Top Three Automakers Show Alt-Fuel Cars at the White House

WASHINGTON, DC, March 26, 2007 (ENS) - The nation's top executive, President George W. Bush, met at the White House today with the executives of the three largest American automobile companies - General Motors, Ford and DaimlerChrysler. The automakers showcased the next generation of alternative fuel cars for the president and asked for financial help.

On display were a Chysler Jeep Grand Cherokee now in production that runs on five percent biodiesel, and a Ford Edge with HySeries Drive, the world's first drivable fuel cell hybrid vehicle with plug-in capability.

Without mentioning specific figures, the automakers asked the president for more in the way of incentives and infrastructure assistance.

In a joint statement, they said, "We discussed with the president that as part of an overall national strategy to fully tap the potential of biofuels to displace petroleum, vehicle production increases must be accompanied by continuing the incentives that encourage the manufacture, distribution, and availability of biofuels and the production of flexible fuel vehicles."

"I found it very interesting that by 2012, 50 percent of the automobiles in America will be flex-fuel vehicles," said President Bush. "The American consumer will be able to either use gasoline or ethanol, depending upon, obviously, price and convenience. That's a major technological breakthrough for the country."

All of these developments depend on taxpayer dollars. President Bush said today, "One of the things that I think it's important for American taxpayers to understand is that we're using some of their dollars to promote new technologies, and we're working with these CEOs and their respective companies to advance new technologies."

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President George W. Bush with auto executives and alternative fuel vehicles on the South Lawn drive of the White House. Standing with him from left, are: Rick Wagoner, GM chairman and CEO; Alan Mulally, Ford President and CEO: Tom LaSorda, DaimlerChrysler president and CEO; and Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters. (Photo by Joyce Boghosian courtesy the White House)
"They're on the leading edge of technological change, and it's in our interest to help promote these new technologies that are coming to the market," the president said.

In his State of the Union address in January, President Bush expressed the goal of reducing gasoline consumption by 20 percent over the next 10 years, and he empasized that goal with the auto executives today.

The president repeated today that America must reduce gasoline usage "for national security reasons, as well as for environmental concerns," and that reductions depend on consumer choice.

"I appreciate very much the fact that American automobile manufacturers recognize the reality of the world in which we live and are using new technologies to give the consumers different options," said Bush.

Today, most of American ethanol is made from corn, but the federal government is funding projects to develop new technologies to make cellulosic ethanol from wood chips or switch grass. The president reminded Congress that his budget proposal includes funding for this research and urged that Congress quickly approve this part of his budget.

"It's in our national security interest that we do this, it's in economic security interest we do it, and all at the same time, it will help us be better stewards of the environment," Bush said.

In a joint statement, General Motors chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner, Ford Motor Company president and CEO Alan Mulally, and Chrysler Group president and CEO Tom LaSorda said, "We updated the president that we are working on a wide range of advanced vehicle technologies that run on alternative fuels such as E85, biodiesel, electricity and hydrogen."

"Plug-in hybrid vehicles can play a significant role in our transportation future. Increased funding for domestic battery research and development can help accelerate bringing these vehicles to market," the CEOs said.

"Overall, we were pleased with the exchange that we had with the president and all parties came away with an understanding of the significant, positive impact that biofuels can make on the environment and in reducing our nation’s reliance on oil," they said.

General Motors chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner said, "We very much share the President's vision, and we definitely see a path through to both lower oil consumption, lower amounts of imported oil, and fewer carbon emissions.

General Motors makes Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, GM Daewoo, Holden, Hummer, Opel, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn and Vauxhall vehicles.

Wagoner said, "A near-term opportunity that we are moving on right now, as the president cited, is flex-fuel vehicles that are powered by E85 ethanol. There are millions on the road today."

Referring to the three CEOs, Wagoner said, "As a group, we've agreed to double our production by the year 2010, and then have 50 percent of our production E85-capable by the year 2012. This makes a big difference, and there's nothing that can be done which can reduce the curve of growth in imported oil and actually turn it down like using E85."

Mulally said, "We at Ford absolutely are supportive of the president's goal, both for energy efficiency and independence, and to be good stewards of our environment."

Ford Motor Company makes Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Volvo, Land Rover, Jaguar, and Mazda vehicles.

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President Bush, gets a look at the Ford Edge with HySeries Drive, the first fuel cell hybrid vehicle with plug-in capability. With the president, from left: Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally; Energy Secretary Samual Bodman; and Vice President Dick Cheney. (Photo courtesy Ford)
"One of the neat things about the conversation, again, today, on the continuing dialogue that we've had, is for the United States system to have options and have flexibility," said Mulally. "And the fact that we have ethanol solutions today, hybrids coming along, and plus hydrogen and fuel cells and new battery technology, gives some great options to satisfy our need for flexibility, as well as being good stewards of the environment."

LaSorda said, "DaimlerChrysler, which includes the Mercedes car group, the Freightliner and other truck divisions in the Chrysler group, we've committed, as well, by 2012, to have 50 percent of our production not only in E85, but biodiesel. This Jeep Grand Cherokee here today is going into production as we speak, being shipped from the factory with B5."

B5 biodiesel is a blend of five percent biodiesel and 95 percent petroleum diesel.

"So we've very committed to this," said LaSorda, "and we think this is the answer for America to lower our dependence on foreign oil."

On March 20, in the first visit the president made in his seven years in office to a U.S. automaker, Bush viewed flex-fuel vehicles in Kansas City. He visited Ford's Kansas City Assembly Plant and the General Motors Fairfax Assembly Plant.

At the Ford plant the president viewed two Ford Escape hybrid SUVs, two flex-fuel Ford F-150s, and a Mercury Mariner. He also saw the car displayed at the White House today - the Ford Edge with HySeries Drive, the world's first drivable fuel cell hybrid vehicle with plug-in capability.

The vehicle combines an onboard hydrogen fuel cell generator with lithium-ion batteries to deliver more than 41 mpg with zero emissions. It is built on a flexible powertrain architecture that will enable Ford to use new fuel and propulsion technologies as they develop without redesigning the vehicle.

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The assembly line at General Motors' Fairfax plant in Kansas City. (Photo courtesy GM)
The GM plant manufactures the 2007 Saturn Aura Green Line hybrid, which currently are beginning to arrive at Saturn retail facilities.

The Aura Green Line is one of four hybrids that Saturn has announced. The 2007 Vue Green Line, which debuted last summer using the same hybrid technology as the Aura Green Line, provides the highest EPA estimated highway fuel economy of any SUV at 32 miles per gallon.

A plug-in hybrid that has the potential to achieve double the fuel efficiency of any current SUV, is also in development for the Saturn Vue.

Today at the White House, the automakers briefed the president about the more than six million flex-fuel vehicles, FFVs, on the road today and said that collectively they will add over a million FFV cars and trucks in 2007.

"We explained to the president that if all these vehicles were running on E85, they would displace more than 3.6 billion gallons of gasoline a year," they said.

"Right now, there are approximately 1,100 E85 pumps in the U.S. and 1,000 biodiesel pumps, out of 170,000 gas stations," the automakers said. "We expressed to the president that we are willing to lead the way, but we need government and fuel providers to increase infrastructure before we can make a meaningful impact."

In their joint statement, the auto executives said, "If all the E85 capable vehicles on the road today – along with those that GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler have already committed to produce over the next 10 years were to run on E85 – we could displace 22 billion gallons of gasoline annually."

"If all manufacturers made a comparable commitment to make half their annual production capable of running on biofuels, we could increase the savings to 37 billion gallons of gasoline annually in 2017," they said.

In his State of the Union address, the president called for "a mandatory fuels standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017..."

The CEOs said today, "If all diesel vehicles today were fueled with B5 (five percent biodiesel) we could displace 1.85 billion gallons of petroleum per year; and 7.4 billion gallons per year if B20 (20 percent biodiesel) were utilized."

To achieve these levels of petroleum savings, the automakers asked the president to help provide Americans with "reasonable access to these fuels at a price that is competitive with gasoline."