The president of the Lucas County Improvement Corp. took a message to Washington that the Toledo area is benefiting strongly from the auto industry's recovery and its push to be more fuel-efficient.
"The Toledo area, just in three plants, is getting over $900 million of capital investment," Ford Weber said Thursday in an interview.
Chrysler Group LLC has committed $500 million to the Toledo Assembly complex. General Motors is making a major investment at Toledo Powertrain, and Johnson Controls is doing the same at its battery plant in western Lucas County.
"One of the things that's really interesting, environmental sustainability and fuel economy are really part of all three of these investments," he said.
Mr. Weber was invited to be a panelist for one of two discussions hosted in Washington last week by the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
The first, in which Mr. Weber participated, focused on the auto industry recovery. The second was on clean energy innovation. But both related to improving fuel technologies in the automotive field.
"What they were really talking about was the fact the automotive industry was in recovery and that the vehicles are not only good for the economy, because they're creating jobs, but they're also environmentally more sustainable and they have better fuel economy," Mr. Weber said. "It's really a triple win."
The discussions also included officials from the United Auto Workers, Honda, Johnson Controls, and Nexteer Automotive.
Although there were some political overtones, with the Obama Administration seeking to talk up the auto recovery, Mr. Weber said useful discussion occurred on the upcoming fuel mileage standards that eventually will require a fleet average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2015.
The consensus from executives there, Mr. Weber said, was that 54.5 mpg is attainable, but not with current technology.
"They're going to have to continue reinvesting in new technology, and we're going to have to build the human capital base -- the work force and engineering -- that are going to help make that new technology available," he said.
The investments by GM, Johnson Controls, and Chrysler all are expected to help with fuel efficiency.
Johnson Controls will build batteries for cars that can automatically shut down the engine while stopped. The batteries will also be lighter, which further helps fuel economy. GM will build an 8-speed transmission, which should help fuel economy, and Chrysler's new offering, once it retools its plant, is expected to be a more fuel-efficient vehicle to replace the current Jeep Liberty.
Panelists also said manufacturing will remain important, and companies will need well-trained workers as they develop new technology. "We're going to need a new generation of workers in order to develop the technologies and also to build these vehicles," Mr. Weber said.
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