Auto workers support Bush's push for fuel-efficient cars

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

CLAYCOMO, Mo. -- President Bush told a crowd of auto workers on the outskirts of Kansas City Tuesday that the hybrid vehicles they make are fitting examples of the fuel-efficient vehicles he hopes to see filling roads in the future.

It was just what the proud employees wanted to hear.

"It's nice to be able to tell the world that in Kansas City we build the future of vehicles," said Jim Stoufer, president of United Auto Workers Local 249, which represents 4,700 workers at Ford Motor Co.'s Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo. "It's a chance for us to shine."

Bush's comments came during a rare visit to two auto manufacturing plants that produce hybrid vehicles, as he continued his recent push for production of more fuel-efficient vehicles. After touring General Motors' Fairfax plant in Kansas City, Kan., Bush gave a speech at Ford's Claycomo plant, highlighting his plans for researching new technology that would allow the auto industry to move away from foreign oil sources.

"The best way to become less reliant on foreign sources of oil is to manufacture automobiles that will use either less gasoline or different kinds of fuels," Bush said to a crowd of nearly 300 Ford workers gathered in a workshop-turned-auditorium.

He said the Ford and GM plants already are following that fuel blueprint and producing innovative, hybrid vehicles.

"The Ford plant, the GM plant are producing automobiles that are the beginning, really, of helping this country develop a wise energy policy and a wise environmental policy," Bush said.

Last year, Bush offended some automakers when he said they needed to make "a product that's relevant." But workers who greeted the president Tuesday said they already produce a relevant product.

"We make some great vehicles here, and the word is getting out," said Steve Reese, who's worked 13 years at the Ford plant in Claycomo. "I'm proud of the plant and what we're doing. Ford is leading the pack, especially on the SUV hybrid."

Reese, 46, and his co-workers help make the hybrid versions of the Escape and Mercury Mariner SUVs. As the president spoke Tuesday, the vehicles were displayed prominently on platforms behind him.

Workers at the GM Fairfax plant assemble the Saturn Aura and the Aura Green Line, an electric-gasoline hybrid.

The president's goal is to reduce U.S. fuel demand by 20 percent during the next decade.

Earlier in the day, White House press secretary Tony Snow was asked whether the president still felt U.S. auto companies were not making "relevant" products.

Snow did not address the point directly but said the president was visiting the two facilities because they were examples of plants that were adjusting "to the changing competitive challenges around the world."

Before the president's arrival, Richard Bock, who has worked at the Ford plant for 42 years, said he hoped Bush would provide concrete ideas about what automakers can do to stay relevant and competitive.

"I'm just glad he's concerned," said Bock, 61.

After listening to Bush, Bock stood and applauded with his co-workers and nodded in approval.

Jeff Morales, who has worked at the Ford plant 13 years, was excited to hear the president and shake his hand.

"How many times does a little guy from Grain Valley get to meet the president?" said Morales, 38. "I think (Bush's appearance) is going to boost us."

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