Jeff Mason, RAW
President Barack Obama, facing Republican criticism over the state of the economy, has done a Detroit victory lap to showcase the car companies his administration helped save.
But the industry has not turned out the way he hoped in 2009.
Obama has held out his bailout of General Motors and Chrysler during the US recession as examples of tough decisions he made that paid off both for the economy and the environment.
‘The auto industry here in the United States has figured out that we can make more fuel-efficient cars that reduce the carbon pollution that is causing climate change, and make a profit – and put more people to work,’ Obama told a crowd at a United Auto Workers Union centre for workers at GM.
But car companies are still churning out gas-guzzling 4WD vehicles to meet consumer demand, going against Obama’s hope that higher fuel-economy models would win the day.
Sales of 4WDs rose 16 per cent in 2015, while car sales fell two per cent. Although new 4WDs are more efficient than prior models, they still burn more petrol than cars.
About 59 per cent of US vehicle sales last year were sport utility vehicles, pick-up trucks or other big vehicles, up from 54 per cent in 2014.
Low petrol prices have boosted the trend. A Ford Motor Co plant in Michigan that Obama visited a year ago is ending production of small cars in 2018 and is expected to switch to 4WDs to help meet soaring demand.
The White House noted the industry was on track to double fuel efficiency and cut emissions by half by 2025.
During a stop at the North American International Auto Show, Obama sought to give a push to electric cars.
Obama joked that he was in town to browse for a new car himself because he had to give up his limo, affectionately known as ‘The Beast’, when he leaves office next year.
He sat in the driver’s seat of a 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, an all-electric car the White House said could travel about 320km on a single charge. The president declared it a nice-looking car.
Electric vehicle sales fell last year by six per cent to 115,000, and the administration has said it would not meet its goal of getting one million plug-in cars on US roads by 2015.