Detroit balks at new fuel targets

From the Associated Press

U.S. automakers and a top union official pledged Wednesday to work with Congress to find new ways of dealing with global warming but declared that their industry could not bear the burden alone.

The leaders of General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Chrysler Group, along with the head of the United Auto Workers union, made a rare joint appearance before a House subcommittee. They emphasized that proposed increases in gas mileage standards for new vehicles would be extremely expensive and could have calamitous results.

“This could include the closing of additional facilities and the loss of tens of thousands of automotive jobs,” UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said.

But all of the industry leaders, under questioning from House Energy and Commerce Chairman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), vowed to work with the committee to produce regulations to address climate change.


“Inaction will not work, and telling us what doesn’t work is useful but no longer sufficient,” Dingell said.

Congress heard from the automakers at a time when many lawmakers were concerned about global warming and seeking ways to require higher vehicle fuel efficiency. The White House is aiming for a 4% increase in fuel economy requirements and wants to change how the rules are applied.

Rick Wagoner, General Motors Corp.'s chairman and chief executive, said the corporate average fuel economy program, or CAFE, had “failed dramatically,” based on its original intentions of reducing gasoline consumption and reliance on imported oil.

Wagoner said a 4% increase in gas mileage standards would be “extraordinarily expensive and technologically challenging to implement.”

He added, “Even with this proposed CAFE increase ... America will still be using more -- and more likely importing more -- oil than ever as well as producing more [carbon dioxide] emissions.”

Ford Chief Executive Alan Mulally told the panel that the industry needed “government to be our partners, not our adversaries.”

Toyota North American President Jim Press, whose company has pushed fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles, noted that Toyota “has long been mindful of and accepts the broad scientific consensus that climate change is occurring and will continue unless there are significant and coordinated global efforts to slow the growth of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.”

The Toyota executive said the auto industry “has a responsibility to be part of the solution, but these issues cannot be addressed by the industry alone.”


Tom LaSorda, CEO of DaimlerChrysler’s Chrysler Group, said climate change must be addressed through more efficient vehicles, the expanded use of alternative fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel, and the “harnessing of market forces to help drive consumer demand.”

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) sharply disagreed with the auto industry’s assessment of the fuel economy program, contending that it originally reduced dependence on foreign oil but has stagnated in recent years because Congress hasn’t pushed higher standards.

“The testimony that you’re giving is completely wrong,” Markey told the auto executives.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), whose district includes Toyota’s North American headquarters in Torrance, also warned of raised standards, saying the industry could “either take the opportunity to shape change or they can resist ... because change surely will come.”