THE BLOG

Detroit's Rebirth as the "Arsenal for America's Future"

12/17/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In past posts I have touched on this issue. Given the current crisis facing the automobile industry it becomes more pertinent today than ever. For those who have previously read my general argumentation on the subject, my apologies.

On December 29, 1940. Nazi Germany had conquered much of Europe and was mortally threatening Britain, the last frontline holdout of democracy. On that day, in one of his venerable fireside chats, Franklin Roosevelt highlighted the phrase that America would become the "Arsenal of Democracy," wiping away any sense of complacency from a then isolationist America. It was a symbolic call to arms. He called on Americans to become the "spearhead of resistance to world conquest." He focused on the then "splendid cooperation between the government and industry and labor" and "how important the manufacture of weapons and vehicles is to being strong as a nation."

FDR then continued in words whose sense of urgency could be applicable to our current enslavement to fossil fuels and the accelerating threat of global warming: "Emphatically we must get these weapons to them, get them to them in sufficient volume and quickly enough, so that we and our children will be saved the agony and suffering of war which others have to had to endure."

That was then and this is now. Then in 1940, almost overnight, Detroit, the city that became metaphorically the "Arsenal of Democracy," the "Arsenal for America's Future," in close cooperation with the Washington of that era, changed from being the world's most important builder of passenger cars and vehicles to building the tanks and motorized equipment and armaments that carried this nation and its "greatest generation" to ultimate victory.

As destiny called upon the "greatest generation," so too it beckons to us. 9/11 taught us that we live in a dangerous and unstable world, and that the ongoing risks to our environment, our economy, our national security and to our self respect cry out for definitive action. Our addiction to driving fossil fuel burning, carbon emission spewing cars have turned them into the wardens of our self imposed imprisonment. It is an imprisonment that we must escape before we become the vassals of the oil producers and our children choke on despoiled and poisoned air.

Our politicians tell us there is no silver bullet. The oil industry tells us that our consumption of oil will continue to grow exponentially (check out ExxonMobil CEO Tillerson's prediction that world oil consumption will reach 116 million barrels a day by 2030, up from 86 million today, reported in this Sunday's New York Times "Green is for Sissies"). This administration has slumbered away on this issue for eight years, content on the riches being visited upon their cronies in the oil industry both here and abroad.

Well, they are wrong! Renault Nissan, and California-based Project Better Place, are working together with the governments of Israel and Denmark to make their countries oil independent. Israel aims for oil independence by 2020 while Denmark has already signed on to implement the operational elements of this major electric car initiative.

In broad outline, Renault Nissan will build cars powered by lithium-ion batteries running purely on electricity and delivering performance on par with a 1.6 liter gas engine. These electric car models will become available as of 2011. A key component will be the preparation and development of a national infrastructure to access electric power. "Project Better Place" will arrange for the installation of 500,000 charging hook-ups throughout Israel. It is estimated electric power charging costs will be highly competitive with the current price of gasoline, a competitive advantage that will only improve as the price of oil escalates.

Denmark plans to provide the power supply for electric cars with wind power. Israel is planning huge mirrors in the Negev Desert to capture the solar energy needed for its electric cars. With an extensive grid of plug-in locations there will be ample access to efficient and reasonably rapid charge-up facilities.

Will it work? Yes, the cars here described will be limited in size and range (about 120 miles). But since when has evolving greater size and broader scale been an American limitation? Conceptually, it sets the broad outline of what could be replicated here.

This especially now in full knowledge of what we have learned about OPEC and the oil industry over the last few years. That they will extort from us the maximum that they possibly can. With the price of oil receding from its current highs, OPEC is already plotting to stem the fall by cutting production and you can bet your bottom dollar, if we still have one, that once they can, they will push the price of oil back to $147/barrel and to whatever even higher levels they can achieve. We have learned it is madness to depend on them as suppliers of what is still a crucial raw material, and to tie our economy and our future to their mercies.

Detroit and the American auto industry's business is at the lowest ebb in years, with U.S.-based automakers share of their home market dropping to only 48% of cars sold. What a boon it would be to have a renaissance of our historic "Detroit Arsenal," with our government and the automobile industry working together once again on a program critical to the nation's well-being. Together, to begin replacing our gas guzzling toxic spewing cars with their electric-powered counterparts on a massive national scale, bringing us back to the spirit of FDR and the "greatest generation"!

Certainly, it is a program that will be fought tooth and nail by the oil industry and those indentured to them. Our new administration, in one bold stroke, can show we have a presidency no longer beholden and besotted by oil interests and no longer a pawn of the powerful oil lobby and its army of K Street lobbyists.

At this moment of crisis for Detroit and the nation, let us all work together to make Detroit once more the "Arsenal for America's Future."