Obama praises fuel efficiency at Freightliner
By Mitch Weiss
MOUNT HOLLY — For Corey Hill, President Barack Obama’s visit Wednesday to a North Carolina truck plant couldn’t have come at a better time.
Freightliner has been hiring more workers to fill shifts at the company’s three plants in the Charlotte area because of increasing demand. The factory floor at the Cleveland plant alone has jumped from a few hundred workers to about 1,600 — with more hires on the way. It’s all because companies need more long-distance trucks to handle shipments.
“Trucking and shipping are indicators of how things are going in the economy,” said Hill, president of United Auto Workers Local 3520. “As trucking picks up, that means more goods are looking to be hauled.”
But he also noted that Freightliner’s push to develop more fuel efficient trucks is really going to help stabilize employment in the future.
“That’s important. We have to keep moving forward,” he said.
And that was the message Obama delivered to workers at a Freightliner plant in this city of 14,000 people, about 15 miles south of Charlotte.
Obama praised Freightliner, a division of Germany’s Daimler Trucks North America, as being a leader in building fuel efficient large trucks.
“You’re not just building trucks, you’re building better trucks, trucks that use less oil,” he said, noting that the company last year sold its 1,000th natural-gas powered truck.
During his speech, Obama touted tax incentives for the purchase and deployment of more fuel-efficient vehicles — a move that will help the economy by reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil.
While long-haul trucks represent only 4 percent of the vehicles in America, they are responsible for almost 20 percent of the country’s fuel consumption, currently consuming more than 30 billion gallons of fuel a year.
Obama said switching to energy-efficient trucks could save long-haul truckers more than $15,000 a year in fuel costs. “Think about what it means to businesses, think about what it means to consumers,” he said.
Obama’s trip came less than a week after first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden visited North Carolina, a key battleground state for the presidential election.
Obama won North Carolina by 14,000 votes in 2008, the slimmest margin of all the states he carried. He was the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter to carry the state.
The Democratic National Convention is being held in Charlotte in early September.
Obama still has ground to make up with North Carolina voters, according to an Elon University poll released this week.
The survey found more than half of the 605 state residents polled said they disapproved of the president’s job performance and his handling of the economy. But the poll found some improvement in views about Obama’s economic management. Forty-three percent expressed approval, up from 37 percent in September, the poll found.