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Romney pushes to aid US carmakers

2008-01-14 16:01
Detroit - Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney will demand more concessions to help hobbled US carmakers deal with soaring health care costs and the sharpest spike in mandated fuel efficiency standards in 30 years, according to excerpts from a speech obtained on Sunday.

Romney, who is anxious to win the Michigan primary election on Tuesday after placing second in both Iowa and New Hampshire, plans to offer more details of his economic plan in a speech on Monday to the Detroit Economic Club.

He has regularly ridiculed new US fuel efficiency standards on the campaign trail, arguing they helped foreign auto manufacturers and hurt domestic producers, like General Motors (GM), Ford and Chrysler.

"We need to honestly and directly address and rectify the enormous product cost and capital cost disadvantage that currently burden the domestic automakers," Romney said in the speech excerpts provided to Reuters.

"From legacy costs, to health-care costs, to (fuel efficiency) costs, to embedded taxes, Detroit can only thrive if Washington is an engaged partner, not a disinterested observer," he plans to say, according to the excerpts.

US car manufacturers are struggling with diminished domestic market share and straining under the weight of billions of dollars in health care and pension costs for current and retired workers.

Costly mandate

Industry also says they are facing billions more in production costs to meet a new federal mandate that passenger vehicles - as a fleet in the United States - get 40% better gas mileage beginning in 2012.

Romney, who is seeking the nomination to be the Republican candidate in the Nov. 4 election, will tour the 2008 North American International Auto Show on Monday after his speech.

He has blasted rival Arizona Sen. John McCain for not coming to the aid of automakers during his years in Congress. The two Republican hopefuls have been sparring for a week about whether jobs lost in the industry could be recreated.

Last week outside a GM plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan that just announced 200 workers would lose their jobs, Romney said he would meet with the auto company chief executives, labour unions, and state officials to try to address their problems.

Consumers have also begun to turn away from less efficient sport utility vehicles and other large vehicles made by Detroit, favoring cars made by overseas rivals like Japan's Toyota and Honda.

Toyota is likely to have unseated GM as the world's biggest carmaker last year and surpassed Ford as the No. 2 US car maker.

The Bush administration essentially has told US car companies to get their financial houses in order without massive government help. Both the administration and Congress pursued stricter fuel efficiency goals last year as a primary strategy for reducing dependence on oil imports and addressing soaring gasoline prices.

"The burdens on American manufacturing are largely imposed by government, and new leadership in Washington can lift those burdens and lift the industry," Romney plans to say, according to the excerpts.


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