NIXON AND DETROIT

In March of 2002 Trent Lott(R), the Senate Minority Mis-Leader stood on the senate floor opposing the proposal sponsored by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ) to raise the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standard to 36 miles per gallon for cars and trucks by 2015. For the benefit for the benefit of the Heartland truck drivers, he railed that the Democrats want to take away our 'pick-ups', and we'll all be forced to drive the"purple-people-eater".

On the morning of April 27, 1971, President Nixon met privately in the Oval Office with Henry Ford II, chairman of Ford Motor Co., and Lee Iacocca, Ford's president. In the course of the meeting Ford and Iacocca complained that new environmental and auto-safety regulations, in particular the proposed passive-restraints rule, would harm the U.S. auto industry as it struggled to compete with the Japanese, and by extension would harm the U.S. economy. The meeting with Ford and Iacocca was secretly recorded by Nixon.

Now 'FRONTLINE' has acquired the audio tapes and transcript with the help of the Nixon Presidential Materials staff at the National Archives.

Ford makes the case that the safety regulations in particular are harming the industry and will cause the price of cars to go up.

Ford: I think the thing that concerns us more than anything else is this total safety problem. And, what we're worried about really, basically, is -- this is an industry problem -- is really the economy of the United States,,,,

Ford:I have a feeling that the auto industry -- I'm only speaking for Ford -- ... we are in a downhill slide, the likes of which we have never seen in our business. And the Japs are in the wings ready to eat us up alive.

Nixon:I try to fight the demagogues to the extent that we can. ... The safety thing is the kick, 'cause Nader's running around, squealing around about this and that and the other thing.

Nixon goes on to say: They're enemies of the system. So, what I'm trying to say is this: that you can speak to me in terms that I am for the system. ...

Some safety standards were eventually agreed to. However the airbag controversy would drag on for 20 more years, becoming perhaps the most tangled and emotional auto-safety issue of them all, even reaching the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in June 1983 against a Reagan administration effort to rescind an airbag regulation scheduled to go into effect. The auto industry successfully delayed introducing airbags for several more years, however, pointing to the dangers posed in some cases to drivers and unrestrained small children, while safety advocates argued that the benefit of saving thousands of lives far outweighed the possible risks. In December 1991, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) was passed, requiring passenger airbags in all 1998 model year cars and all 1999 model year vans and light trucks. It is worth noting that in the fiercely contested negotiations over the ISTEA legislation, airbags were the primary victory for safety advocates, while SUV rollover regulations, among other things, were sacrificed.

See the full text and transcript on Frontline at:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/rollover/nixon/