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August 21, 2019

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Peter M. DeLorenzo has been immersed in all things automotive since childhood. Privileged to be an up-close-and-personal witness to the glory days of the U.S. auto industry, DeLorenzo combines that historical legacy with his own 22-year career in automotive marketing and advertising to bring unmatched industry perspectives to the Internet with, which was founded on June 1, 1999. DeLorenzo is known for his incendiary commentaries and laser-accurate analysis of the automobile business, as well as racing and the business of motorsports. Author. Commentator. Influencer. The Consigliere. Minister of the High-Octane Truth. DeLorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.

DeLorenzo's latest book is Witch Hunt (Octane Press  ). It is available on Amazon in both hardcover and Kindle formats, as well as on iBookstore. DeLorenzo is also the author of The United States of Toyota.

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RANTS #451

June 25, 2008

Obama and McCain must step-up to history.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

Detroit. No, I never thought last week’s column would instantly put an end to the wild flailing about by the presidential candidates (and their ever-attentive staffers) in their quest to solve The Energy Thing, which seems to go hand-in-hand with dealing with The Detroit Thing, and then there’s The Economy Thing, which seems to be melding into Every Thing at this point in the campaign, given the perilous state of this nation’s economy and the tumultuous effect high gas prices are having on every facet of American life.

But I didn’t think John McCain would weigh-in this week with his version of solving our energy problems – and of course Detroit’s predicament – with a predictable mishmash of conjecture and confusion amounting to not so much.

McCain (or should I say the staffers assigned to addressing the problem) came up with the following for our contemplation this week in a speech given at Fresno State University: A proposed $300 million prize for whoever can develop a better automobile battery, and $5,000 tax credits for consumers who buy new zero-emission vehicles - a so-called Clean Car Challenge to encourage U.S. automakers to develop zero-emission vehicles - which will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 2012 before we see a sizable number of these vehicles on our roads, at the earliest, but who’s counting? This would be added to his support for overturning the federal ban on offshore oil drilling and the consideration of more nuclear power facilities (with the affected states' approval, of course).

"In the quest for alternatives to oil, our government has thrown around enough money subsidizing special interests and excusing failure. From now on, we will encourage heroic efforts in engineering, and we will reward the greatest success," McCain said in his speech.

McCain also insisted that this new battery should deliver power at 30 percent of current costs and have "the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars."

Whoa, that’s quite a feat. But McCain didn’t stop there, because he also suggested that foreign automakers such as Honda and Toyota would be eligible for the prize, since the Japanese companies have large manufacturing plants in the United States.

Let’s stop right there and back up a moment.

I would think that if there was a class called America’s Energy Policy 101 somewhere in Washington, D.C., that part of the basic fundamentals of that policy would be to protect this nation’s energy security first and foremost with concerted actions independent from other nations. Yes, we all understand it’s a global world out there and that idealistic alliances and partnerships are part and parcel of the new world order, but McCain has it wrong here.

First of all, $300 million is chump change in the world of advanced technology and serious research and development. It’s the technical equivalent of a cup of coffee when you’re dealing with battery development and battery-powered vehicles, and it just won’t cut it. It’s this “finger snap” attitude again that drives me crazy, that these problems are oh so easily solvable if Detroit would just get off its ass and, if it won’t do it, why our government leaders will just turn to Toyota to solve our problems.

What part of this even remotely constitutes sound judgment?

No, at this point in our nation’s history, what this country really needs is the technical equivalent of a 60s “moon shot” to help deal with our future energy and transportation needs.

When President John F. Kennedy delivered his speech about going to the moon, in person, before a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961, his words were at once chilling and exhilarating. This was a challenge that was not only hard to imagine, it was all but insurmountable, but we were going for it, he said – and we would succeed – but it would come through the kind of sacrifice and determination that this nation hadn’t mustered since World War II.

Here are some excerpts from that speech…

“Now it is time to take longer strides--time for a great new American enterprise--time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.

I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.

I believe we should go to the moon. But I think every citizen of this country as well as the Members of the Congress should consider the matter carefully in making their judgment, to which we have given attention over many weeks and months, because it is a heavy burden, and there is no sense in agreeing or desiring that the United States take an affirmative position in outer space, unless we are prepared to do the work and bear the burdens to make it successful. If we are not, we should decide today and this year.

This decision demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, materiel and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread. It means a degree of dedication, organization and discipline which have not always characterized our research and development efforts. It means we cannot afford undue work stoppages, inflated costs of material or talent, wasteful interagency rivalries, or a high turnover of key personnel.

New objectives and new money cannot solve these problems. They could in fact, aggravate them further--unless every scientist, every engineer, every serviceman, every technician, contractor, and civil servant gives his personal pledge that this nation will move forward, with the full speed of freedom, in the exciting adventure of space.”

The decision to go to the moon was a momentous one. As NASA describes it: “Only the construction of the Panama Canal in modern peacetime and the Manhattan Project in war were comparable in scope. NASA's overall human spaceflight efforts were guided by Kennedy's speech; Projects Mercury (at least in its latter stages), Gemini and Apollo were designed to execute Kennedy's goal. His goal was achieved on July 20, 1969, when Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong stepped off the Lunar Module's ladder and onto the Moon's surface.”

That’s big-time stuff, folks. But solving this country’s energy future is every bit as big as the Manhattan Project or the construction of the Panama Canal, because it involves the very future of this nation. And that’s why it distresses me to see these two men running for president (and their handlers) seemingly not grasping what’s before them at this very moment in history.

Let me go back to that second excerpt from President Kennedy’s speech again:

“I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.”

Truer words were never spoken, and they apply doubly today. This country is brimming with the talent, vision and resources necessary to accelerate battery development, explore alternative propulsion, or whatever the technical need is that’s on the table for our future transportation needs. But the fact of the matter is that as a nation we have never made the commitment necessary to address our energy issues, or marshaled the resources necessary to even make a dent in the problems we’re now facing.

Our leaders in Washington have shirked their responsibility and squandered every opportunity to set long-range goals and create a sense of urgency with the American people when it comes to our energy future, and now we’re paying the price for it.

Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain both insist that they know what’s best for us going forward when it comes to energy security, but I’m not convinced of that. They talk around the issue, throw out knee-jerk platitudes and generally sink into campaign rhetoric at the drop of a hat. And none of that is doing this country one damn bit of good at this point.

Both of our presidential candidates should go back and read President Kennedy’s speech from that day in May 1961, and then maybe – just maybe – they will begin to grasp what’s needed at this juncture in history.

McCain wanting to “encourage heroic efforts in engineering” doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what’s needed right now. Perhaps a sizable portion of NASA’s endeavors should be immediately switched-over to the kind of research and development that would actually help this country in the near term - the next fifteen years – when it comes to our energy challenges; at least that would be one place to start.

This nation’s energy crisis demands a sense of urgency, a sense of national purpose, and the marshaling of our technical resources on the level of which we haven’s seen since the race to the moon began. It will take the brilliance of our finest talent and an unwavering commitment on a national basis to achieve our goals.

And it will take one of our two presidential candidates to step-up and actually demonstrate the kind of leadership needed to see this country through one of the most pivotal moments in its history.

Thanks for listening, see you next Wednesday.