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Bye-Bye Car Czar

Post among many impacting auto industry cut by federal budget compromise.

by on Apr.12, 2011

The last and former car czar Ron Bloom.

The last-minute budget compromise that kept the federal government going will take its toll on the auto industry – among other things eliminating the “car czar” position that helped the White House manage the 2009 bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler.

The bipartisan budget agreement also will trim $408 million from the $2.3 billion originally set aside to help promote research on high-mileage technology, along with another $37 million earmarked to promote seatbelt usage.

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There are actually four different “czar” posts being defunded.  And the one overseeing the auto bailouts, held most recently by Ron Bloom, has been empty since he left the White House last February.  It was originally intended to give oversight to bailouts that included $50 billion needed to keep General Motors in business.

While the elimination of that position might not draw too many tears in Detroit the industry is clearly less pleased to see the government take a sharp knife to a program that is helping fund the high-cost development of advanced powertrain systems.  Funds have so far been dispersed to a wide range of manufacturers, domestic and foreign, as well as to start-up makers, including battery car manufacturer Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive, which plans to launch production of a plug-in hybrid vehicle later this year.

Another high-profile job being eliminated is that of the White House “climate czar,” a position until recently held by Carol Browner.  In her post, reports the Detroit News, Browner helped negotiate the compromise revision of the federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards, approved in 2009 – and which boost fleet mileage averages to 35.5 mpg by 2016.

The budget compromise, which trims a total of $38 billion out of federal spending, will cut a program that has helped boost the usage of seatbelts to more than 85%, a record level that reportedly saves tens of millions of dollars in medical and other costs annually.

Meanwhile, $2.9 billion in federal funding for light rail programs – including a new line in Detroit – has been eliminated from the compromise budget.

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