WASHINGTON – President Bush is pushing to reduce gasoline consumption by 20 percent over the next 10 years, and is trying to cajole the CEOs of the "big three" U.S. auto companies to help the country get there.
The three chiefs — Tom Lasorda from DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group, Alan Mulally from Ford Motor Co. and Rick Wagoner from General Motors Corp. — met with the president again on Monday, their second meeting in six months, where they promoted their hybrid and flex fuel vehicles, those that can use ethanol, which is made from corn and other renewable sources.
"I found it very interesting that by 2012, 50 percent of the automobiles in America will be flex-fuel vehicles. That means that the American consumer will be able to either use gasoline or ethanol, depending upon, obviously, price and convenience. That's a major technological breakthrough for the country," Bush said.
"If you want to reduce gasoline usage, like I believe we need to do so for national security reasons, as well as for environmental concerns, the consumer has got to be in a position to make a rational choice. And so I appreciate very much the fact that American automobile manufacturers recognize the reality of the world in which we live and are using new technologies to give the consumers different options," he continued.
Bush traveled to Kansas City, Kan., and Claycomo, Mo. last week to tour the General Motors and Ford plants that are developing hybrid vehicles. Some business leaders have suggested that the auto industry should receive substantial incentives to retool factories to make more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Others suggest that in addition to working to make cars more fuel efficient, incentives need to be offered to consumers to get them to buy the vehicles. Bush said some tax dollars are going to promote new technologies being developed by the companies, and it's also "in our interest to help promote these new technologies that are coming to the market."
Automakers have shown some resistance to increasing the fuel economy of vehicles they make, fearing the changes would cost them billions of dollars. However, they have backed higher fuel standards if the Transportation Department approves them. Last month, a House committee this month held a hearing on raising fuel economy standards by 4 percent a year, a White House proposal.
But with American automakers losing billions of dollars to more competitive foreign-owned car companies, the three leaders acknowledge that they need to come up with innovations.
"The fact that we have ethanol solutions today, hybrids coming along, and plus hydrogen and fuel cells and new battery technology, gives some great options to satisfy our need for flexibility, as well as being good stewards of the environment," Mulally said.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino said the meeting with auto executives stressed the president's goal, first stated in the State of the Union address in January, and all were enthusiastic about helping the United States reach the president's objective.
"Cellulosic ethanol and the technology push is the lynchpin to reaching the 20 in 10 goal," she said.
Last month, Bush met with transportation fuel experts. On Monday, he and researchers checked out some of the vehicles on display at the White House — GM's flex-fuel Chevrolet Impala running on E85; Ford's Edge HySeries, a concept plug-in hydrogen fuel cell; and DaimlerChrysler's Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel filled with B5, a biodiesel blend.
The automakers have noted that demand will determine whether they meet their goal of 2 million flexible fuel vehicles produced per year by 2010. Company representatives add that more ethanol, or E85 blend, fueling stations are needed. Currently, 1,200 of the nation's 170,000 fueling stations offer E85.
FOX News' Mike Emanuel and The Associated Press contributed to this press.