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House Speaker Pelosi Gets EV'd


By Martha Hindes
The Auto Channel
Detroit Bureau

SEE ALSO: Post Drive Press Conference Transcript

House Speaker Pelosi takes test rides in advanced green cars

Detroit January 12, 2010; If seeing is believing, American car makers at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit finally got a chance to try to put that belief to a test. During the first day of the show's press preview Monday, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, accepted the invitation of Representative John Dingell (D-Michigan, 15th District) to visit the Motor City and find out first hand about the transformation in the U.S. auto industry that Congress helped to bring about last year through bridge loans.

Among the auto company showcases were those for General Motors Co., the "new" GM that emerged after accelerated bankruptcy proceedings late last Spring, and Chrysler Group LLC, the surviving auto entity following its earlier bankruptcy and acquisition by Fiat.

If Peloisi's reaction was any indication, it was an eye-opening experience at a time some critics still feel the move to provide financial support to the two struggling auto makers was merely putting good money after bad. Armed with the support of a bipartisan delegation, Pelosi side-stepped a formal press conference for the moment to get a hands-on preview of some of the upcoming technology that promises to reshape the auto industry worldwide. Those include developments from GM that have been in the works for decades, such as hybrids, fuel cell vehicles and the upcoming, highly touted Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric sedan.

Flanked by officials and staff, the speaker avoided the main auto show floor long enough to visit a short ride-and-drive road course set up at the lower level of Cobo Center, the show's downtown Detroit venue. Her first choice was as passenger in the Chevrolet Fuel Cell Equinox crossover, a costly advanced technology in its testing phase that isn't expected to be available for volume vehicle production for several years. Her second ride was in the Mercury Mariner gas-electric hybrid crossover from Ford Motor Co. already on the market.

She called the hands-on experience "exciting, very exciting," and said it made her more optimistic the auto companies would be able to repay all the loan money. She said the loans hadn't been an investment in an auto company but in an industry. It was about creating jobs and stopping the erosion of the industrial and manufacturing base that's essential to national security.

Asked by The Auto Channel at one point what she thought of the American cars, she responded: "They're great. And I can't wait to come back next year and see more."

Staffers explained the speaker had ridden rather than driving so she could get an explanation of the technology while traveling around the course. Afterwards, she made repeated remarks about her impressions of the vehicles she had traveled from Washington to see. She cited the high cost of materials used in advanced technology vehicles, such as platinum. "The Fusion is much more affordable," she said, referring to Ford's compact hybrid auto that went on sale during the past year.

With billions of dollars spent on development that can't be passed along to consumers and the need to reduce the prohibitive cost of advanced fuel cell vehicles, getting them quickly to a mass market will take time.

Congressman Sander Levin (D-Michigan, 12th District) was back in his home territory as part of the delegation. We asked him about the importance of the Speaker Pelosi's visit to learn first hand what domestic auto makers are doing.

"I think it's a manifestation of the importance of the auto industry," said Levin, indicating he thought it could make a difference in how the industry is treated.

"We were over at TARDEC, the research part of the (U.S. Army) military, and they emphasized the importance of the domestic auto industry for our military and our vehicles in the military," he said. "That relationship is vital. So the survival and the thriving of the domestic auto industry is important for us as consumers and important for us as citizens in terms of our military strength."