What will the price of gasoline be at this time next year?
Considering supply and demand, the hurricane season, conditions in Iraq and a host of other factors, it is unpredictable.
The price of gasoline dramatically affects consumer demand for different vehicles. That presents a dramatic challenge for all automakers.
Members of the UAW are working to help U.S. auto firms adjust to this changing environment. Coupled with technological advancements, changes in production methods and cooperative efforts by the work force, more and more plants can now build different vehicle models on the same assembly line.
And UAW members are relentlessly focused on quality and productivity. But the auto industry must do more to address environmental issues.
We can't ignore the reality of climate change, the national security issues related to America's dependence on foreign oil and the millions of American workers who have jobs in the auto industry and related businesses.
Consumers need affordable transportation; workers need secure, good-paying jobs; and America needs greener vehicles and more secure energy supplies.
Boldly plan for future
Can we have all four? Yes, if we plan boldly for the future with a multibillion-dollar commitment of public investment that is equal to the seriousness of the challenge.
Our union's agenda for good jobs and clean energy includes:
- Support flex fuels. Vehicles are available now that can run on 85 percent ethanol or other biomass fuels - but it's hard for consumers to find the fuel. Public incentives can boost refining and distribution of this homegrown, renewable resource.
Flex fuels are good for America's farmers, who gain new markets; for workers in refining industries, who will benefit from new industrial capacity; and for America as we decrease the use of imported fossil fuels.
- Promote the manufacture of gasoline-electric hybrids, clean diesel, hydrogen fuel cells and other advanced-technology vehicles. Current policy gives a tax credit to consumers who purchase advanced-technology vehicles. That helps build a market for those products. But it doesn't help American workers because key parts for those products are built abroad.
We need incentives for manufacturers to convert or expand facilities in this country to produce the next generation of powertrain technology. Incentives should apply to any company, foreign or domestic, that builds cleaner, greener vehicles - and key components - here in the United States.
- Fuel economy standards should protect jobs and the environment. In 1975, the UAW supported creating corporate average fuel economy standards because it is good public policy to promote fuel efficiency.
We still think so, but any revision of CAFE standards should boost fuel economy without discriminating against full-line producers of vehicles. The Big 3 make more kinds of cars for more different customers than Asian or European carmakers, and they shouldn't be penalized for doing so.
CAFE rules, by requiring separate accounting for the mileage of imported and domestic fleets, create an incentive for keeping small-car production in America. Those rules should stay. It makes no sense to surrender America's capacity to make small, high-mileage vehicles when environmental and consumer priorities make them more relevant than ever.
- Invest in mass transit. The United States is behind other industrialized nations when it comes to affordable, convenient mass transportation. It's time to catch up because mass transit is a key part of the equation needed to move people and goods while reducing emission of greenhouse gases.
New markets, new jobs
Our members make buses, locomotives and the engines that power all forms of transportation. When we look at mass transit, we don't see competition with private vehicles; we see new markets and new jobs.
Unless we act, America's industrial base will continue to decline as the engines of tomorrow are built in Sao Paulo, Shanghai and Shimoyama. We can avoid that grim future if we make smart choices now and back them up with a substantial commitment of public resources. Together, we can ensure that tomorrow's vehicles and the engines that drive them are built here in the United States.
This is reprinted with the permission of The Detroit News.