The following Q&A was published on Chrysler's Firehouse media blog. TTAC republishes it here in its entirety, without editing, to provide insight into Chrysler's call on the public purse, and the ailing automaker's plans for the future. Such as they are… "The campaign season is in full swing, with the Democrats holding their convention in Denver this week, and the Republicans meeting in Minneapolis-St. Paul next week. John Bozzella, Vice President of External Affairs and Public Policy, will be at both conventions, hoping to win over Congressional support for funding the auto industry’s technology transformation to build a new fleet of fuel-efficient vehicles. We talked to Bozzella from Democratic Convention in Denver about the effort.
Q – Why are you in Denver this week and what are you hoping to accomplish?
Bozzella – We’re in Denver for a number of reasons, most importantly, to work on funding this important technology partnership between the auto industry and government. This partnership will drive forward advanced and alternative propulsion systems at a time when it’s particularly important to deliver improved fuel economy in our vehicles, while reducing greenhouse gases. We have an opportunity this week with the Democrats in Denver, and we’ll be going to Minneapolis next week to meet with Republicans and make our case. We hope to build some momentum to get this technology partnership funded before next year.
Q – Why would something like that be important to both the country and consumers?
Bozzella – The auto industry is an important contributor to the U.S. economy. Not just regionally, but nationally, through dealerships, parts suppliers, etcetera. Millions of jobs depend on a healthy U.S. auto industry.
At the end of the day, the ability to develop and produce this technology ourselves, and here in the U.S., will produce value across the economy. A home grown solution for batteries and other advanced technologies will impact far more than automotive manufacturers. It could also provide a much needed financial shot in the arm to the millions of others who are involved in the development and marketing of the technologies. That means jobs and a boost to our economy.
Also, let’s go back to last year. Chrysler supported a broad energy bill last year that included significant increases in fuel economy standards over the next 10 years. We were pleased to support that initiative. The bill also included a partnership to transform technology and to support the industry during its retooling to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles. We supported the whole bill which includes both of those provisions. If we go back to last year when that bill was signed, it was recognized by us and by the Administration that that was an important initiative and a critical partnership.
This partnership provides loan support to allow us to continue to make these multi-billion dollar investments, to continue to transform Chrysler and the industry at a time when the capital isn’t available to do so. That’s why it’s important to Chrysler because it gives us the access to capital to drive ENVI, to drive our hybrid strategy and to continue to make progress across the fleet on fuel economy. It’s important to the country because we can’t make progress on energy security and reducing greenhouse gases without a significant contribution from the auto industry.
I would add that there’s also a national security component to this. What would happen if the United States completely gives up its manufacturing sector? What would happen? We have as a nation, especially in the last century, called on the auto manufacturers to be the arsenal of democracy and to really provide huge military support during times of crises. That’s another element to this, to retain this manufacturing capacity, and we’re going to develop an advanced manufacturing capacity at the same time.
Q – Some call this a bailout. Is that right?
Bozzella – What we’re talking about is this is a partnership for technology transformation. By partnership, what the government is doing is providing loan support. This is not a blank check. This is not a Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae exercise. This is a partnership and providing loan support at a critical time to improve the country’s fuel economy. The notion that this would be considered anything other than a partnership seems beside the point to me. Last year, when Congress enacted this bill and the President signed it, nobody called it a bailout then. Back in December of 2007, I never once heard that word. Never once heard it. If it wasn’t bailout then, how is it a bailout now?
We have set a course to dramatically increase fuel economy in this country through increases in CAFE standards. What we have said in response to that is we are all in – we are going to deliver it, we are going to do it, and we are going to move forward. What Congress also said is let’s form a partnership to ensure that we in the United States have the capacity to have this technology leadership here. That’s what we talked about last year, and that is what we’re trying to finish this year. We’re finishing that business, and it is nothing more or nothing less than completing the lap on what was established last year.
Q – It sounds like you’re getting some political support this.
Bozzella – We’re seeing momentum to get this done. The support for this was bipartisan when it was enacted last year and remains bipartisan today. And also, we see support in both Houses. We are hopeful that we can complete the funding of the program this year.
Q – You’re also seeing some support in the press for this. One example is a blog by CNBC reporter Phil LeBeau. You can access LeBeau's blog "The Big 3 DO Need Federal Help" by clicking this link)
Bozzella – I think he framed it in a very appropriate way. What he’s essentially saying is, let’s not call this a bailout, let’s call this what it is, which is a significant and robust partnership to make sure we make progress as a nation. I can’t think of a more appropriate role for government – in contrast to bailing out the industry, provide support for the industry as it transforms itself. That’s the point we’re making. You can make a fairly strong contrast between a blank check-type bailout, which we’ve seen in recent months in some sectors of the economy, and a program that helps the industry transform itself."