- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2006


Lawmakers who met behind closed doors with the leaders of the Big Three U.S. automakers yesterday pledged to work with them to help the industry compete against foreign competition.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said the Congress members and executives were confident they could work together to “bring back the American automobile industry where we think it should be and they think it should be.”

“We recognize that there are problems and we are going to work as partners with them,” Mr. Reid said. “Perhaps in the [past] we have not worked together as well as we should have.”

Mr. Reid said it was the first of many meetings to develop a better partnership between government and industry.

Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said the nation needs to be aggressive “in giving them support to level the playing field.”

Ron Bonjean, a spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, described his meeting with the automakers as a “positive and constructive dialogue” on ways to encourage alternative-fuel vehicles and more availability of pumps serving ethanol blends. The automakers also expressed support for pension reform.

Auto industry officials had said the meetings would center on energy issues such as making ethanol fuels more widely available, the industry’s challenges in meeting rising health care costs, trade issues and the need for more alternative-fuel vehicles.

The executives arrived in ethanol-powered vehicles decorated with images of corn stalks, to underscore their commitment to alternative fuels.

Ford Motor Co. Chairman and CEO Bill Ford, after a meeting with Senate Democrats, said it was a “great opportunity for the three of us to get together with the leadership and talk about the opportunities we have as a country and as an industry, particularly on fuels, and how we start to wean ourselves from dependence on foreign oil.”

Domestic automakers have ramped up production of flexible-fuel vehicles, capable of running on gasoline and fuel blends of up to 85 percent ethanol. But one of the obstacles is finding pumps that offer ethanol — industry officials estimate that about 685 of the 165,000 fueling stations across the country offer ethanol blends, less than 1 percent of the stations.

General Motors Corp. Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner, Ford Motor Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bill Ford, and Tom LaSorda, president and CEO of DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group, crisscrossed the corridors of Capitol Hill for a series of closed-door meetings with congressional leaders.

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