Detroit is in siege mode these days, with GM and Chrysler begging for billions in bailouts--more accurately, low-interest loan guarantees--and their respective vehicle sales down as much as 40 and 50 percent.
So it was hardly a ray of sunshine when Detroit News reporter David Shepardson revealed yesterday that the cars driven by members of the Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry were largely import brands. In fact, among the eight panel members and 10 aides, exactly three owned US brands.
Among the imports was a 2008 Toyota Prius, owned by Lisa Jackson. She's better known by her day job, Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Yep, that's the one that regulates exhaust emissions and calculates the gas-mileage ratings you see on the window sticker.
In this case, the sticker on her '08 Prius--the first year under revised formulas meant to bring hybrid mileage calcuations more in line with owners' real-world figures--rated the car's mileage at 48 mpg city / 45 mpg highway. She also drives a Honda Odyssey minivan.
Shepardson's list wasn't complete, as vehicle ownership wasn't available for some members of the panel. But he turned up at least two panel members who don't own cars at all (Energy Secretary Steven Chu and White House climate czar Carol Browner), total heresy in Detroit. He also found a number of suprisingly old cars. Larry Summers, director of the White House National Council on Economics, owns a 1995 Mazda Protege, for instance. Perhaps economists like to maximize the value of their automotive assets.
Perhaps the most unusual vehicle is owned by the husband of a committee aide. The deputy director of the National Economic Council, Diana Farrell, owns no vehicle--but her husband Scott Pearson is listed as the proud owner of a 1985 Peugeot 505S. It was the sole French car owned by any panel members or aide.
Peugeot 505 by Flickr user Michiel2005
On the plus side for Detroit, hedge-fund mogul Steven Rattner owns a 2005 Lincoln Town Car, the only domestic vehicle of his four (the others are from Audi, Lexus, and Mercedes-Benz). Steven Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, used to own a 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee. And task force policy aide Rick Wade owns a 1998 Chevrolet Cavalier. (Vice President Joe Biden also owns a 1967 Corvette, but that's hardly relevant to GM's present issues.)
During the presidential campaign, then-Senator Barack Obama traded in his Chrysler 300C for a US-built Ford Escape Hybrid.