(Adds comment from automaker group, background)
By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON, May 2 (Reuters) - The White House is planning a meeting next week between President Donald Trump and senior leaders of major U.S. and foreign automakers to discuss planned fuel efficiency rule changes through 2026, automakers and administration officials said on Wednesday.
The meeting, expected on May 11 with chief executives and other senior executives of large automakers, comes as the Trump administration has drafted a proposal that would freeze fuel efficiency requirements at 2020 levels through 2026.
California and 16 other states on Tuesday filed suit to block the Trump administration’s efforts to weaken the requirements.
General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co, and Toyota Motor Corp are among at least a dozen automakers expected to attend the meetings. A White House spokeswoman and the companies declined to comment.
The meeting was sought by the White House, automakers said. Automakers could also use the meeting to also raise proposed controversial changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement, officials said.
Democrats and environmental advocates have vowed to aggressively challenge the Trump administration’s plans to weaken the vehicle rules touted by the Obama administration as one of its biggest climate actions.
In March 2017, Trump suggested he would soften the mandates. “The assault on the American auto industry is over,” he told autoworkers.
Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a group that represents major automakers, said the companies are happy to meet with the White House.
“When the White House wants to meet with us about our sector and policy, we welcome the opportunity,” she said. “Details are still being confirmed and I cannot comment further.”
Automakers want rule changes to address lower gasoline prices and the shift in U.S. consumer preferences to bigger, less fuel-efficient vehicles, but also want the administration and California to reach agreement on national standards.
The Trump administration plans to argue the weaker rules will lead to cheaper vehicles, boost sales and employment and improve safety by prodding faster turnover of older vehicles, Reuters reported on Tuesday.
The Obama rules adopted in 2012 sought to double average fleet-wide vehicle fuel efficiency to about 50 miles (80 km) per gallon by 2025, but included an evaluation due by April 2018 to determine if the rules were appropriate.
Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Marguerita Choy