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Bush, auto firms skirt row over US fuel curbs

From autonews| March 28,2007

President Bush and U S auto executives yesterday promoted alternative fuels but did not discuss in any meaningful way their major point of disagreement, government fuel efficiency requirements.

Rick Wagoner, the chief executive of General Motors Corp., and his counterparts from Ford Motor Co., and Chrysler Group appeared to leave with little.

"Fair to say he is not necessarily advocating regulatory approaches but what kind of market-based approaches can we use," Wagoner told reporters after the group's second meeting with Bush in four months.

Bush last year annoyed Detroit's struggling automakers when he told them to make more relevant products if they wanted to reverse their market-share slide to Toyota Motor Corp. and other overseas competitors.

He has reached out to them since and yesterday endorsed their plan to make half of their vehicles capable of running on fuel made from 85 percent ethanol or biodiesel by 2012.

"That's a major technological breakthrough for the country," Bush said after reviewing three alternative fuel vehicles on the White House South Lawn with Wagoner, Alan Mulally of Ford, and Tom LaSorda of Chrysler.

As part of his plan to reduce gas consumption by 20 percent, Bush has proposed a 4 percent annual increase in passenger fleet fuel economy to about 34 miles per gallon by 2017.

Leading Democrats and Republicans in Congress have advanced similar proposals as the quickest and most dramatic way to cut oil consumption and reduce imports.

"We didn't talk about the 4 percent," Wagoner said.

The auto chiefs said they discussed strategies for increasing demand for fuels such as ethanol-gas blends, biodiesel, and other alternatives to gasoline.

Environmental and consumer advocates said the meeting was a missed opportunity for Detroit to align itself with the Bush administration and Congress on an approach for making their vehicles more efficient.

Dan Becker, the Sierra Club's global warming and energy director, said Bush and the automakers are not addressing "real solutions" to reduce oil consumption and tailpipe emissions.

"Unfortunately, today we saw the same tired gimmicks from the auto industry," Becker said.


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