U.S. automakers and a top union official told Congress on Wednesday that the industry cannot deal alone with global warming, and they warned that proposed fuel efficiency increases could cost jobs.
The leaders of General Motors, Ford, Toyota and Chrysler, along with the head of the United Auto Workers union, made a rare joint appearance before a House subcommittee. They noted that proposed increases in gas mileage standards for new vehicles would be extremely expensive and challenging.
UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said raising fuel economy standards could "could lead to calamitous results. This could include the closing of additional facilities and the loss of tens of thousand of automotive jobs."
Congress was hearing from the automakers at a time when many lawmakers are concerned about global warming and seeking ways to require more fuel efficiency in vehicles. The White House is aiming for a 4 percent increase in fuel economy requirements and wants to change how the rules are applied.
Rick Wagoner, General Motors Corp.'s chairman and chief executive, said the Corporate Average Fuel Economy program, or CAFE, had "failed dramatically" based on its original intentions. He said a 4 percent increase in gas mileage standards would be "extraordinarily expensive and technologically challenging to implement."
"Even with this proposed CAFE increase .... America will still be using more -- and more likely importing more -- oil than ever as well as producing more (carbon dioxide) emissions," Wagoner said.
A panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee was also hearing from Ford Motor Co. Chief Executive Alan Mulally; Toyota Motor Corp.'s North American President Jim Press; and Tom LaSorda, president and CEO of DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group.
Press noted that Toyota "has long been mindful of and accepts the broad scientific consensus that climate change is occurring and will continue unless there are significant and coordinated global efforts to slow the growth of man-made greenhouse gas emissions."
The Toyota executive said the auto industry "has a responsibility to be part of the solution, but these issues cannot be addressed by the industry alone."
LaSorda said climate change must be addressed through more efficient vehicles, the expanded use of alternative fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel and the "harnessing of market forces to help drive consumer demand."
"We all need to be very clear on one point -- new vehicle efficiency improvements alone will never result in the overall decline in petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas emissions we need," LaSorda said in remarks prepared for delivery.
Some members of Congress view the auto industry as a logical place to begin tackling global warming and are wary of giving the government and industry too much flexibility in meeting higher standards.
Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., whose district includes Toyota's North American headquarters, said the auto industry could "either take the opportunity to shape change or they can resist ... because change surely will come."
In the Senate, meanwhile, Democrat Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Republican Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho introduced legislation that would raise the fuel economy requirements by 4 percent for all new vehicles from 2012 to 2030. Their bill, designed to be part of a larger energy package, would offer also tax incentives to manufacturers.
"We don't have a choice but to make the auto fleet more efficient," Dorgan said.
GM, Ford and Chrysler have all announced layoffs and plant closings, and the industry is nervously eyeing an early, $100 billion-plus projected cost for raising the fuel economy standards under President Bush's plan.
The committee was considering alternatives to the fuel economy program, possibly through the regulation of a vehicle's carbon dioxide emissions. Gettelfinger, for example, said the UAW wanted Congress to look into the possibility of a carbon control policy that would require reductions in carbon emissions of vehicles.
The executives also stressed their work to diversify the fleet through hybrid and electric cars, vehicles running on diesel and ethanol and the development of hydrogen fuel cells.
Last year the leaders of GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler said that by 2010 they would double production of "flexible fuel" vehicles, which can run on ethanol blends of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. They have a target of building 2 million of these vehicles a year by then, but note that less than 1 percent of the nation's 170,000 gas stations now offer E85, and most are found in the Midwest.