The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: Phone: (202) 588-1000

Congress Must Force Big Three Automakers to Deliver Safer, More Fuel-Efficient Vehicles to a Demanding Public

In Exchange for Loans, Public Interest Should Be Detroit’s Top Priority


Before American taxpayers once again come to the rescue
of the U.S. auto industry, Congress must require the industry to make
vehicles that are more fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly and
safer - products the public both wants and needs, Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook told a House committee today.

Americans expect a return on their investment, which
can be achieved only by fundamentally changing the way the Big Three
automakers do business, Claybrook told the House Select Committee on
Energy Independence and Global Warming.

"It makes no sense to simply pump cash into a failed
business model," said Claybrook, who served as administrator of the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from 1977 to
1981. "The financial problems facing domestic manufacturers are largely
a result of their failure to adapt to a changing market, risky reliance
on gas-guzzling vehicles and lack of investment in innovative safety,
fuel economy and emissions technologies until literally forced to do so
by regulation or lack of sales."

Claybrook urged lawmakers to adopt consumer safeguards
as part of any bailout package, including strict accountability through
an appointed oversight board led by a "car czar," equity stakes for the
federal government, government membership on the company boards, limits
on executive pay and bonuses, and a ban on using taxpayer money for
lobbying or campaign contributions.

While it is clear that the U.S. auto industry is in
distress - and its failure would send tremors through the economy - the
crisis provides Congress an opportunity to exert pressure on automakers
to achieve greater fuel economy than currently required under federal
law, Claybrook said. They also should not use the crisis as an excuse
to roll back safety improvements. Automakers should support new safety
standards including strong rollover roof crush and ejection standards
to address the thousands of deaths each year in rollover crashes.

As part of the bailout, automakers also should be
required to suspend litigation blocking California and other states
from setting greenhouse gas emissions standards. This would further
encourage the industry to produce cleaner vehicles.

Because of the auto industry's history of breaking
promises to deliver more fuel-efficient and safer vehicles, Congress
must write these consumer safeguards into law or make them part of the
loan conditions, Claybrook said.

"The auto industry must show American taxpayers that it
has a plan to make the best use of this money and regain a prominent
position in the global automobile market," Claybrook said. "If the
industry is willing under new leadrship to dramatically change how it
will operate in the future, then it might just be salvageable."

READ Claybrook's testimony.

Public Citizen is a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power. We defend democracy, resist corporate power and work to ensure that government works for the people - not for big corporations. Founded in 1971, we now have 500,000 members and supporters throughout the country.

(202) 588-1000