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Obama Picks Plug-In Hybrids to Cap Press Conference And Inspire Americans

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  • Felix Kramer
    STATEMENT: CalCars.org and the broad coalition that s been promoting plug-in hybrids -- and hoping that the auto industry crisis wouldn t derail their
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 29, 2009
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      STATEMENT: "CalCars.org and the broad coalition that's been promoting
      plug-in hybrids -- and hoping that the auto industry crisis wouldn't
      derail their production -- got a reassuring sign today. It came at
      President Barack Obama's 100th Day Press Conference. In the last
      question, the President was asked how the federal government, as an
      interim part-owner of private companies, might shape their products.
      He picked plug-in hybrids as the model for his hopes and
      expectations. He cited them as his way to demonstrate his confidence
      in American industry -- its resources, capabilities, expertise, and
      future." [Transcript and additional comments below.]

      (Shortly after it goes out on email, this posting will also be
      viewable at http://www.calcars.org/news-archive.html -- there you can
      add CalCars-News to your RSS feed.)

      HERE'S WHAT HE SAID -- the video and transcript show him pausing,
      then choosing PHEVs (full transcript follows):

      ...like any investor, the American taxpayer has the right to
      scrutinize what's being proposed and make sure that their money is
      not just being thrown down the drain. And so we've got to strike a
      balance. I don't want to be -- I'm not an auto engineer. I don't know
      how to create a -- affordable, well-designed, plug-in hybrid, but I
      know that if the Japanese can design a -- affordable, well-designed
      plug-in hybrid then, doggone it, the American people should be able
      to do the same. So my job is to ask the auto industry: Why is it you
      guys can't do this? And in some cases they're starting to do it..."

      BACKGROUND: We've been saying for a long time that the car industry
      could save itself, after a century of fossil fuel dependence, by
      producing vehicles running on cleaner cheaper, domestically-generated
      electricity. We saw the new administration come into office hoping to
      help facilitate that shift.

      OUR WORRIES IN RECENT WEEKS: Since the introduction March 30 of the
      Automotive Task Force, we've expressed concern about the advice the
      President was getting about the intersection between the auto
      industry's crisis and the opportunity for carmakers to begin a rapid
      transition to plug-in vehicles. During the campaign, the transition,
      and the early days of the Administration, we've seen Obama's team
      understanding this moment as similar to the shift after Pearl Harbor,
      when the auto industry in one year switched from building cars and
      trucks to planes and tanks. We hoped that vision would continue as
      the automotive industry crisis continued.

      BOSTON CONSULTING GROUP'S ROLE: We became concerned when the Boston
      Consulting Group was retained to advise the Automotive Task Force. We
      presented a critical analysis of BCG's view of the role of plug-in
      vehicles, saying that the firm was relying on incorrect data and a
      business-as-usual approach. (Our April 24 posting on CalCars-News
      http://www.calcars.org/news-archive.html links to our critique, their
      response, and our reply.) And we saw a Washington Post editorial
      writer use BCG's data to conclude, "The Volt: Not Ready to Roll" --
      see
      http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/28/AR2009042801191.html
      for the story and many comments . We hoped this weak echo, from a
      writer whose alternatie was to stick to gasoline vehicles -- just
      drive less, buy smaller cars and improve engines -- was not going to
      influence decisionmakers.

      OUR HOPES FOR TODAY'S ENDORSEMENT: We are now encouraged to hope that
      whatever happens to GM and Chrysler on financing and corporate
      restructuring, the Task Force will promote rather than hinder
      automakers' recent decisions to shift as rapidly as possible toward
      the electrification of transportation. [And on a personal note, I
      chose to watch the press conference rather than a movie as a fun
      activity on my birthday. After seven years of working to promote
      PHEVs, I feel like I got a great birthday present from the
      Shareholder-In-Chief!]

      COMPLETE TRANSCRIPT OF FINAL QUESTION -- from
      http://edition.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/04/29/obama.transcript/

      STAFF: Last question. MR. OBAMA: Jonathan Weisman, you get -- you get
      the last word. Where are you? There you are. QUESTION: Thank you,
      sir. MR. OBAMA: Yeah.

      QUESTION: You are currently the chief shareholder of a couple of very
      large mortgage giants. You are about to become the chief shareholder
      of a car company, probably two.

      I'm wondering, what kind of shareholder are you going to be? What is
      the government's role, as the keeper of public -- public trusts and
      bonds in -- in soon-to-be public companies again?

      MR. OBAMA: Well, I think our -- our first role should be shareholders
      that are looking to get out. (Laughter.) You know, I don't want to
      run auto companies. I don't want to run banks. I've got two wars I've
      got to run already. I've got more than enough to do. So the sooner we
      can get out of that business, the better off we're going to be.

      We are in unique circumstances. You had the potential collapse of the
      financial system, which would have decimated our economy, and so we
      had to step in. As I've said before, I don't agree with every
      decision that was made by the previous administration when it came to
      TARP, but the need for significant intervention was there, and it was
      appropriate that we moved in.

      With respect to the auto companies, I believe that America should
      have a functioning, competitive auto industry. I don't think that
      taxpayers should simply put an -- attach an umbilical cord between
      the U.S. Treasury and the auto companies, so that they are constantly
      getting subsidies. But I do think that helping them restructure at
      this unique period, when sales -- you know, the market has
      essentially gone from 14 million (sic/thousand) down to 9 million
      (sic/thousand), I don't think that there's anything inappropriate about that.

      My goal on all this is to help these companies make some tough
      decisions based on realistic assumptions about economic growth, about
      their market share, about what that market's going to look like; to
      prevent systemic risk that would affect everybody; and as soon as
      their situations are stabilized and the economy is less fragile, so
      that those systemic risks are diminished, to get out; find some
      private buyers and --

      QUESTION: And could you shape the products and services that are on offer?

      MR. OBAMA: I don't think that we should micro-manage, but I think
      that, like any investor, the American taxpayer has the right to
      scrutinize what's being proposed and make sure that their money is
      not just being thrown down the drain. And so we've got to strike a
      balance. I don't want to be -- I'm not an auto engineer. I don't know
      how to create a -- affordable, well-designed, plug-in hybrid, but I
      know that if the Japanese can design a -- affordable, well-designed
      hybrid then, doggone it, the American people should be able to do the same.

      So my job is to ask the auto industry: Why is it you guys can't do
      this? And in some cases they're starting to do it, but they've got
      these legacy costs. You know, there are some terrific U.S. cars being
      made, both by Chrysler and GM. Question is, you know, give me a plan
      so that you're building off your strengths and you're projecting out
      to where that market's going to be.

      I actually think if -- if you look at the trends, that those auto
      companies that emerge from this crisis, when you start seeing the
      pent-up demand for autos coming back, they're going to be in a
      position to really do well, globally, not just here in the United
      States. So I just want to help them get there.


      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      Felix Kramer fkramer@...
      Founder California Cars Initiative
      http://www.calcars.org
      http://www.calcars.org/news-archive.html
      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
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