Bush meets with Big Three, has open ear but no commitments
We've just finished watching the coverage of a press conference held outside the White House following the president's meeting with General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner, Ford CEO Alan Mulally and Chrysler Group CEO Tom LaSorda. We attempted to watch the press conference live on Fox News, CNN and CNN Headline News, but each channel only allowed Rick Wagoner, the first of the three CEOs who grabbed the mic, about 30 seconds of uninterrupted air time. After that we got an earful of pointless and shallow commentary from no-name TV face jockeys who merely ran down the meetings itinerary rather than letting the men talk. Ugh. News channels suck.
Anyway, the gist of the meeting was that the president listened to the Big Three's concerns with an open ear, but offered no commitments that the government would jump to action on any of their points. The meeting's main talking points included energy security, the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing, health care costs, the weak value of the yen and the rising cost of raw materials like steel. For all of the hoopla over this meeting finally taking place after two postponements, we're surprised that more didn't come of it. Although, considering how big this president is on the free market economy, the three gentlemen from Detroit should have known right from the start that our Commander in Chief would just order them to build better cars that people want to buy. If only it were that simple.
Click on through for a joint statement by General Motors, Ford and The Chrysler Group that was released immediately following the press conference. Feel free to discuss the finer points of government and civic duty in the comments, but keep it civil yourselves.
Joint Statement Regarding The Meeting Between President George W. Bush And The CEOs of America's Domestic Auto Industry
Joint statement attributable to Chrysler Group president and CEO Tom LaSorda, Ford Motor Company president and CEO Alan Mulally, and General Motors chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner regarding the meeting between President George W. Bush and the CEOs of America's domestic auto industry
WASHINGTON, DC - We appreciate the President meeting with us today on issues that we believe are not only critical to the domestic auto industry, but also affect overall American manufacturing competitiveness.
We had a candid and productive discussion on such specific issues as energy security, the affordability and quality of health care, the trade imbalance caused by an artificially weak yen, and the rising costs of vehicle production materials.
We told the President we support his and Congress' call for the continued development and use of renewable fuels as part of lessening America's dependence on imported oil. We said that we are willing to do our part to increase the use of renewable fuels and that we stand ready to make half of our annual vehicle production E85 flexible fuel vehicles or capable of running on bio-diesel by 2012. We discussed with the President that as part of an overall national strategy to fully tap the potential of renewable fuels to displace petroleum, any vehicle production increase must be accompanied by continuing incentives that encourage the manufacture, distribution, and availability of renewable fuels and the production of flexible fuel vehicles.
Working together to increase the production of flexible fuel vehicles and the availability of renewable fuels affirms our continued support of the "25 by '25" initiative--an effort led by the Energy Future Coalition and supported by agriculture and forestry groups to get 25 percent of the nation's energy from renewable fuels by 2025. In June, we also agreed collectively to double annual production of vehicles capable of running on renewable fuels to two million cars and trucks by 2010.
During our meeting we briefed the President on the tough decisions we are taking to make our businesses more competitive. We also discussed specific issues related to U.S. manufacturing competitiveness that cut across nearly all manufacturing sectors, not just autos. We explained why a healthy domestic auto industry is vital to our nation's economy. Our three companies are the source, directly or indirectly, of over seven million U.S. jobs and we have invested over $38 billion in the U.S. over the last four years. Additionally, the more than $21 billion we spend each year on research and development exceeds any other sector and we purchase 80 percent of all U.S.-produced auto parts and components, equaling $171 billion. However, the economic benefits and the well-paying jobs our industry and nearly all manufacturing provide are declining in part because the competitive playing field is not level. Some of our principal foreign competitors benefit immensely from national control and subsidization of health care costs in their home countries, and from fiscal and trade policies which keep local currencies weak and make import of U.S. products difficult.
We outlined the serious competitive disadvantage that upwardly spiraling health care costs are placing on our industry and America's manufacturing base. We told the President we believe that government can play a leading role to improve health care and make it affordable and available for all. We expressed support for, and an interest in greater involvement in, several Administration proposals such as advancing information technology usage and the recent initiative to increase price and outcome transparency. With support from the private sector, our government can exercise its power both as the largest purchaser of health care and as a policy maker to stabilize costs, reduce errors, and provide consumers the cost and performance information they need to make informed health care decisions. Also, we asked specifically for a greater focus on improving the quality of care for those with serious illnesses or chronic diseases--the one percent of the population that makes up 30 percent of the nation's overall health care bill.
Another area of competitive concern we discussed with the President is the massive automotive trade imbalance with Japan and the artificially weak value of the yen. The nation's widening trade imbalance with Japan is costing the U.S. thousands of manufacturing jobs and intensifying downward pressure on wages and benefits of America's working families. This year Japanese vehicle imports into the U.S. will reach 2.3 million, which is further exploited by the artificial weakness of the yen--trading at the lowest level in 20 years. The artificially weak yen provides Japanese automakers a $3,000 to $9,000 per vehicle cost subsidy for Japanese auto exports and the numerous Japanese-made parts that go into vehicles made by Japanese companies in the U.S. We told the President that we are very willing to make difficult decisions to transform our businesses to compete successfully, but we are not in a position to counter the effects of an excessively weak yen. We asked the President to take action to address the weak yen.
Finally, we discussed the rising cost of production materials such as domestic steel. We told the President that as a result of massive consolidation, robust global demand, sharply lower costs, and import protection, the domestic steel industry has completely restructured, recovered and is very profitable. Unfortunately, the continued protection of domestic steelmakers from competition is placing a heavy cost burden on U.S. manufacturing. As a result, our companies face higher costs for steel and supply disruptions. We are asking the Administration to recognize that the continued protection of steel from competition is severely harming U.S. manufacturing and is no longer needed.
Overall, we were pleased with the exchange we had with the President and came away with a clear impression that he understands how vital these issues are to the American economy and our ability to compete successfully in the global marketplace. We welcome the opportunity to work with him, his Administration, and the Congress in a bipartisan manner and to move forward on solutions to these issues while continuing to do our part to ensure America's long-standing leadership in manufacturing and innovation.