California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger: "I always loved Detroit. I'm a big car collector. I have a lot of cars myself." (David Coates / The Detroit News)
Detroit -- Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, said that despite popular opinion in these parts, he does not hate Detroit, its workers or its cars.
In fact, the aging action hero said, he owns a dozen automobiles and believes there are brighter days are ahead for the Big Three. The governor even offered to do a pro bono commercial promoting the virtues of the Motor City.
"Let me just say I love the Hummer," Schwarzenegger said. "It's a great car, and the new H2 plug-in electric hybrid gets a hundred miles to the gallon. Can you believe that? It's fantastic and this is what Detroit can produce when it puts its mind to it. This is where the action's at."
In an exclusive interview with The Detroit News after touring the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress at Cobo Center, Schwarzenegger spoke expansively about alternative energy vehicles, the role of government and the general state of the economy, including workers wages and benefits.
The interview was conducted at the MGM Grand Detroit Casino because the governor wished to talk someplace besides the dreary Cobo Center, which offered convention-goers stained carpets, rationed coffee creamer and an overflowing toilet.
Q : You were the first big name to tell Detroit to "get off its butt" and make some green cars. But gas is cheap again and nobody wants to buy a green car. Detroit took it personally. Want to apologize?
A : I think Detroit has a good chance now with this crisis to reinvent itself and to go and say we know for the last 100 years we have been on top of the world. We have produced the greatest cars, the most powerful cars. We now know that this technology has made our world (a) less clean world. We can do better than that.
Q : So you don't hate Detroit?
A : I never did. I always loved Detroit. I'm a big car collector. I have a lot of cars myself. I just believe that we should not villainize SUVs or villainize the Hummers or villainize the big cars, but we should villainize the old technology and say we can do better.
Q : You're a staunch capitalist; can the government set the market?
A : Washington is responsible for creating the kind of tax incentives to direct people in a certain direction. Like in Germany for instance, they have given people a tax incentive. They have given them $5,000 if they junk in their big polluting car and go and get a new car ... so it immediately drove up the car sales 40 percent in Germany. So America can do the same thing. We can learn from other places.
Q : California has a ton of problems. Whose fault is that and how do we fix it?
A : I don't think it helps you when you're unemployed to point a finger and say this is the fault of ...
Q : Well, everyone is pointing the finger at us, saying Detroit is a mess and we did this to ourselves.
A : I think that everyone is clear that we are in a global recession and a global mess. ... I think fingerpointing doesn't mean anything. What means something is that we go and learn from the mistakes that were made and move forward in a big way with a new energy and use the crisis for opportunities.
Like for instance in Detroit, the car manufacturers, they use this crisis now as an opportunity to go and bring the wages down and bring the benefits down. To make cars more affordable.
Q : Governor, you were the biggest movie star in the world. Do you regret doing it?
A : I made a lot of great decisions in life. And I think running for governor was one of the best decisions I've ever made.
Q : I meant "Kindergarten Cop."
A : "Kindergarten Cop" was a great movie. Why, I loved that movie.
And do you know something? It was actually advantageous because when you go to Sacramento, you feel like you're doing the sequel.
Q : Finally, sir, can you give me your best Arnold Schwarzenegger imitation?
A : Hasta la vista, baby.