**The New York-based Conference Board said this week its Consumer Confidence Index fell four points in March to its lowest point since last November.
**That sentiment was supported by a Commerce Department report that sales of new single-family homes fell by 3.9 percent in February to an annualized rate of 848,000 -- its worst showing in nearly seven years.
**And tensions in the Persian Gulf pushed oil prices past the 66-dollar mark this week, en route to a six-month high. **That, in turn, sent unleaded gasoline prices higher, for the 8th consecutive week.
President Bush believes one way to ease the "pain at the pump" is to lessen America's "addiction" to foreign oil. This week, he met with U.S. automakers for a progress report on vehicles capable of running on home-grown, renewable fuel.
George Bush: "If you want to reduce gasoline usage, like I believe we need to do so, for national security reasons as well as for environmental concerns, the consumer has got to be in a position to make a rational choice."
Bush said a commitment by domestic automakers to double their production of flex-fuel vehicles could help Americans to change gears and shift away from gasoline and quench some of the nation's thirst for imported oil. Federal law requires that by 2012 more than 7 billion gallons of fuel is produced from renewable sources. The president has set an even more ambitious goal of 35 billion gallons by 2017.
Rick Wagoner, General Motors CEO: "If the goals are to reduce the growth and consumption of oil, to reduce oil imports and improve the environment, the opportunity is first of all, in ethanol and biodiesel."
The Detroit-based automakers said that if the fuel was available, half of the cars and trucks they make by 2012 could be capable of running on alternative fuels. However, to make that happen, industry leaders say the government must help make E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, more available to consumers. Currently less than one percent of America's 170,000 stations offer E85.
Tom Lasorda, Chrysler Group CEO: "There's about 1,100 pumps available today for ethanol fuel. And we said that needs to be increased across the nation, not to every station that is out there, but at least a level that is competitive, where consumers can drive, let's say, two miles to get that kind of fuel."
The Bush administration hopes to reduce gas consumption by 20 percent in 10 years but both the president and automakers have opposed legislation that would mandate tougher fuel economy standards.