By on December 5, 2007

22222.jpgWith the US presidential caucuses and primaries scheduled to begin within a month, pistonheads may be wondering what the contenders have to say on the subject of cars. To gain some insight into their positions on issues automotive, I visited the candidate’s websites to see what, if anything, they have to offer those of us who love cars. Of course, the candidates public posturing should be taken with a large dose of skepticism; getting nominated and elected is most certainly Job One. In addition, future Congresses (and highly-paid lobbyists) will continue to hold sway over US policy. Still, to quote Thomas Jefferson: "Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government…” 

To begin this series, we’ll start with four candidates– two from each of the major political parties– Senator Hillary Clinton, Senator Barack Obama, Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Governor Mitt Romney. Here then, as best can be discerned from their respective websites, are the automotive-related public policy positions of our first four subjects.

Hillary Clinton’s website presents an “Energy Independence and Global Warming” position paper. In this highly readable document, Hillary promises that she’d create a $50b “Strategic Energy Fund” to pay for alternative energy “investments.” At least in part, oil companies would fund the fund. And guess who else? Senator Clinton also proposes increasing auto fuel efficiency standards to “55 miles per gallon by 2030.”

Finally, Senator Clinton would issue $20b worth of “Green Vehicle Bonds” to help US automakers “retool their plants” to meet the 55 mpg Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards she currently proposes.

Barack Obama offers a lengthy tome entitled “Meeting Energy Needs.” A few car-related highlights: Senator Obama claims he has “concrete plans” plans to double fuel economy standards within 18 years [but offers few specifics]. He would “protect the financial future of domestic automakers” by providing them with some “flexibility” to meet those doubled targets.

Like Senator Clinton, Senator Obama would also help domestic auto plants and parts manufacturers “retool” to meet the standards by offering tax credits and loan guarantees. Senator Obama would also expand the consumer tax credits on hybrid purchases and he’d “mandate” that all new cars sold in the US be flexible-fuel vehicles.

Rudy Giuliani offers an “Issues” page, which covers subjects ranging from fiscal discipline to the second amendment (the right to bear arms). Rudy’s position on the auto industry, CAFE, emissions, the Big 2.8, etc.? Not a word.

However, the former New York City Mayor’s blog page offers an entry chronicling a speech given during a visit to Sioux City, IA in July. “Mayor Rudy Giuliani promised that, as President, he would expand nuclear power and renewable fuels like ethanol and call for more clean coal technologies, more clean-burning natural gas, environmentally safe drilling for oil and natural gas in North America and new technologies like hybrid cars and hydrogen fuel cells.

Rudy also promises to lead America to “energy independence.” No specifics offered. Oh, and Mayor Giuliani was the Grand Marshal at the NASCAR Pepsi 400 at the Daytona Raceway back in July. How great is that?

Mitt Romney has an Issues page with a section titled: “Ending Energy Dependence.” Former Massachusetts Governor Romney also says the US must become energy independent. In a section of his site titled “The Romney Plan,” we find this quote: "I want to initiate a bold, far-reaching research initiative – an Energy Revolution, if you will. It will be our generation’s equivalent of the Manhattan Project or the mission to the Moon.” What about auto fuel efficiency, or the auto industry? Not a word.

While Governor Romney does not specifically call out the Asian auto industry when talking about economic competitors of the US, he offers this tidbit. "[W]e face a much tougher competitor or group of competitors coming from Asia than we've ever faced before. Asia is tough. There are a lot of Asians. They are hard working people. And they’re going to give us a run for our money in terms of our economic vitality."

On the subject of building and repairing transportation systems in the US, Romney would like to “invest in infrastructure projects critical to the national economy and its flow of goods and people, instead of funding home-district pork.” Good luck with that, Gov!

Again and as expected, the candidates are not about to get bogged down in specifics when it comes to, well, anything– especially when you’re looking at a subject with conflicting political implications: save our planet, free us from “oil addiction,” build mass transit systems (preferably for someone else), subsidize my damn corn field and keep the price of cars and gas low thank you very much. Still, when it comes to voting for president, “don’t ask don’t tell” is the worst of all possible policies. 

Click here to go to Part Two

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32 Comments on “Pistonheads’ Presidential Primer Part One...”


  • avatar
    mgrabo

    I reckon we all agree that what one drives says a lot about us. Car & Driver had this article back in May that summarized what vehicles the presidential hopefuls own.
    http://www.caranddriver.com/features/13045/what-would-barack-obama-drive.html

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Since politicians have to be the self-anointed experts on everything from hemorrhoids to hurricanes, I’ll take the information they give in their position/lobbyist papers with a very light grain of salt.

    I can see energy ‘research’ increased with Hillary as president since she would probably give Al Gore the beauracratic ball that is the Department of Energy. Good luck with that.

    Romney, Giuliani and Obama are obviously ignorant on cars…. as is Clinton. However, the one distinction of today’s political world is that you more or less elect ‘teams’ (with very strong lobbyist roots) instead of individuals. Either that or you end up as dead of a duck as Jimmy Carter circa 1980.

    Count me as one who sees the big 2.8 go down the proverbial shoot of Chapter 11 regardless of who’s in office. Also, I seriously doubt that we’ll get a president who focuses on what’s good for this country instead of the lobbying interests.

    As far as all politicians go, I believe that the less you think about these types of people the better off you are. At least that’s what a wise Russian told me a few years back.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Perhaps Mitt Romney can take us “back to the future” and propose an appropriation to Chrysler (if it’s still around) to reintroduce the 1960 Rambler American (given that Chrysler bought what was left of American Motors in the 1980s). It would also pay homage to dear old dad…and J Mays could update the style in the name of “retrofuturism.”

    With it’s flathead six and three-on-the-tree, a Rambler American could squeeze a gallon of gasoline. And it would never encourage spirited driving. Heck, it probably wouldn’t encourage driving, period.

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    ‘“don’t ask don’t tell” is the worst of all possible policies’

    In this case, I have to disagree. Hillary’s plan is worse than no plan.

  • avatar
    NICKNICK

    “Asia is tough. There are a lot of Asians. They are hard working people.”

    This is from a prospective *president*?!

    Not exactly prose in the league of “Four score and seven” or “We hold these truths…”

    Cripes, my fave car websites have more literate authors.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    Based on what is in this article, Hillary Clinton’s Plan seems to be to tax and regulate us back to the stone age, and Giuliani’s Plan seems to be the most realistic in that it doesn’t seem to expect something from nothing. For instance, mandating a CAFE of 55 mpg won’t make it happen or even possible.

    As far as my own political leanings, I have no idea who I am going to vote for at this point. Though the Democrats could nominate a presidential candidate I would vote for, from the snippets of speeches that I have heard it ain’t Clinton or Obama. At least in this editorial, Obama seems to have a slightly better grasp on reality or maybe he’s just a slicker politician. Personally, I hope that I’m not called to choose between any of these four front runners based on what I’ve heard them say in short blurbs on the news and in the newspapers.

  • avatar
    Virtual Insanity

    Which one drives the loudest, fastest, meanest, most bad ass car of the group? Thats the one I’ll vote for.

  • avatar
    mgrabo

    @ Virtual Insanity
    According to that Car & Driver article, Obama’s 300C is the only respectable presidential candidate ride.

  • avatar
    Mud

    aaand here we go …

  • avatar
    AKM

    Thanks for the article!

    In other words: “blah blah blah” as usual.

    CAFE? 50b funds? research initiatives?
    just tax the godamn fuel and the rest will take care of itself. But unfortunately, the average Joe would much rather have oil companies, car companies, and just everybody else pointed out rather than accept some responsibility in their choices. And thus any talk of increasing fuel taxes amounts to political suicide. -sigh-

  • avatar
    50merc

    Why stop with a puny 55 mpg standard? Candidates talk about energy independence but none has discussed the real answer. I know for a fact that somebody claimed they heard some guy had invented a carburetor that delivers 200 miles per gallon. And this was back before radial tires, so now 250 mpg should be a snap. Of course, the oil companies bought the invention and are keeping it off the market. Congress should stop worrying about those phony-baloney laws of physics, and mandate 200 mpg (at least) carburetors.

    Lumbergh21, I’m with you. It all goes to show we need ballots that offer “None of the above” as a choice.

  • avatar
    raz

    As Far as i know Romney is against higher CAFE.

    To AKM, dude we all know that increasing gas tax is a political suicide.

    All those who say that CAFE is bad….did you forget that sedans in pre CAFE days got only 8-9 mpg. Now sedans are getting 25-30 mpg………that shows what everyone knows CAFE works.

    Those who want open market i say this, open market makes us dependant on saudies. Speaking of open markets, having a large army in saudi arabia to defend it if something happens to oil…is that open market as well.

    I was on tengears today and they said that now diesel is 40 cents above gasoline. http://www.tengears.com/home/2007/12/5/baaaaaad-news-for-diesel.html So Diesel is not a solution, the solution is higher MPG for gasoline, diesel and that POS ethanol.

    Also does open market say anything about asthma rates in heavily populated areas that also have major highways?

    BTW, I heard Edwards wants to outlaw Trop Tops….because they have ruined so many hairdoos…especialy $400 ones.

  • avatar

    mgrabo : @ Virtual Insanity According to that Car & Driver article, Obama’s 300C is the only respectable presidential candidate ride. Obama got rid of the 300C in favor of an Escape hybrid after he caught flack for lambasting Detroit for building large cars. We covered that as well as what some of the other candidates drive in this editorial.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    .Why stop with a puny 55 mpg standard? Candidates talk about energy independence but none has discussed the real answer. I know for a fact that somebody claimed they heard some guy had invented a carburetor that delivers 200 miles per gallon. And this was back before radial tires, so now 250 mpg should be a snap. Of course, the oil companies bought the invention and are keeping it off the market. Congress should stop worrying about those phony-baloney laws of physics, and mandate 200 mpg (at least) carburetors.

    I hope the guy who made that 200 mpg carburetor isn’t responsible for creating direct exhaust injection as well

  • avatar
    geeber

    raz: All those who say that CAFE is bad….did you forget that sedans in pre CAFE days got only 8-9 mpg. Now sedans are getting 25-30 mpg………that shows what everyone knows CAFE works.

    No, CAFE “works” because those who wanted large sedans could buy SUVs and pickups instead. Passenger cars have declined as a percentage of total vehicles sold since CAFE was instituted.

    And before anyone shouts, “Close the loophole!”, please note that the loophole (i.e., separate classification of light trucks versus passenger cars) is the only reason CAFE still exists. If this loophole had been closed and strictly enforced, CAFE would have been thrown out long ago.

    Studies have shown that when gasoline prices increased, the average mileage of all vehicles sold increased FASTER than the increased required by CAFE.

    And before anyone says that the recent runup in fuel prices has had no effect on drivers’ habits, please note that, adjusted for people’s buying power, a gallon of gasoline is still cheaper than it was in 1962.

    raz: Those who want open market i say this, open market makes us dependant on saudies. Speaking of open markets, having a large army in saudi arabia to defend it if something happens to oil…is that open market as well.

    We get about 13 percent of our oil from the Middle East, not the majority of it.

    raz: Also does open market say anything about asthma rates in heavily populated areas that also have major highways?

    CAFE will do nothing to limit the vehicular emissions that supposedly cause asthma (these emissions are regulated by the Clean Air Act), so increasing CAFE will do nothing to reduce the incidence of asthma.

    Also note that pollutant levels have been declining for decades – including those areas near highways – so if the incidence of asthma is increasing while pollution is decreasing, one would logically look at another cause.

  • avatar
    Virtual Insanity

    quasimondo: I have the tee shirt.

    I wonder if that guy even realizes he basically invented a perpetual motion device. I mean, in theory, with enough nitrous, the set up could run, albeit for about a tenth of a second.

  • avatar

    almost as important as the question of what the candidates might or might not do about gas taxes, energy efficiency, CAFE etc is: which candidates are likely to use taxpayer dollars to bail out any of the big 2.8 that go bankrupt?

    it’s not at all obvious to me — democrats are more likely (especially the more left, union-endorsed democrats) to feel beholden to the employees and their unions. on the other hand, republicans are more likely to see large cash payouts to corporations as a good idea, though generally republicans pay at least lip service to the workings of the free market. maybe a detroit bailout would be the sort of pork both parties could get behind, but I have the vague feeling that the public and media are less likely to be supportive of a bailout than in years past.

    I know, personally, that I would vote with every fiber of my being against anyone who views bailouts as good policy. we have a market — let it do its work.

  • avatar
    50merc

    Optic, a bailout is equally likely no matter who gets elected. Hands-off, laissez-faire capitalism is politically impossible in an age when government is expected to remedy every discomfort. Unions, Main Street businesses in hard-hit communities, suppliers to the 2.8, small investors and Wall Street will find politicians on both sides of aisle to be receptive when the engine sludge hits the fan. The mechanics of the bailout is the variable.

  • avatar
    Virtual Insanity

    Could I bail out happen? Yeah, I think so. I feel Republicans would actually have a harder time eating it, I think I read somewhere that when Chrysler went to GWB during his first Presidency, he flat out turned them away for help.

  • avatar
    kps

    “… an Energy Revolution, if you will. It will be our generation’s equivalent of the Manhattan Project”

    So, they’ll find a source of energy, and then avoid using it for political reasons?

  • avatar
    stuki

    Let’s see.

    One of the candidates will bring the military home from the Middle East (and anywhere else), reducing military oil usage and oil risk premiums, hence gas prices.

    One of them wants to get rid of the income tax, so pistoheads’ incomes can go to buying themselves more better cars, not lobbyists and bureaucrats more better limos.

    One of them wants to replace the federal education bureaucracy with individual tax credits for education, including non restricted home schooling, so that piston heads can get tax credit for sending their kids to drivers ed at Skip Barber, and teach them geography by going to Monte Carlo for the Grand Prix.

    One of them wants to get America out of all entangling alliances and supranational organizations that, either now or in the future, my attempt to impose unconstitutional, Kyoto like restrictions on things that us piston heads holds dear.

    One of them can’t find mention of CAFE, or any other auto related regulation, in the constitution, hence reckons our constitutionally limited government of enumerated powers ought not to dabble in such things.

    Any of those guys sound like a great candidate to me. Looks like they’re basically falling over themselves trying to please us piston heads. What a great election to cast a vote in.

  • avatar
    jurisb

    The next president should pay attention to coal burning powerplants, and replace them gradually with nuclear fusion powerplants, that now are under construction in europe.
    The president should give a tax discount to american car companies that reach certain mileage demands, but only in case those american car companies reach the goal with in-house engineering, not outsourcing daewoo or opel.
    tax reductions to those companies that return factories within continental states.
    a car company reaching 4 million production units does not pay any taxes for every next car, by a condition that all 4 million are in-house engineered.
    the president should start unprecedented research in american manufacturing quality and diversity and obsoletness problems.reform school system, and sustain interests in engineering field.
    commence a total war for industrial manufacturing rebirth,
    diversifying taxes according to complexity of the industry. free all newcomer manufacturing companies from all of taxes for the first 5 years.
    stop borrowing money from asia, free all the export goods from any taxes.
    have strong governmental control of all unsibstitutable services and products.
    improve birthrate buy making medicine-lodging- education affordable for middle class.
    increase percentage of manufacturing within gdp.
    withdraw troops from iraq, spending more money within military manufacturing , creating new programs for tanks, cargo helicopters, interceptors etc.
    importing oil only compatible to excess electricity exports.
    reduce outstanding national debt by starting to pay it back.
    fight against negative trade balance, by enhancing exports, reward companies that diversify their product range and update products.
    make exempt of all taxes those hardware manufacturing companies that can double or completely overhaul all product range within 3 or 5 year program. reduce taxes for biggest r&d investors. increase tax burden for service companies. remove all software companies to service segment. penalize companies that do outsourcing or rebadging and manufacture generic goods.
    renovate u.s. presence in household electronics field. start governmental companies , that later can be privatized. manufacturing comlexity should have calculations dealing with comlexity counting also amount of precision movements and parts within one cubic square unit.
    and finally, listen more to me, and my pal Ron Paul!

  • avatar
    Geotpf

    A higher gas tax is the most effective way to reduce gasoline usage. But it’s a political third rail, so it’s not going to happen.

    A higher CAFE doesn’t work as well as a higher gas tax, but it’s not as politically risky, so it’s more likely (especially if, as is likely, the regulations have so many loopholes (like bonus points for E85-compatible vehicles) that they are nearly meaningless).

    Now, another option is to do nothing. If the world really is running out of oil in the short to medium term, or there is a big war in the middle east, the price of gas will rise because the price of oil will rise, acting like a gas tax would.

    Personally, while I’m in favor of regulating vehicles for safety and pollution control purposes, I see little need for the government to regulate thier fuel economy. Let the market decide that.

  • avatar
    taxman100

    Did you ever notice that the vehicles candidates mention that they own, especially those that are of a more liberal persuasion, are completely unbelievable? I’m sure they were all dying to drive the exact same vehicle.

    They may OWN one of them, but they ride in either an SUV or a limo 99 percent of the time.

    It seems in every election the choices are worse than the one before.

  • avatar

    It seems in every election the choices are worse than the one before.

    The choices are worse because they ride in SUV’s?

    Other than pure curiosity, I couldn’t care less what they actually ride in. That’s exactly the kind of distracting minutia people should be ignoring. If I were running for office I’d probably want a level of protection beyond what the standard Prius would offer.

  • avatar

    “… an Energy Revolution, if you will. It will be our generation’s equivalent of the Manhattan Project”

    Even though he’s a staunch conservative, for many years now, Rep Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) has been making speeches before Congress urging government, businesses and citizens to address Peak Oil with a Manhattan Project or Apollo 13-like urgency. Maybe one of Romney’s aides actually listened to him.

    http://bartlett.house.gov/News/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=67739

  • avatar

    Rule #1 of Society: You get the politicians you deserve.

    They engage in this cultivation of images and perceptions because it works.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    kps :
    December 5th, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    “… an Energy Revolution, if you will. It will be our generation’s equivalent of the Manhattan Project”

    So, they’ll find a source of energy, and then avoid using it for political reasons?

    Good one! :-)

  • avatar
    50merc

    Gee, Jurisb, that’s a pretty modest agenda for a roll-up-the-sleeves-and-get-to-work President. Maybe it’s just for the first 100 days? Sure seems like there ought to be an additional item … like getting Congress to enact the legislation that would be necessary to authorize the President to attempt any of the things you list.

  • avatar
    shaker

    The new CAFE standard is the absolute perfect political tool; lip service, delay tactic, whatever. It’s not going to solve a damn thing, and when the time comes, there WILL be exemptions (especially for the domestics). A real energy policy will have tangible, acheivable results quickly… we need to reduce our dependance on imported oil quickly, or the lines at gas stations will return.

  • avatar
    Virtual Insanity

    50merc…

    Its Ron Paul. In his first 100 days, he’ll outlaw congress, and hand open/respond to every single piece of mail he ever receives. Gotta lover libertarians. Like anarchists without motivation.

  • avatar

    I don’t believe that a bailout is equally likely whoever gets elected. The different parties certainly have different pressures on them, though I can see either giving in. I was very pleasantly surprised when Bush basically told Detroit to go screw itself when they hinted around about bailouts.. but that may have been just rhetoric. unfortunately, no one’s asking the question in debates or whatever; maybe I should have made a youtube video!

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