Pressing his energy policy goals, President Barack Obama on Friday prodded large companies to modernize their shipping fleets with more fuel efficient vehicles, improvements that he said would reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil and cut down business overhead costs in the long term.
The president ventured to suburban Maryland and toured a UPS shipping facility, where he examined all-electric as well as hybrid vehicles used by companies such as AT&T, Verizon and PepsiCo. Obama launched a new public-private partnership designed to help large commercial fleets cut back on their diesel and gasoline use.
Noting that the he already has a goal of purchasing only fuel efficient government cars and trucks by 2015, he said: "If we're going to upgrade all of America's fleets, our businesses need to step up, as well."
The stop represents Obama's second energy-related event of the week, an effort by the White House to respond to rising gasoline prices by placing a focus on Obama's long-term energy strategies.
On Wednesday, the president called for a one-third reduction in U.S. oil imports by 2025. His energy proposals include boosting domestic oil production, increasing the use of natural gas and alternative fuels and making cars and trucks more efficient.
Obama blended his energy message with an economic pitch that took note of new jobless numbers Friday that showed the unemployment rate at a two-year low and new private sector hiring.
"We have to keep the momentum going," he said. "Making the transition to a clean energy economy will help us do that."
While saying a shift to fuel efficiency will result in long-term cost savings, the higher tech vehicles do cost companies more money up front. Obama at one point in his tour asked how much more UPS has to pay for the hybrid truck itself, as opposed to a conventional one. He was told it costs twice as much _ and uses one-third of the gas.
Obama was joined in Landover, Md., by Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
According to the Energy Department, more than 3 million commercial vehicles used American roads in 2009, guzzling nearly 4 billion gallons of fuel.
UPS, FedEx, PepsiCo, AT&T and Verizon are charter members of the public-private partnership. They are five of the 10 largest commercial fleets operating in the United States.
The five companies have made a commitment to use 20,000 fuel-efficient vehicles with an estimated fuel savings of 7 million gallons of diesel or gasoline a year. The White House says that together the companies operate more than 275,000 vehicles.
The Obama administration is encouraging large companies to use more efficient vehicles and to upgrade their fleets with vehicles that use electricity, natural gas or other alternative fuels. The partnership gives companies the opportunity to undertake group purchasing and to collaborate with the Energy Department for technical assistance.
With a laugh aimed at the two Cabinet secretaries with him, Obama added: "And Chu and LaHood will also come and wash your car or truck. Wasn't that a part of the deal?"