Big 3 Face Global Warming Goad

by : Anthony Fontanelle

The top executives of the largest automakers around the globe and the head of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union are set to testify before Congress this month during a high-profile hearing on climate change and the clamor for automakers to do more measures to curb global warming.

Rick Wagoner, the chairman and CEO of General Motors Corp., and Jim Press, the president of Toyota Motor Corp.'s North American division, have agreed to testify 14 March before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The said committee is chaired by U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn.

The Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group have also expressed their assent to participate in the hearing. Ford will be sending its executive chairman, Bill Ford Jr., to participate in the happenings. Tom LaSorda, the Chrysler Group CEO, will also represent the automaker in the said hearing. Ron Gettelfinger, the president of UAW, will also appear at a separate session of the same hearing.

Dingell is calling the largest automakers to Washington to make a compromise to President George Bush's proposal to increase fuel economy by four percent every year. This measure is aimed at reducing vehicle emissions that have been connected to global warming. The legislator's aim is to limit greenhouse gas emissions that the automakers could sustain.

This is the very first time in recent years that top executives of the largest automakers have been called to the US Congress as a group regarding the global warming issues. The hearing will also tackle the opposition of the automakers to fuel economy standards. Critics in the industry said that the hearing could be likened to the appearance of tobacco company CEOs in 1994 to declare that nicotine was not addictive.

Automakers expressed their dissent to the idea of comparing them to tobacco executives. They noted that the auto industry has spent billions to improve the fuel efficiency of vehicles and does not oppose achievable increases. They added that the current corporate average fuel economy requirements, more commonly known and referred as CAFE, distort the market by forcing them to heavily discount smaller, more fuel-efficient cars to meet fleet-wide mandates.

"There is change in the air," said Dave McCurdy, the current head of the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers, which represents GM, Ford, DaimlerChrysler and Toyota among other companies. "We are going to be at the table. I often use the Oklahoma saying, 'If you're not at the table, you're on the menu.'"

In a short span, automakers have faced mounting pressure from Congress and Bush administration. The said pressure is anchored on the goal of increasing fuel efficiency of vehicles and limit greenhouse gas emissions. This goal is estimated to cost the industry billions of dollars. Aside from this, the new rules could eventually force them to cease producing heavier vehicles in favor of hybrid models.

Dingell, one of four lawmakers who met with President Bush on energy policy, has told the top automakers about the need to be part of a broad-based reduction in carbon dioxide output from many industries. He added that his committee attempts to meet a July 4 target for a draft bill.

Excerpts of Dingell's statement obtained by The News state: "I am proud of what this committee accomplished thirty years ago, however, we are now confronted with new and pressing questions," pertaining to the original fuel economy law in 1975. "Faced with evidence that the globe is warming, is the current method of regulating the fuel economy of vehicles the most effective way to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, from cars and trucks?" he further shares.

The global warming goad is a serious matter because every one is affected. With the greater burden imposed on the government and other sectors, the solution is not as easy as producing sophisticated auto engines and blending them to effective brakes, and a number of systems. It takes intensive studies and a considerable sum for the goal to be realized.