Clinton makes way to Iowa in Chevy van

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — who made her way to Iowa in a black government-owned Chevrolet van driven by the Secret Service — made automotive issues a key component of her last run for president.

She wrapped up a 1,000 mile trip from New York to Iowa in a black Chevrolet van nicknamed the "Scooby van," the campaign said. The campaign later confirmed Tuesday that she rode in a black Chevrolet Express passenger van built at GM's Wentzville Assembly plant in Missouri.

Clinton isn't driving these days. Last year, she told a meeting of auto dealers that she hasn't driven since 1996, and she regrets not being able to drive, recounting her last time driving. "I remember it very well and unfortunately so does the Secret Service, which is why I haven't driven since then," she joked.

Clinton dealt with auto issues regularly as a senator and presidential candidate. In 2007, she proposed hiking fuel economy standards to a combined fleetwide average of 55 miles per gallon by 2030. She was also the author of a bill signed into law that mandated better rear visibility standards.

The fuel economy goal has already been topped by the Obama administration, which won agreement from major automakers to hike requirements to 54.5 mpg by 2025.

Then a New York Democratic senator, Clinton courted the United Auto Workers and often met with domestic auto CEOs. In 2007, she also pledged to offer domestic automakers $20 billion in low-interest government loans to help retool factories to build more fuel efficient cars.

She's no stranger to GM plants or vehicles. As first lady, she regularly rode around in the Detroit-built Cadillac presidential limousine. As a presidential candidate in 2008, Clinton toured GM plants in White Marsh, Maryland, and Lordstown, Ohio.

In a speech in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in late 2007, she joined Democratic rivals in taking a hard line on requiring substantial increases in fuel economy requirements. Clinton proposed a boost beyond what the Senate approved in June, which is to hike combined fleet-wide standards to 40 mpg by 2020.

She argued engine technology has stagnated, noting that Henry Ford would immediately recognize the engine in a car made today.

"Imagine over the last century if we had advanced as far in powering our autos as we have at making them safer," she said.

Of auto companies, Clinton said: "I want to be a partner, a good partner, to help them transition to the clean economy."

She also said she would work with them on legacy health care and retiree costs.

Clinton in 2007 adopted a much tougher line with automakers than she did in May 2006, when she declined to directly endorse a specific fuel economy increase.

"I do believe it's vital we make progress on fuel-efficiency standards. We can't separate, however, the challenge of making auto manufacturing more energy-efficient and the challenge of making U.S. manufacturing more competitive," she said then at a National Press Club forum. "I believe we could do both. We need to be sure that our high standards don't provide an easy excuse for more auto jobs to leave the U.S., but I don't think that's the reason not to do it."

DShepardson@detroitnews.com