California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger helped kick off the 2009 SAE World Congress Monday by calling for a stable federal energy policy and greater use of renewable energy sources for transportation, while assuring the packed AVL Theater audience that “Detroit is going to be back—they are a leading force in the car industry.”
The former movie action hero and owner of multiple Hummers was a controversial choice as featured speaker at opening ceremonies for the April 20-23 event in Detroit. Roughly one year ago, Schwarzenegger made public statements that were considered anti domestic auto industry, challenging “Dee-troit” to “get off its butt and make vehicles that people want to buy.”
At the SAE Congress, however, Schwarzenegger sounded sympathetic to the auto industry crisis in general and to the financial plight of the former U.S. Big Three specifically. “The economic crisis brings great opportunities, and I’m proud of the changes Detroit is making. The car companies need help, and Washington should be a partner.”
Schwarzenegger was the last of many distinguished dignitaries in the opening session. Honda Senior Managing Director Masaaki Kato, who is serving as 2009 SAE Congress General Chairman, gave the day’s first remarks. He said he hopes the event’s Racing to Green Mobility theme “becomes a new spirit” in the industry. Honda is the event’s host company.
Following Kato was Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who gave an impressive, off-the-cuff, impassioned talk about growing her state’s engineering and technology R&D base, which is already larger than that of the other U.S. states and Canada combined. Granholm also took questions from the audience.
Granholm was followed by SAE Automotive Vice President and Dana Corp. executive Jacqueline Dedo, SAE Executive Vice President David Schutt, 2009 SAE President Jim Smith, and AVL Chairman Helmut List.
But the standing-room-only crowd was there to see “the Governator,” who wore custom-tooled cowboy boots with the map of California stitched on the front. He answered questions from CNBC-TV auto reporter Phil LeBeau. Schwarzenegger wasted no time in repainting his remarks about the U.S. industry in a positive color this time, while placing blame on Washington.
“The government created this mess because we have no energy policy,” he said, adding that the U.S. “should not be at the mercy of Middle East oil. We cannot make policy according to oil prices.” He criticized the federal government for changing its policies at every new administration and not having a clear, consistent vision regardless of who is in the White House.
“We need to put policy in place that will not change, so the manufacturers can know the future direction,” said the governor. Policy is also important in that it promotes the commercialization of new vehicle technologies.
LeBeau asked Schwarzenegger if his state will accept a compromise on the so-called California waiver, which aims to set separate vehicle emissions standards for California and 12 other states, versus the 37 states following “federal” emissions rules. Without answering specifically, Schwarzenegger said California “is willing to work with Washington, D.C.” He said he believes there should be one standard in the U.S. for vehicle emissions.
Echoing Granholm, Schwarzenegger advocated a serious push behind renewable energy and clean biofuels. “It’s embarrassing that the U.S. gets only 2.8% of its energy from renewables,” he said. The governor noted that he has “great hope” that the Obama administration will work to raise that percentage.
The only real controversial point Schwarzenegger made was in regard to EVs and PHEVs. When asked about the state’s role in developing the charging infrastructure, he commented positively about the battery-swap scheme advocated mostly by Shai Agassi, founder and CEO of Better Place. The scheme has been panned by most OEMs and EV development engineers as inferior to fast-charging stations using high-voltage/high-current systems.
After the opening ceremony, Schwarzenegger toured some displays on the exhibition floor. He stopped to see General Motors' broad mix of green production technologies and closely examined Raser Technology’s extended-range hybrid Hummer H3, co-developed by FEV.