The 2009 SAE World Congress kicked off this morning with a free-form, Michigan-first presentation by Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and then an interview-style talk by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who arrived over an hour late. Still, Arnold managed to work in some famous lines by first claiming that the car industry is currently saying, "I'll be back" (cue the crowd's knowing laugh) then segueing into a short list of classic one-liners. This seemed to get everyone back on his side.
Most of the presentation was fairly serious, though, with Governor Schwarzenegger saying it is "embarrassing" that the U.S. only generates 2.8 percent of its energy from renewables. On the California waiver issue, Schwarzenegger said that the entire country should have the same regulations (something that CARB's Mary Nichols has also hinted at). He said he believes very strongly that there should be one fuel standard, and California only took the lead because Washington was not stepping up to the plate. Detroit has been slow in advancing alternative power vehicles, he said, but the blame needs to be shared by both the auto industry here and the lack of leadership in Washington. "We cannot make policy based on the oil price," he said.
You can listen to both talks and read much more after the jump.
Someone asked about whether the government should step in and help people get rid of their large vehicles (and you can guess which one came up, right?) and move towards smaller vehicles. Gov. Schwarzenegger said that, "There is nothing wrong with the HUMMER. The HUMMER is a great vehicle." A vehicle's size doesn't matter, he said, what matters are the emissions, the technology. Working with the automakers, Schwarzenegger has put hydrogen fuel cells and biodiesel powertrains into his HUMMERs. This hints at the potential of what could be coming down the line, he said. If Detroit partners with California, there is a ton of potential to advance clean technologies. "There is no reason to deal with the same technology that we've been dealing with for the last 100 years," he said.
"We in California have started building the Hydrogen Highway," he said, adding that partnering with the oil companies is important to getting the HH off the ground. EV charging stations (and battery swap stations) are also important. Like Granholm, Schwarzenegger said that he didn't want to pick a winner for green car technologies.
He said that the automaker strategy of making small fleets of 200 or 500 advanced technology vehicles available is the right way to introduce the different powertrain types to consumers. Getting them in the hands of early adopters and celebrities is a good way to help the market sort out which way to go.
Schwarzenegger said he was willing to do commercials – for free – to promote Michigan cars around. If there's a better way to leave the stage in the Motor City, I have yet to see it.
Granholm talked for about 35 minutes about the new Michigan-based battery plants that were recently announced, the bailout, the Presidential auto task force and more. While she certainly knew her stuff and gladly answered questions from the audience, I couldn't shake the feeling that she was seriously stalling for time since Arnold was running quite late.
On the topic of plug-in vehicles, Granholm said that we need to think about how the electricity is generated, and the ability to generate renewable energy will require help from the federal government. The feds can also help on the health care legacy cost issue. Shared health care costs – between companies and the government – is a key component to leveling the playing field for domestic automakers, she said.
With all of the government influence on the auto industry right now, someone asked if Obama was playing too hard a hand right now. Granholm answered that Obama is practicing "tough love" with the auto industry. There is going to be a "very, very, very, very big push" towards energy independence and the auto industry needs to play a big role in getting us there. If it all works, she said, Michigan can be the poster child that shows others how to go from rust to green.
Listen to Gov. Granholm (33 min):
Listen to Gov. Schwarzenegger (30 min):
(Sorry for the cell phone interference. It's impossible to avoid in a tech-heavy environment like the SAE conference).