Bush reaching Out to Detroit Automakers

By: Anthony Fontanelle

US President George W. Bush has visited two factories in Kansas City where Detroit automakers manufacture gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles. The tour is in accordance with the president's objective to encourage the use of alternative fuels.

After the tour, Bush will again urge the Congress to speedily adopt new pricey fuel economy standards to eventually cut foreign oil dependence. The president's call happened after some House Democrats said that a climate change bill that raises fuel economy standards is not likely until 2008 at the earliest. The president's visit is also deemed an effort to improve relations with the automakers in Detroit after the latter have experienced rocky if not bumpy ride in the previous year.

"The president looks forward to visiting the Ford and GM plants and seeing the innovative hybrids being built there," White House spokesman Alex Conant said last Monday. "Hybrids are saving millions of gallons of gasoline, helping reduce our dependence on oil." The fuel-efficiency is further emphasized when the auto parts used like complement the purpose of the vehicle.

On Monday, the president is will meet again with the top executives of General Motors Corp., the Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group at the White House. The meeting will include a demonstration of flex-fuel vehicles on the lawn of the White House.

"I wouldn't say it's an epiphany, but he's reaching out," said Gerald Meyers, a University of Michigan business professor and a former chairman of AMC Motors. "President Bush has had an essentially Darwinian view: If the Japanese put out the best product, they deserve to get the market."

Bush visited the Fairfax plant of GM, where the new Saturn Aura hybrid and the Chevrolet Malibu are manufactured. GM's manufacturing executive, Gary Cowger, accompanied the 40-minute tour of the president. "We're proud to host the President at Fairfax," GM spokesman Greg Martin said. "He'll see up close a car that is really changing perceptions. The Aura shows that a hybrid can come in a good looking and affordable package. "

From Fairfax, Bush will cross the Missouri River to visit a Ford factory in Claycomo, Mo. The plant manufactured Ford Escape hybrids and F-150 pickups. Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally have toured the plant with the president.

"(Detroit automakers) would like to see a full-court press on alternative fuels," said David Cole, the chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor. "This is an area of common ground."

GM, Ford and Chrysler have manufactured six million vehicles that run on E85 which is a fuel that is made of 85 percent ethanol and 10 percent gasoline. However, there are just 1,100 gas pumps that sell the fuel out of the total 170,000 nationwide. Moreover, the automakers want the government to do more to improve infrastructure and access to ethanol. They see this as the most viable and affordable solution than mandating vehicle fuel economy increases.

Workers' views of the president "are frankly not positive, but we're going to give him a respectful Kansas City welcome," Stoufer said. "This is not a president that has been a friend to the auto industry or to organized labor."

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