From: Tom Doggett, Reuters
Published January 26, 2006 12:00 AM

Better Times Ahead for U.S. Automakers, Energy Secretary Says

WASHINGTON — U.S. automakers are going through a temporary rough patch but eliminating thousands of jobs and overhauling product lines will make them more competitive in the long run, U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman said Tuesday.

"It's the competitive pressures that are being brought to bear on these (auto) companies that ... will in fact make them better over time," Bodman told reporters at the Washington auto show.

"But there will be a period of pain that they are going through and that the employees are going through right now," Bodman told reporters.

Bodman's comments came a day after Ford Motor Co . announced it was closing 14 U.S. plants and eliminating up to 30,000 jobs over the next six years.

DaimlerChrysler said Tuesday it would cut 6,000 positions among its white-collar staff in the next three years.

General Motors said in November that it would shut 12 facilities and slash 30,000 jobs to reduce excess production capacity.

Detroit's Big Three car makers are under enormous pressure from foreign rivals, mainly Japanese car makers who have been boosting their sales in the United States for years.

Industry experts agree that U.S. auto companies have to cut costs and operate more efficiently to survive.

"I'm proud of (the automakers) that they have made the adjustments that they have, and that they've recognized that there are problems," Bodman said. "This is a competitive marketplace. I wouldn't have it any other way."

Before he joined the government, Bodman served as chairman of Cabot Corp. , a Boston-based chemicals company.

Separately, Bodman announced the Energy Department will provide $100 million over four years for research projects that will improve hydrogen fuel cells that will eventually run a fleet of environmentally-friendly vehicles.

The research is part of President Bush's long-term $1.2 billion initiative announced in 2003 to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil by developing hydrogen-powered fuel cells to run cars and trucks.

The emissions-free vehicles would also cut pollution as their only by-product would be water. The administration said its program is on track for automakers to have affordable hydrogen-powered vehicles in showrooms by 2020.

Bodman said $19 million will also be given over five years for a dozen government-private sector, cost-share projects that will try to improve hydrogen fuel cells.

Source: Reuters

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