Transportation Secretary Brock Adams, fresh from tours of Ford and Gneral Motors research facilities outside Detroit, said yesterday the federal government will have to assume the leadership role in developing the automobile of the future.
"My trip reaffirmed my belief that the industry is concentrating all of its efforts on meeting 1985 (fuel economy and safety) standards," Adams said in a telephone interview from Detroit.
"They are not concentrating on basic research for the kind of car we will need beyond 1985 and 1990," he added.
Adams said that Henry Ford II, chairman of the board of Ford, agreed that the government should be in the basic research business, "while the industry should concentrate on shortterm research." Both GM and Ford indicated they would cooperate with government research efforts, Adams said.
The industry "is not able with the resources they have now" to do both kinds of research needed for the future car.
Adams has said in the past that the federal government is planning to devote an estimated $100 million a year toward basic auto research.
During Adams' visit, Ford debuted its "graphite car," an exact replica of a 1979 Ford LTD except for the body. which is made of light-weight graphite, reducing the weight of the car more than 1,000 pounds to 2,750 pounds.
Significant weight reduction is a major factor in meeting federal fuel economy standards, Adams pointed out. One research vehicle designed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which weighs about 2,850 pounds, is able to meet the 1985 fuel economy standard of 27.5 miles per gallon.
Adams said he is waiting for written summaries from the panel discussions held at an automobile conference sponsored by the Department of Transportation in Boston earlier this month. Attended by engineers from the government and the auto industry, the conference was a forerunner of an auto industry-government "summit" conference to be held here this spring.
"I want to proceed with out talks at the Washington conference," Adams said. "The engineers I talked to are excited about participating."
In response to questions at a press conference in Detroit, Adams said he didn't see anything on his tour of Ford that would indicate that the current fuel economy standards calendar should be changed.
The industry had called up DOT to loosen the proposed fuel economy standards, claiming that the added cost to the consumer resulting from the regulations would be highly inflationary. The industry as estimated that cost to be as much as $1,000 per car.
NHTSA, however, claims the actual figure is less than half that.