Car maker testimony: lots of dancing, little action for lawmakers

The tone was mostly cordial but the underlying energy was anything but as the top auto manufacturers testified today before a congressional hearing on global warming. The Big Four - Ford, Chrysler, GM and Toyota pretty much all sang the same song: they can not cure their part of the global warming situation and fuel economy situation alone and that anything they do will be expensive and take time. Which led Layer 8 to wonder: Don't they ever get tired of parading that tune out there? United Auto Workers president Ron Gettelfinger, also called to testify, chimed in saying raising fuel economy standards could "could lead to calamitous results. This could include the closing of additional facilities and the loss of tens of thousand of automotive jobs. "The panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee also heard from Ford Chief Executive Alan Mulally; Toyota's North American President Jim Press; and Tom LaSorda, president and CEO of DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group. The current administration has put forth the idea that after 2010 it will mandate carmakers increase fuel economy by 4% annually through 2017. That notion has apparently sent shudders down the backs of these CEOs. A 4% increase in gas mileage standards would be "extraordinarily expensive and technologically challenging to implement," said Rick Wagoner, General Motors' chairman and chief executive. But Wagoner did offer three ideas he said congress could focus on that would help America and its gasoline and pollution concerns today:

* Radically ramp up ethanol production and distribution. Last year GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler said that by 2010 they would double production of "flexible fuel" vehicles, which can run on ethanol blends of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. They have a target of building 2 million of these vehicles a year by then, but note that less than 1% of the nation's 170,000 gas stations now offer E85, and most are found in the Midwest. * Promote advanced battery research in the United States (Most current advanced batteries come from Japan, though GM, for example has a hybrid battery research lab in Michigan. * Create and continue incentives for consumers to buy hybrid or alternative fuel vehicles. "We all need to be very clear on one point - new vehicle efficiency improvements alone will never result in the overall decline in petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas emissions we need," LaSorda said. As we mentioned here last week automakers do have more fuel and or emissions efficient cars either on the books or on the roads. But in some cases just haven't been compelled to bring them to the US.

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