From George Washington to Barack Obama: Hagerty Takes a Look at the Most Significant Automotive Decisions from the Oval Office

At the Republican National Convention this week, Mitt Romney was officially named as the Republican candidate for the 2012 Presidential campaign against incumbent President Barack Obama. Among the countless areas in which U.S. Presidents assert their power, the automotive industry is one of the largest and most significant.
“As a company that is passionate about automotive history and the classic car world, we have discovered that the President of the United States can impact the automotive world as much as a Henry Ford or William Durant,” says McKeel Hagerty, CEO of Hagerty. “While some of the policies and legislation on this list remain controversial, their influence is undeniable and they clearly show how a presidency can affect the cars we drive.”

Thomas Schwartz, Presidential Historian and Professor of History at Vanderbilt University, agreed. “The U.S. automotive industry, in its current framework, has been strongly affected by the legislative initiatives and mandates of several American Presidents over the last century. Their actions have not only shaped the cars we drive and roads we travel, but have profoundly influenced the overall American economy as well.”

Hagerty, the world’s leader in classic car insurance, takes a look back and lists its Top Ten Presidential Influences on the Automotive Industry.

  • Automotive Industry Crisis (2008 – 2009) – George W. Bush and Barack Obama
    Initially started by President Bush as auto sales fell throughout 2008, President Obama ordered a huge financial bailout ($80 billion) which allowed Chrysler and General Motors to address upcoming cash shortages in 2009. While contentious at the time, the automakers are currently turning profits, and time will ultimately tell if the bailout leads to long-term prosperity.
  • Chrysler Bailout (1979) – Jimmy Carter
    In 1979, Chrysler was struggling to pay expenses and was on the verge of bankruptcy. In response, President Carter agreed to order federal loan guarantees providing Chrysler $1.5 billion to cover manufacturing costs. Without those guarantees, Chrysler’s bankruptcy may have resulted in a depression as the U.S. economy was experiencing a significant downturn at the time.
  • Corporate Average Fuel Economy (1975) – Gerald Ford
    In 1975, President Ford signed the Energy Policy and Conservation Act which contained the C.A.F.E. provision requiring automakers to increase overall fuel efficiency. As a result, the Big Three made changes, including offering smaller cars for sale in the U.S. during the 1980s.
  • Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act (1974) – Richard Nixon
    In 1974, President Nixon signed this act, which included the National Maximum Speed Law limiting drivers to 55 MPH on U.S. roadways. The intent of the law was to help lower gasoline consumption due to the OPEC oil embargo which lasted from October 1973 to March 1974. The law was lifted in 1995 when the power to set speed limits returned to individual states.
  • Creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (1970) – Richard Nixon
    In December of 1970, President Nixon and Congress established the EPA. It was created to research, set standards and enforce policy to ensure environmental protection. The organization continues to work for a cleaner and healthier environment for U.S. residents, which primarily includes setting vehicle emissions standards.
  • Highway Safety Act and National Traffic/Motor Vehicle Safety Act (1966) – Lyndon Johnson
    In response to growing fatalities and injuries involving vehicles, these federal acts produced the first safety standards for motor vehicles and roadways. Vehicle safety requirements included seat belts, headrests, impact-absorbing steering wheels, shatter-resistant windshields and road safety measures such as enhanced guardrails, break-away signs and greater illumination of roadways.
  • Department of Transportation (1966) – Lyndon Johnson
    Signed into law by President Johnson on October 15, 1966, the Department of Transportation (DOT) was developed to coordinate transportation policies and systems throughout the U.S. The DOT is responsible for the quality, proficiency and safety of all U.S. transportation systems including highways, railroads, waterways/ports and mass transit, among others.
  • Interstate Highway System (1956) – Dwight Eisenhower
    With national security in mind, President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act on June 29, 1956. This act provided funding for the development and construction of the 41,000-mile Interstate Highway System and is commonly referred to as the “Greatest Public Works Project in History.”
  • Federal Aid Road Act (1916) – Woodrow Wilson
    Due in part to lobbying interest groups representing farmers and urban motorists, on July 11, 1916, President Wilson signed the Federal Aid Road Act, which officially became the first federal highway-funding legislation in the history of the United States. At the time, U.S. roadways were in poor condition, and the roughly $75 million in aid drastically improved their quality.
  • National Road – Cumberland Road (1784 – 1806) – George Washington and Thomas Jefferson
    Originally conceived by President-to-be George Washington in 1784 and approved in 1806 during Thomas Jefferson’s administration, the National Road was the largest U.S. road project ever at the time. Construction began in 1811, was completed in 1834 and became the first major U.S. road to utilize macadam-style road construction – raised layers of stones bound together with a cementing agent which became a major upgrade over the soil-based roadways popularly used at the time.

Hagerty is the world’s leading insurance agency for classic vehicles and host to the largest network of classic car owners. Hagerty offers insurance for classic cars, motorcycles and motorcycle safety equipment, tractors, automotive tools and spare parts, and even “automobilia” (any historic or collectible item linked with motor vehicles). Hagerty also offers overseas shipping/touring insurance coverage, commercial coverage and club liability coverage. For more information, call (800) 922-4050 or visit www.hagerty.com.


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