Bill Clinton photo

Remarks Announcing the Clean Car Initiative

September 29, 1993

Thank you very much, and good morning ladies and gentlemen. I want to say a special good morning to the young people whose vision of the future can be seen on these great drawings they have done.

I want to begin by, as the Vice President did, acknowledging the presence here of Mr. Eaton, Mr. Poling, Mr. Smith, Mr. Bieber, and also a lot of representatives of auto suppliers, people who supply component parts who will have a major role in this great project, I thank all them for being here, the Members of Congress. I also want to acknowledge one that we inadvertently omitted, Senator Bryan from Nevada, a longtime leader in the struggle to increase fuel efficiency.

I kind of liked the Vice President's story about the self-starter. When I first met Al Gore, I thought he had one of those implanted in him at an early age. [Laughter]

This is especially a happy moment for me. Some of you know that when I was a young man, when I was very young, my father was a Buick dealer in a small town in Arkansas where I was born, and he later went into business with my uncle in a larger town. I can still remember the first gainful work I think I ever did, when I was 6 years old, was trying to help my dad restore some Henry J.'s that had burned in a fire 35 miles from our home. And as a favor to the dealer, he helped him restore the cars, and we got to keep one. So until I was 18 years old, I drove a 1952 Henry J. self-made convertible. I once had an accident in it, and my jaw hit the steering wheel, and I broke the steering wheel in half. I don't know if that was an advertisement for my jaw or a condemnation of the steering wheel.

One of my most prized possessions is a 1967 Mustang convertible that I restored a few years ago. And I think when I left my home, it was the thing that I most regretted leaving behind. The other people who drove on the roads in my home State, however, were immensely relieved.

I think that all of us have our car-crazy moments and have those stories. Today, we're going to try to give America a new car-crazy chapter in her rich history, to launch a technological venture as ambitious as any our Nation has ever attempted. General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, and your National Government have agreed to accept a set of ambitious research and development goals for automobiles. We're confident that other companies outside Detroit will join in.

Our long-term goal is to develop affordable, attractive cars that are up to 3 times more fuelefficient than today's cars—3 times—and meet strict standards for urban air pollution, safety, performance, and comfort.

Industry and Government engineering teams will work together on this. The project will involve Federal and industry funding. The Government will pick up a greater share of the high-risk projects, ones identified by an auto industry/Government team. We'll have three types of research projects: first, advanced manufacturing techniques to lower production costs and get new products on the market fast; second, research on technologies that can lead to near-term improvements and auto efficiency safety and emissions; and third, research that could lead to production prototypes of vehicles capable of up to 3 times greater fuel efficiency.

Now, the Vice President mentioned that this brings together a number of things we are trying to do in this administration. First, there's a public-private partnership. Government can't do these things by itself, but there are a lot of things that we need to be working on that market forces alone can't do. So the third way, a partnership between the Government and the private sector to avoid the inefficiencies, the bureaucracies, and the errors of Government policy but to add the technology and the investment expertise we can bring, I think this is the way we're going to solve a lot of problems in the future. We'd be foolish not to rely on the auto industry with its clear understanding of the practical problems, and this makes sure that neither Government nor industry wastes money on projects with no real future.

The second thing we want to do is to keep America competitive. When you think of all the slogans you've heard over the years, what stands out is not just how catchy they are but how much truth there is to them. In the new Chrysler form skillfully follows—in the new Chryslers—excuse me—form skillfully follows functions. Ford has had better ideas. And there is a lot to admire if you've driven a Buick lately. We have got to do more of this.

You know, one of the great untold stories, although it's beginning to get out, is that these people up here on this stage are regaining American market share. People are buying more American cars made in America because they're doing a good job.

And since the auto industry is responsible for one out of every seven jobs in the United States, it is clearly incumbent upon all of us to support this effort and to make sure it succeeds. What better way is there to work together on a car that's practical, affordable, fun to drive, places little or no burden on the environment? We want American cars at the head of this parade, not bringing up the rear. Believe me, there will be a huge market for them.

The third thing we want to do—and this is very, very important to this administration; part of our commitment to reinventing Government—is to get rid of wasteful and costly regulation. The Government will in no way abdicate its responsibility in the search for near-term improvements in fuel efficiency, but we do want to break the wasteful gridlock in Washington over auto issues. We want a vehicle that lets us scrap a lot of the regulation in place today because it's achieved the objectives of the regulation in a much more efficient and marketbased way.

This agreement represents an important peace dividend. It makes the expertise of the Department of Energy's weapons labs, as well as the research departments throughout the Department of Defense available to industry. That means all those super-strong, light-weight materials developed for weapons systems will be available here.

I told someone today right before we came out—I told the Vice President that I remember very vividly over 30 years ago standing in the showroom of the Buick dealership in my hometown and having my dad look at the new models and say, "You know, some day they'll figure out a way to make a car that weighs less than half this much, and the fuel efficiency problems will be a long way toward being solved." Now we know we'll be able to do things with engines that we never dreamed over 30 years ago.

Let me make one last point. This agreement grows out of a bedrock premise of this administration, one of the reasons that I ran for President. This agreement reflects an understanding that changes in this world are inevitable. They cannot be repealed. They cannot be rolled back. They cannot be denied. They can be avoided or delayed at our peril. What we have to do is to try to find a way to make these changes our friends. This is a visionary effort on behalf of the American people to make change our friend in one of the most important economic areas of American life. We do not have the choice to do nothing. We have to act decisively to shape change so that it matches the needs of the future. That's what we're trying to do with health care. That's what we're trying to do with economic policy. That's what we're trying to do here today.

This is the end of a long negotiation and the beginning of a great period of action and excitement in American life. Is there any risk? You bet there is. We have to condition the American people to be willing to take more risks and fail in order to ultimately succeed. Will we have setbacks? I imagine we will if we do anything. But that's no reason to give up.

Alexander Graham Bell once remarked that if he had known more about electricity, he never would have invented the telephone. We need a little more of that kind of ignorance today— to just keep walking into those solid walls until they give way.

We cannot be deterred by the difficulty. For 50 years, the companies represented here today have comprised the basic engine of American prosperity. Working together, we can make sure the freedom and convenience of personal vehicles will continue to be available to all Americans. We intend to do nothing less than to define the world car of the next century, to propel the auto industry to the forefront of world automobile production, and to make this industry the source of imagination for young people of the future, for their ideas, their careers, and their efforts.

I'm excited. But most importantly, maybe, our young people are excited. And let me just close with this story. I was greeting a number of Ambassadors the other day, including an Ambassador from one of the Baltic countries who has an American wife and a young son who is 5 years old, who speaks fluent English and German, because his father had been living in Germany. I never met a 5-year-old kid like this in my life. And when I shook hands with him, he said, "I'm glad to meet you, Mr. President. I want you to make a car that runs on electricity and doesn't pollute the air." And he said, "I intend to work on this, and I want you to tell the Vice President that I'm working on this." [Laughter]

So I said, "Well, you tell him." I was so impressed I went to get Al Gore, and I introduced him to this 5-year-old boy, and he said, "Hello, Mr. Vice President. I intend to spend my life working on this." And he said, "I am going to help you develop an electric car that has no pollution." And Al Gore says, "That means we're going to be partners." He said, "Yes, I guess so. But you don't understand. I'm going to spend my whole life on this." [Laughter]

We've got all these kids out there that are on fire about this. And I want to say again, maybe that's the most important thing in the world. We can keep them looking to the future with confidence. This country needs a good dose of old-fashioned confidence today that all the challenges we face can be met and conquered. And this ought to be a clear signal to America that the core of the American industrial economy, the auto industry, is looking to the future with confidence and that the United States Government is going to be their partner in that successful march.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 10:24 a.m. on the South Lawn at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Robert J. Eaton, chairman and chief executive officer, Chrysler Motor Co.; Harold A. Poling, chairman and chief executive officer, Ford Motor Co.; John F. Smith, Jr., president, General Motors Co.; and Owen Bieber, president, United Auto Workers.

William J. Clinton, Remarks Announcing the Clean Car Initiative Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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