Top Auto Execs to Meet Again With Bush

by : Jenny Mclane

The Detroit's Big Three will meet again with President George W. Bush in Washington later this month to discuss the increased use of flexible and alternative fuels. No date has been announced but the White House spokesperson said that the administration stays in contact with the automakers.

The talk will cover the increase of use of flexible and alternative fuels as well as other issues related to the industry. "We look forward to working with them [automakers] to reduce gasoline usage," said White House spokesman Alex Conant.

Colin McBean, the manager of Washington communications for DaimlerChrysler AG, said the talks likely will center on alternatives to gasoline and diesel fuel such as ethanol and biodiesel-powered vehicles. He added, "There's interest among the respective parties to discuss flexible fuel as well as alternative fuels."

Last November, Bush met with General Motors Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Rick Wagoner, Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group CEO Tom LaSorda. The President promised a continued dialogue on trade, health care and other issues as well.

Bush, in his State of the Union address, proposed reducing gasoline use by 20 percent over the next ten years. Bush called for ramping up the production of alternative fuels such as ethanol made from new, non-corn feedstocks. The President also called on Congress to require the yearly use of 35 billion gallons of ethanol and other alternative fuels like biodiesel by 2017. The intent is to increase the current requirements five times.

Spokesmen for Ford and GM decline to comment whether a meeting between the president and the auto executives had been arranged. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, on the other hand, said another meeting is a good step, but she said Bush needs to allocate more money to alternative fuel and battery technology development. "We need to see a boldness coming from the president's budget on alternative fuels," she said.

Stabenow expects the executives and Bush to discuss increasing the number of filling stations that have ethanol and biofuels. While incentives have been successful in developing alternative fuels, the infrastructure is not in place yet to get them to consumers, she said.

In 2006, top executives of GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler said that by 2010 they would double their production of flexible fuel vehicles, which can run on blends of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. They intend to build two million of these vehicles a year by 2010.

However, the goal could be derailed due to lack of fueling stations that carry the ethanol blends. Fewer than one percent of the nation's 170,000 gas stations offer E85, and most are found in the Midwest. Another dilatory situation is requirement of meticulous study about alternative and flexible fuels. It needs further study about engines, , radiators, brakes, and other crucial auto parts.