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14 Jan 2008 14:52
It’s an exacting task campaigning for president—you have to be an expert on everything, including gas-electric hybrid propulsion systems for a new generation of sedan cars.
Campaigning for Tuesday’s Michigan primary, the leading Republican candidates dropped in on the Detroit motor show to emphasise their dedication to helping the region’s shrinking car industry.
Mitt Romney was in his element—the former Massachusetts governor made a beeline for the Chrysler stand, stopping to admire the firm’s latest range of Town & Country minivans.
“My first job after high school was as a plant guard at Chrysler,” he told Chrysler’s chairperson, Bob Nardelli. “After my first year in high school, I spent a summer in your marketing division.”
Accompanied by his wife and one of his sons, Romney was full of questions as he examined a biodiesel Chrysler Aspen, a Ford Explorer and a Chevrolet Malibu.
“What are you forecasting in terms of miles per gallon?” he asked.
“I don’t suppose you’ve put a price tag on it yet?”
His keenest rival John McCain, already in the doghouse with some auto workers for suggesting that job cuts are not reversible, was unable to claim much immediate automotive affinity.
Greeted by a clutch of senior executives, McCain was invited to see a new hybrid car.
Having had the basics of gas-electric hybrid technology explained to him, McCain fiddled nervously with the plug for a plug-in vehicle, his brow furrowed as he pushed it gingerly into a car.
“It’s a very impressive show,” he repeated when asked for his views.
The candidates’ tour was arranged at the last minute and, according to the Detroit News, was opposed by the local car dealers who were unhappy at any diversion of attention away from newly-minted vehicles for the 7 000 members of the motoring media covering the show.
An unscheduled meeting was briefly a threat as Romney and Mike Huckabee wandered around the display floor at the same time. For a moment, they were just 18m apart, separated only by a Chevrolet Tahoe and by two gaggles of camera crews pointed in opposite directions.
The tour didn’t go down particularly well, either, with technicians at various stands anxiously urging caution as broadcast crews stampeded past delicate powertrain engine technology perched on display pillars.
But in the tightly fought vote on Tuesday, the motoring vote will be vital. At 14%, the state has the highest unemployment rate in America and 400 000 jobs have disappeared since 2000.
Romney has called for the government to raise its support for research and development in the energy and automotive industry from $4-billion to $20-billion.
“I do not believe the transportation sector of our economy has to be ceded to other nations,” he said at the show. “I want to see the federal government act as a partner to the industry—not as someone writing a cheque for a bail-out.”
McCain, meanwhile, has been attacked over his support for tougher environmental emissions standards which, according to the motor industry, will cost even more jobs.
The independent senator Joe Lieberman, who accompanied McCain to the motor show, insisted that raising the bar for environmental technology would create more, rather than fewer, jobs.
“We will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs—including many here in Michigan,” said Lieberman. “Between now and 2030, our plan puts $66-billion into the auto industry to retool it so it can dominate the global economy.”
In spite of all the environmental concern surrounding the industry, Huckabee seemed most interested in a display of pick-up trucks.
The former Arkansas governor owns a 1995 Chevrolet truck with more than 321 800km on the clock.
“Maybe it’s time to get a new truck,” he said, eyeing up a hybrid Tahoe enviously. - Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008
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