetration that way without having to burden ourselves with making sure that the minerals that we're sourcing for these batteries are coming from our allies and that we're growing those industries with partners we can rely on.
DF: You've said that you'd like to see more tradespeople in public office. What in your estimation needs to happen for that to become reality?
MGP: Campaign finance is a huge part of it. The amount of money it takes to run for office is insane, and it boxes normal people out of the process. Also, I think a lot of politics has sort of devolved into how good of a talker you are, how good of a salesman you are. I think it's important that we be more results-oriented and relate more strongly to the real world, so it's critical that more people from the trades run for Congress and for local elected positions.
One problem is that many of us in the trades are very busy. It's so much work to run a small business. Just getting your taxes filed can feel like a marathon! Running a campaign for office can be difficult, but I strongly encourage people to think about it.
DF: How has the transition to public service been? How steep is the learning curve?
MGP: People sort of think that politics is some rarefied profession, but to my mind, it's very similar to running an auto repair shop. You know, you're sizing up who's going to rip you off, who's a good partner, who's a straight shooter. You're sifting through regulatory environments, you're making hiring decisions and you're trying to serve your constituencies.
DF: On a similar subject. What do you think your colleagues can learn from you? What life experiences do you bring to the job that might help them be better, more effective legislators?
MGP: It's really important that we have a Congress that looks like America. A lot of members of Congress don't have a concept of what it's like to live on a gravel road, to get your water from a well or to get your internet from a radio tower like I do at home. So it's important to have the full spectrum of American society in Congress—not just lawyers and doctors and people who think they're God's gift to politics.
I think I'm just very candid in the way that I communicate about my ideas and my perspectives on legislation. And it turns out that people really do want to listen because what I'm doing is a little bit different than what's been on offer.
DF: What's in your garage?
MGP: We have so many cars at home! I just got a 2008 Jetta TDI, the diesel six speed. Before that, it was a BMW 325. In DC, I drive a '97 Toyota Land Cruiser. I've never owned a new car.
We live in the Columbia River Gorge. We get these insane ice storms, and you need four-wheel drive to get around many months of the year, so my husband drives a 2002 Toyota Tundra. I also had a Toyota Tacoma, which I really loved, but you couldn't get a child's car seat in it. I also had a '91 4Runner at one point, and when we first started dating, my husband got me a Honda 125 SR for Valentine's Day, so we bumped around on that for a while.
Special thanks to Rep. Gluesenkamp Perez for bringing the good fight for automotive freedoms to Capitol Hill!
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- Rhode Island Re-Opens Comment Period for Internal Combustion Engine Ban
- UPDATE: Don't Wait—Please Comment on New Mexico's Proposed Clean Car Plan
- U.S. Senate Companion Bill Introduced to Stop EPA Tailpipe Mandate
- U.S. House of Representatives Passes Bill to Stop California's ICE Vehicle Ban
- EPA Pursues New Emissions Standards to Spur Transition to Electric Vehicles
- Ask Your U.S. Representative to Support the REPAIR Act
- Ask Your U.S. Senators to Support the American Outdoor Recreation Act
The Future of ICE
Can Internal-Combustion Engines Stay Relevant in an EV World? (Hint: The Answer Is Yes)
The internal-combustion engine is far from dead, and motorsports and aftermarket performance companies will play a key role in making ICE vehicles environmentally sound for decades to come.
Photo courtesy of Motul
By Mike Imlay
To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the internal-combustion engine's imminent demise have been greatly exaggerated. Sure, we've all seen the headlines. For the past several years, all major automakers have announced ambitious electric vehicle (EV) goals to do their part in warding off climate change. Plus, stung by rising fuel costs, more and more consumers are opting for battery electric vehicles (BEVs). But let's look at the facts.
It's certainly true that from the European Union (EU) to the United States, the race to curtail and even phase out ICE vehicles is on. The Biden Administration has made no secret that it sees full vehicle electrification as an essential step in carbon reduction. As of press time, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was said to be finalizing even more stringent limits on light-vehicle tailpipe emissions.
Of course, in America, politics are also local. California and 16 other states have either banned or are moving to ban some or all ICE-powered vehicles. (California's ICE ban, which takes full effect in 2035, applies to new-vehicle sales only.) A few U.S. cities and counties are even weighing limits or total bans on gas stations, although other states and localities are pushing back and severing themselves from California's zero-emissions targets (link: LEGISLATIVE FRONT LINES).
Apart from legislation, market incentives also play a major role in the OEM drive toward an electrified future. For one, EV programs attract capital investors. Plus, EVs require fewer parts, meaning manufacturers can streamline sourcing, production, labor forces and their associated costs. But despite this and all the media hype, there are signs that a new realism is setting in.
In December 2022, Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda caused a stir when he openly questioned an EV-only strategy in the quest for carbon-neutral automobiles. In remarks made to reporters in Thailand, Toyoda argued that a sound strategy should include hybrids and hydrogen-powered vehicles. Identifying himself as among a "silent majority" within the auto industry, Toyoda was quoted by The Wall Street Journal as saying, "That silent majority is wondering whether EVs are really OK to have as a single option. But they think it's the trend so they can't speak out loudly."
Other automakers appear to share this viewpoint. Porsche recently announced that it had powered a 911 with a new e-fuel developed from air and water. Produced in Chile by the Highly Innovative Fuels company, the fuel is made by capturing atmospheric carbon and combining it with hydrogen taken from water to create methane. The fuel can be used in virtually any ICE vehicle, and Porsche plans to continue experimenting with such alternatives.
Meanwhile, while remaining committed to its growing EV program, General Motors has tempered its sales targets, citing challenges with battery production. And earlier this year, Ford disclosed that it expected to lose $3 billion on its EV program in 2023—news that The Wall Street Journal called "a reminder of how far traditional auto makers have to go in turning their EV portfolios profitable."
Even the environmentally hardline EU seems to be rethinking its stance. Responding to resistance from member-states Germany, Italy and Poland, the EU recently modified a total ban on ICE vehicles by 2035 to allow for those running on synthetic fuels.
According to SEMA Market Research Director Gavin Knapp, the simple truth is that ICE-powered vehicles will be with us for a long time to come. "The thing to keep in mind about EVs is when people talk about them being 50%-100% of the market, they're talking about new-vehicle sales, which will still be a small portion of the vehicles on the road," he observed. "Even if production were to ramp up really fast in 2030, EVs would still only represent 15% to maybe 20% of vehicles in operation."
Moreover, major obstacles remain to widespread EV adoption, including building the required infrastructure and, more importantly, gaining consumer acceptance. Lately, mainstream publications have been rife with stories of consumer frustrations with EV range and towing capacities, not to mention charging options. For these and other reasons, SEMA Market Research projects that by 2035, EVs will account for a mere 39% of OEM new-vehicle sales.
Given all the above, many specialty-equipment manufacturers say their long-term plans call for continued investment in ICE applications. They envision further refinements in engine performance, efficiency and emissions reduction. In fact, some futurists believe that by 2035 the total carbon footprint of an ICE vehicle may nearly match that of an EV—especially when you factor in the rare-earth mining, spent battery disposal and other not-so-eco-friendly activities associated with electrification.
"The automotive aftermarket, for as long as it's been around, has driven innovation—specifically towards efficiency around the internal-combustion engine," said Ian Lehn, Boostane owner and former chair of the SEMA Emerging Trends and Technology Network (ETTN). "I look at vehicle technology as a spectrum, and no one technology is going to be the silver bullet for our transportation demands."
Lehn's specific interest is in developing e-fuels, which he believes offer an ideal carbon-reducing solution for the millions of ICE vehicles that will remain in operation for decades to come. "I enjoy synthetic fuels because I think they're a fresh perspective on the internal combustion engine, which still has a lot of capability for gains and efficiency, offsetting its carbon footprint, and being a continued option for long-haul trucking and driving and more," he said.
The problem, he said, is that the current focus on EVs discourages the investment needed to make e-fuels viable. "A lot of the advancement and innovation has come from private industry," he explained. "There haven't been any huge, sweeping subsidies from the government. You know, just use this credit card when you go to pay at the gas station, and you'll get $3 back. I mean, it's expensive, but so were electric vehicles when they first came out. But the government subsidized them to make them affordable. E-fuels haven't been able to enjoy that type of favorable treatment, so adoption has been slow."
Ultimately, Lehn believes an electrification-only stance inhibits real progress toward carbon reduction. "If people put blinders on and say we need to just grind ahead on only EVs, and we leave all of these internal-combustion engines to continue to operate at current efficiencies, it's going to be a bigger issue down the road," he asserts.
Equally frustrating, he adds, is that those working to refine ICE vehicles are often painted as anti-EV and anti-environment. But that stereotype doesn't fit many like Lehn, who loves performance and technology across the board. "I think that EVs have a prominent place in our future," he observed. "I also think hybrid vehicles are an incredibly sustainable solution versus plug-ins or pure battery electric vehicles. I think the BEV is going to be an incredibly wonderful solution for urban and metropolitan scenarios for lowering noise pollution, smog and things like that."
Taking the Long View
In fact, many of the aftermarket's biggest players have programs for a variety of propulsion systems.
"From MAHLE's perspective, having the dual strategy that we do allows us to be on the cutting edge of everything that's going on with electric," said Joe Maylish, sales and program manager for the MAHLE Motorsports North American division. "We are a transportation company, and we're on the cutting edge of ICE, and we're right there learning and being on the cutting edge of electric."
Maylish points to the recent GM introduction of a new small-block Chevrolet engine as a sign of ICE viability. "You know, that takes a lot of commitment and a lot of belief. And they have a lot of very smart people working over there that are looking ahead in the future of what's going to be the best mobility out there for the customer."
Moreover, he sees motorsports as the ideal proving ground for engineering innovations that can make ICE vehicles leaner and greener--and there are plenty of ICE components to work on.
"Within motorsports, [MAHLE is] still actively working with OEs to manufacture pistons and rings for their programs," he noted. "It seems that [work] has been maintaining and not decreasing in volume—so we're very happy to see that."
Nor should anyone underestimate the industry's ability to rise to environmental challenges. "Just think about a diesel engine in the 1970s and its efficiency compared to what we have today, with so many more of them in operation, and just how much cleaner they are and how much more efficient they are," he remarked.
According to Jack Roush Jr., ROUSH Performance vice president of marketing, his company has also taken a diversified approach to vehicle propulsion for some time now. While ROUSH is well known for its performance division, its biggest business is the engineering services it provides to major automotive brands, the military and other industries.
"Along with our IC engine development, which we're very well known for, we've been in the EV space for 20 plus years, and alternative fuels as well," he explained.
In the latter category, the ROUSH Cleantech product division produces propane conversion kits to help fleets lower their emissions." Those are primarily for school buses and delivery vehicles," he said, noting that there is a new propane fuel coming out for such ICE applications. "It's cleaner, that is, even when comparing it to EV, it does an even better job."
On the performance side, Roush said the company continues to refine supercharging and other technologies requiring California Air Resources Board (CARB) certification. "Thinking about the future for automotive, things are becoming more difficult because of certification and the complexity of vehicles," he conceded. "We could look at that and think there's not much opportunity. But I think there's tremendous opportunity for bringing performance to vehicles."
"I'm very passionate about the gas engine myself," Roush declared. "There's a certain life that a breathing engine that gets its power from explosions has—it's almost like a living animal… It will be interesting to see how the enthusiast culture changes over time. Will they adapt more? I think it's a little premature to say which way it's going to go."
SEMA Director of Vehicle Technology Luis Morales closely monitors trends across various automotive segments. He said the trucking industry is increasingly exploring hydrogen technologies as more viable alternatives to electrification.
"They understand that you can't run multiple applications in their industry with batteries," he observed. "When you talk about the amount of battery power that they would require, the storage for those batteries, and then the payloads placed on top of that, it just doesn't make sense. And you would need so much infrastructure for their routes to make it happen."
He added that hydrogen technologies can be found in both EV and ICE applications. "In terms of a fuel cell, it's really using hydrogen to power an electric motor. And then you look at other work that's being done on the hydrogen front, like internal-combustion engines run by hydrogen. Your output there is only water with some NOx due to heat. But nonetheless, we could still progress into the future with internal-combustion engines, making them cleaner."
"For shorter routes, EV makes sense for passenger vehicles," Morales predicted, agreeing with the other sources that Driving Force interviewed for this story. "But for other needs you have to look at other options, like hydrogen technology, that can take you across the country and not have to rely so much on infrastructure. I think at the end of the day, it's going to be a really nice balance between all of the different options that are out there."
If you're in a heavily urbanized and regulated region like California, it's easy to get the impression the automotive landscape is rapidly electrifying, mused Nolan Browning, Motul North American marketing manager. "But I think once you branch outside of the big cities, it's pretty apparent that while growing for sure, EVs are a small percentage. Combustion is still being used pretty heavily."
"In motorsports too, which has always been our background and focus, I think there's always going to be a demand for [ICE] racing," he continued. "I think there will be a world, obviously, with electrification and testing that technology in motorsports. But especially in the vintage races which we're all involved with, the hobby is not going to go away. There's still going to be gasoline certainly for the next several decades."
The question, said his colleague, Motul Technical Manager Nicolas Demaria, is how to make existing engines cleaner: "That's the big challenge for fuel suppliers, but also for us as a lubricant manufacturer."
Motul specializes in engineering and blending oils and lubricants, not drilling and refining them, which gives the company a leg up in research and reducing its overall carbon footprint. Like other brands, Motul is diversifying into the EV space but by no means abandoning ICE.
"We're looking into battery coolants and doing our part to develop more renewable materials in our oil because we can source from different partners," explained Browning. "We're also pivoting really hard in general for the distant future. We're looking at dielectric coolants for batteries, working with some racing teams that do hydrogen fuel, and even EVs within rallycross."
Demaria meanwhile emphasized that lubricants will also be a major factor in sustaining ICE powerplants. "The very first tool that the manufacturers have to diminish fuel consumption, to diminish pollutants and emissions, is through the lubricant [and] transitioning over to a low-friction lubricant based on first lower viscosity," he said. "And second, more advanced additive technologies will give them the best percentage of fuel consumption reduction per dollar invested."
The bottom line is that racing and performance brands aren't viewing electrification as a death knell, but rather an opportunity to diversify, placing one foot in the growing EV market, and keeping the other firmly planted in new and emerging ICE technologies for virtually every engine component. With the right shift in mindset, equipment, products and investments, aftermarket shops, builders and retailers can do the same to future-proof their businesses for decades to come.
ICE technologies will certainly evolve, but they won't vanish. And if history teaches us anything, it's that while regulators often have brave new visions for the future, technology and markets seldom march in lock step. Instead, they have a way of charting their own, often unpredictable paths. And that has many of the specialty-equipment industry's biggest players envisioning a future ripe with possibilities.