WASHINGTON – President Bush is getting at look at U.S. automakers' latest advances in alternative fuel vehicles as the companies press the case that ethanol and biodiesel blends can help reduce the nation's reliance on foreign oil.
Bush scheduled a White House meeting Monday with General Motors Corp. chairman and chief executive Rick Wagoner, Ford Motor Co. chief executive Alan Mulally and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group chief executive Tom LaSorda.
The focus is on Bush's support for flexible-fuel vehicles, which are capable of using gasoline and ethanol blends, and his administration's plan to cut gas consumption by 20 percent in 10 years.
The three auto leaders have pledged to double their production of flexible fuel vehicles to about 2 million a year by 2010.
Automakers intended to stress that they could make half of their cars and trucks capable of running on alternative fuels by 2012 if there is enough availability and distribution of E85, an ethanol blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.
"If the production and distribution of ethanol can match the volumes that we've committed to building, there's an opportunity to significantly reduce gasoline consumption within our grasp," GM spokesman Greg Martin said.
Industry officials note that only 1,100 of the nation's 170,000 fueling stations offer E85 and have argued that the distribution system is critical to getting more vehicles running on alternatives.
Bush planned to inspect some flex-fuel vehicles on the South Lawn following the meeting: 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 president toured a GM plant in Kansas City, Kan., and a Ford plant in Claycomo, Mo., last week, promoting the benefits of hybrid vehicles and other alternatives. Bush has sought higher fuel efficiency standards for cars, but auto industry officials said they did not expect to raise their concerns about the proposal.
Wagoner, Mulally and LaSorda told a House committee this month that raising fuel economy standards by 4 percent a year, under a White House plan, would be expensive and challenging.
Automakers have been resistant to swift fuel economy increases imposed by Congress, but have backed higher standards if they are put in place following a review by the Transportation Department.
"The most important thing is to continue to bring on alternative fuels and to continue to make the vehicles more efficient," Mulally told reporters in Washington this month. "But legislating the number on just fuel mileage is not going to get the benefit that we want."