California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michigan
Governor Jennifer Granholm kicked off the 2009 Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE)
Congress this morning by driving home the need for alternative fuel vehicle
technologies and promising that government would work harder to support their
repeatedly told the overflow crowd at Detroit's
Cobo Hall that the move toward alternative fuels has lagged, largely because
industry engineers and lawmakers haven't been committed enough to transitioning
away from gasoline.
thing is going way too slow," Schwarzenegger told the audience, which was
composed mostly of auto industry engineers. "It's largely due to the (government)
policies ... but I think the car manufacturers themselves have been very
stubborn in not moving fast enough because it's easy to stay with the status
Schwarzenegger added that the
industry needs to work on "zero-emission vehicles" (pure electric cars), in
addition to hybrids and so-called plug-in hybrids, such as the proposed Chevy
Volt. "It will be good for the environment, good for the economy," he said.
Asked a question about the cost of
such technologies, Schwarzenegger compared battery and hydrogen technology cars
to cell phones, which have dramatically dropped in price over the past two
decades because of customer demand. "Now, in Third World
countries, there are people running around with cell phones," he said. The
California governor also told the audience that in 1920, 28 percent of U.S.
vehicles were electric, and he said that industry took the wrong fork in the
road back then by going to gasoline "largely because the policy wasn't there"
to push it in the right direction.
Schwarzenegger's comments were
echoed by Granholm. "We are not going to be Luddites," Granhold declared. "We
are not going to be resistant to change." Granholm added that the state of Michigan is investing in
six "centers of excellence" dedicated to developing alternative fuel
technologies. Four of the centers are working on biofuels, including cellulosic
ethanol, and two are creating battery solutions for electric cars. Michigan, she said, is also helping foster partnerships
automakers and battery manufacturers, including LG
Chem, A123 Systems and Dow Chemical, among others.
Granholm acknowledged that the
research and development required to make such technological jumps would be financially
difficult, especially in today's economic climate. She said; however, that
government's push toward a renewable energy economy is necessary and she referred
to the Obama administration's handling of Detroit
automakers as "tough love."
Schwarzenegger's appearance at the
SAE World Congress was seemingly welcomed by the crowd, despite his well-publicized
previous comments that Detroit
"needs to get off its butt." Show attendees arrived early for Schwarzenegger's
speech, filling the Cobo Hall Theater and standing in the aisles of the trade
show, where many snapped pictures with their camera phones while the California governor
answered questions. The Schwarzenegger was invited by SAE to support the
conference theme, "Racing to Green Mobility."
Schwarzenegger told the engineering
audience he is a big fan of Detroit,
explaining that he owns 12 cars, including a hydrogen-powered Hummer. He added
that he hopes Detroit
automakers will work more closely with government as a means of fostering
innovation and putting the industry back on its feet. "Yes, they are down," he
said of domestic automakers. "But there is one thing that is certain: They're going to be back. The car industry is
saying, âI'll be back.'"