State News

President talks energy, jobs at Charlotte-area truck plant

Posted March 6, 2012
Updated March 7, 2012

— President Barack Obama is calling for incentives to develop more fuel-efficient cars, emphasizing a top energy initiative amid rising gasoline prices and a re-election battle. He spoke at a Freightliner truck plant in North Carolina, a state that figures prominently in the presidential election.

Gasoline prices are at their highest levels for this time of year, and Obama has been traveling to promote energy proposals he says will reduce dependency on foreign oil over the long term.

"As we start using less, that lowers the demand. Prices come down," he said.

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.

Obama is proposing a $1 billion incentive to challenge local communities to encourage greater fuel-efficient technologies, such as more charging stations for electric vehicles.

Obama also is touting greater tax incentives to encourage the purchase and use of more fuel-efficient vehicles.

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 gasoline 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.

Growing demand has prompted Freightliner to hire more workers to build trucks. Last year, the company said it would bring back 447 manufacturing jobs and 27 administrative positions in Mount Holly.

Freightliner announced in February it would hire 1,100 more workers at its Rowan County factory in Cleveland and another 100 at a nearby Gastonia parts plant.

At one time, the Freightliner plant in Cleveland employed nearly 4,000 workers, said Corey Hill, president of United Auto Workers Local 3520. Now, it has about 1,600, with more callbacks on the way, he said.

Obama talks energy, jobs near Charlotte

The local economy also has been hit hard by the recession. Unemployment in Gaston and Rowan counties was higher than the state average of 9.9 percent in December — the last month when figures were available.

Some Freightliner workers make $24 an hour with benefits.

Daimler employee Brent Marr said he was laid off for three months. When he came back, the company was building eight trucks a day. That number has risen.

"About 110, 120 trucks a day is what we're turning out right now," he said.

David Petrie, 44, of Gastonia, has worked at Freightliner for 19 years. He was laid off three times during that period – 10 months in 1996, three years from 2001 to 2004, and he just returned to work in May after being laid off in early 2008.

"There have been a lot of ups and downs. It's been a roller-coaster. But this is a great place," said Petrie, the father of four children between the ages of 12 to 21. His wife doesn't work, and that made it hard when the former Air Force veteran was laid off.

"We had to cut back on everything. We just had to buy the basics. We got by by the grace of God," Petrie said. "There were hard times."

But he said he's optimistic about the uptick in the economy and attended Wednesday's event because he wanted to show his support for the president. He also praised the president's emphasis on promoting fuel-efficient vehicles, something that could lead to job security.

"He's done more for working people than any president I can remember," Petrie said.

He paused for a moment to collect his thoughts.

"You know how you can tell the economy is coming back? Look at your highways. If all you see are passenger cars, that's not good. But if you see a lot of big trucks like the kind we build here at Freightliner, you know the economy is coming back," he said.

North Carolina is likely to be a key battleground state in the presidential election, and the Obama administration has stepped up its presence here lately.

Obama's trip comes less than a week after first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden visited. The president visited Fort Bragg in December and, before that, came to the state in October.

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.

"With North Carolina continuing to have higher than average state unemployment, his electoral future in the Tar Heel state is anything but certain," said Mileah Kromer, the poll's assistant director.

The Democratic National Convention will be held in Charlotte in early September. 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.

504 Comments

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  • dontstopnow Mar 9, 2012

    Tired of these lame politican articles. Lets just all go to the polls in Nob and vote and STOP arguing about it.

  • whatusay Mar 9, 2012

    WooHoo....you make my point. Obama won't allow supply to increase, that's why prices are climbing. More gas, cheaper gas.

  • citizensoldier16 Mar 8, 2012

    "Yes, and when the supply and demand stays the same but the price changes is that economics 102?" ~woohoo2you

    Oh, now the supply and demand are the same, huh? Reneging on your original absurd statement are we? You're moving in the right direction, but you're still incorrect. I give you an A for effort...F for accuracy.

  • WooHoo2You Mar 8, 2012

    @woohoo: Lets break it down. You stated that the US has more oil than it consumes. I challenged you to back up that statement with facts based in logic and economics, given the fact that gasoline prices in the US are on the rise. So far, you've offered no intelligent explanation, only jibs and more questions. So, I ask again, are you able to explain your position intelligently?-citizensoldier16

    Imports are now at a 12 year low. If we are not importing as much as in the past there must be no supply problem in the US. (I don’t see lines at the gas station) No supply problem must mean prices should also be lowering correct? That’s your ‘supply and demand’ argument it not? Are prices lowering?

    http://www.hellenicshippingnews.com/News.aspx?ElementId=bcbe97bd-682c-4d80-aebd-e84c69185524

  • WooHoo2You Mar 8, 2012

    When there is abundant supply of any commodity the price of that commodity goes down. Basic economics 101. No exceptions.-whatusay

    Yes, and when the supply and demand stays the same but the price changes is that economics 102?

  • WooHoo2You Mar 8, 2012

    citizensoldier16,

    -woohoo: Again with the questions due to a lack of answers hmm?

    Wait, that’s your tactic. You have not answered one single question nor have you backed up your statements.

    -Your little quibs amuse me, along with your attempt to maintain the absolutely baseless statements you've made here.

    Oh, sorry. Those things that start with “http” are links for the bases for my statements. (maybe I should have explained that) Try putting them in your browser.

    -If you noticed, I'm not the only one calling you out. Sounds like you got some 'splainin to do!

    “Calling me out?” Funny… BTW, there are a few going after you maybe you need to do some 'splainin!

  • whatusay Mar 8, 2012

    When there is abundant supply of any commodity the price of that commodity goes down. Basic economics 101. No exceptions.

  • citizensoldier16 Mar 8, 2012

    @woohoo: Lets break it down. You stated that the US has more oil than it consumes. I challenged you to back up that statement with facts based in logic and economics, given the fact that gasoline prices in the US are on the rise. So far, you've offered no intelligent explanation, only jibs and more questions. So, I ask again, are you able to explain your position intelligently?

  • citizensoldier16 Mar 8, 2012

    @woohoo: Again with the questions due to a lack of answers hmm? Your little quibs amuse me, along with your attempt to maintain the absolutely baseless statements you've made here. If you noticed, I'm not the only one calling you out. Sounds like you got some 'splainin to do!

  • WooHoo2You Mar 8, 2012

    Whatusay,

    -Released today that the Obama administration wants Israel to hold off military action against Iran until after the 2012 presidential elections.

    Where did you get that little “fact?” (and what does it have to do with this story?)

    -If Obama is re-elected he will give military aid to Israel.

    The US has always aided Israel.

    -What a cheese-ball.....his re-election is more important than the state of Israel.

    Is Israel under threat (well more than normal)?

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