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Remarks on the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government

Remarks on the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles

President Bill Clinton
October 18, 1994


Thank you very much, Steve, and Bill Hogland, Tom Denomme, Alex Trotman. Senator Levin, Senator Riegle, welcome, we're glad to have you here today. I want to thank all those who have worked on this project: Secretary O'Leary, Administrator Browner, Dr. Mary Good, and Jack Gibbons, our science adviser, and the Vice President.

This is a perfect project for the Vice President and me to work on: all of his obsession with the environment and technology and my indiscriminate love of anything that has anything to do with automobiles. [Laughter]

I listened to them talking about regenerative brakes and fuel cells and ultra-capacitators. You know, there wasn't a single one of those things on the three most important cars in my life— [laughter]—my '67 Mustang, my '63 Buick Le Sabre, and my '52 Henry J. I could fix everything on those cars, except when the hydraulic brakes went out on the Henry J. Then I just shifted down into first gear and ran into the curb. [Laughter] But I'm going to have to learn all this all over again.

When I realized what we were asking the auto companies and the UAW to do in developing this vehicle that would triple fuel mileage, it reminded me of this old Chinese proverb about a businessman who goes to an oracle and says he's got a terrible problem. His abacus counters can't keep up with the workload, and he can't afford to hire any more of them. So the oracle says, "Well, it's simple. You should just have each abacus counter grow another finger on each hand." And the businessman said, "That's a wonderful suggestion. How do I get them to do that?" The oracle said, "Don't ask me. I only make policy. It's your job to implement it." That's the way the Government's been talking to the auto industry for years. [Laughter]

But you saw these prototypes over there, cars that weigh 1,400 pounds, 2,000 pounds, cars that can get up to 100 miles a gallon—not commercially viable yet, still a lot of technical problems, but people are working together and doing something remarkable.

I have to tell you, the reason I believed this would work—basically, there were two. One is, as Bill said or maybe it was Tom, one of them said, we have to do this. We simply don't have an option. If you look at what's happening to greenhouse gas emissions, if you look at what's going to happen to automobile growth throughout the world, we have to do it. And normally when free people with a lot of energy and intelligence have to do something, they figure out how to do it.

The second reason I believed it would happen is because of what the automobile industry has already done in the last few years. You know, 1994 marks the first time since 1979 when American auto companies will sell more cars anywhere in the world than Japanese cars. We are literally back to number one in sales for the first time in 15 years. If you look at how it's been done, there has been a remarkable partnership, a partnership which we have tried to support and enhance, and I appreciate the remarks that have been made about that.

If the auto industry can get to the point today, after what people were saying about it 10 years ago—I was in Michigan just a few days ago, and I went out to Dearborn to the Mustang plant there. And don't laugh, I didn't drive one. I was safe. They were safe. [Laughter] But it was amazing to me, the biggest problem that I heard in Michigan is that too many people are working too much overtime. Now, when you consider where the auto industry was 10 years ago, 6 years ago, that is what we call, where I grew up, a high-class problem. [Laughter]

And it is a tribute to the massive investment in technology, to the absolute determination by labor and management to work together and to increase levels of productivity to unprecedented levels, and to visionary leadership. It didn't happen overnight. It required a leap of faith that was dramatic. It required these companies to continue to invest, even in the years when they weren't making money. They did all that, and if they did that, they can do this, especially if we work together in the spirit of partnership.

I was thinking the other day, rebuilding a country is not that much different than rebuilding the auto industry. People have to get together and quit fighting. They have to agree on a common goal. You have to invest in the fundamentals, educate and train people, and have high standards. I feel very good about where the country is going, and I feel very good about where the auto industry is going, and we just have to go there together.

If you look at what's happened in the last 21 months, we have, as has already been said, dramatically expanded trade in America and dramatically increased the efforts that this Government is making to support the American business community as we go into a global economy. We brought the deficit down, reduced the size of the Federal Government, kept inflation low. We have 4.6 million new jobs now. And I'm proud to report that in 1994, more high-wage jobs have been created than in the previous 5 years combined, and well over half the new jobs coming into this economy this year have been at above-average income levels.

So America is coming back. We can do this. But if you think about the long-run economic development of the country, we can only hope to continue to grow and prosper if we find a way to do it that is friendly to the environment, that enhances our natural resources, that permits that elusive goal we call sustainable development. This car can do as much to achieve that goal as anything I can think of. And therefore, it is as major a key to our future economy, our strength and success in the global marketplace in the 21st century, as anything else we can be working on.

I am very, very proud of what these fine people have done on this project after only one year. And we're going to keep going until the job is done.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 11:40 a.m. on the South Lawn at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Steve Yokich, vice president, United Auto Workers; Bill Hogland, vice chairman, General Motors Corp.; Tom Denomme, vice chairman, Chrysler Corp.; and Alex Trotman, chairman and CEO, Ford Motor Co.



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