A Republican Who Likes Detroit?

California governor backs federal aid for automakers.

by on Apr.20, 2009

The "Governator" declares Detroit "will be back" during appearance at 2009 SAE World Congress, in Detroit.  Photo Credit: Len Katz

The "Governator" declares Detroit "will be back" during an appearance at the 2009 SAE World Congress in Detroit. Photo Credit: Len Katz

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger opened the annual Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress in Detroit on Monday morning with a rousing endorsement of the American car industry.

Schwarzenegger, who has been a frequent critic of Detroit’s carmakers over the years, also stressed the federal government should definitely step in to help the American carmakers. He also offered to do a commercial, for free, touting American carmakers once they are on the road to recovery.

“Detroit is going to be back and Detroit is a leading force in the car industry and worldwide,” Schwarzenegger said as he opened the SAE’s annual convention in Detroit.

“Right now, they are going through some painful times. For anyone who says, ‘Leave them here, don’t help them’ is a huge amount of nonsense talk because of the fact of the matter is we all need to help Detroit,” he said.

“The government should provide money to help the automakers in research and development, but it also can no longer can keep changing their policies,” Schwarzenegger said. “We need a vision for energy, a vision for our cars, a vision for greenhouse gases and a vision for tailpipe emissions. In all this time we have not had those visions.”

“I do want to help the auto industry get back on its feet and I do want to do my share,” said Schwarzenegger, who said he was a fan of Detroit’s carmakers. He believes carmakers can overcome their current difficulties, adding that he most definitely favored the decision to offer Detroit financial assistance.

However, the governor also reserved the right to criticize the carmakers – which he has done repeatedly, including some harsh comments made just last weekend.  Much of his criticism has concerned the need for speeding up the move towards green technology, and during his Detroit appearance, Schwarzenegger said he was delighted to see automakers move toward developing new alternative technologies, including battery-electric vehicles, hydrogen-fueled cars and hybrids. “They’re really not that far behind,” he said.

Subscribe to TheDetroitBureau.comThe market, not the government, should decide which technology is best, according to Schwarzenegger. The governor also said government has the responsibility for setting policies that encourage efficiency and new technology. The lack of a coherent energy policy going all the way to the late 1980s has hurt carmakers. The prevailing policies were basically tied to the price of oil, which stifled innovation. “I think the government created the problem (in Detroit) because we didn’t have an energy policy,” Schwarzenegger said.

“Detroit has been slow to change. But government policy has also hurt. Both share the blame,” he said. “We should not be at the mercy of the Middle East,” he said, criticizing the country for not having an energy policy.

President Barack Obama, who is trying to develop just such an energy policy, is currently seeking a review of the proposed California CO2 rule which, in actual function, would serve as an alternate fuel economy standard.  What most concerns industry leaders is the possibility that other states would be allowed to craft variations of their own, creating a mish-mash of standards across the country. The only reason California developed an independent emissions and fuel economy standard was because the federal government had failed to develop any kind of forward looking policy. “There has been a lack of leadership in Washington,” he said.

California and 13 other states have sought a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency to impose a 30% cut in tailpipe emissions by 2016. The California governor said he now favors a single standard on regulating the emissions of greenhouses gases, which is the position favored by the U.S. automakers. “It would make more sense,” he said. All automakers have complained that development of new vehicles would be impaired if multiple, state level standards prevailed.  However, Schwarzenegger said if there was a single standard in the U.S., it should be tough enough to serve a model for other countries in the developing world such as India, China and Brazil.

Proposed standards in India and China are already much tougher than the 35 mpg standard by 2020 in the U.S. And Europe is working toward a 46 mpg fleet average by 2012.

Schwarzenegger also said he favored a “cash for clunkers” plan similar to the one that has been used successfully in Germany.

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