Driving In Circles New Fuel-Efficiency Initiative Is More PR Than Progress by Steven Rosenfeld The Bush administration is giving Detroit a subsidy to develop hydrogen-fueled cars. But if history is a guide, automakers will use the program to cover their lack of any real progress on fuel efficiency.
http://www.tompaine.com/feature.cfm?ID=4959 TOMPAINE.com - Driving In Circles New Fuel-Efficiency Initiative Is More PR Than Progress Steven Rosenfeld is an audio producer and reporter for TomPaine.com. The Bush administration has announced that an eight-year-old, $2 billion federal program to create high-mileage gas vehicles was being scrapped and a new program -- focusing on hydrogen fuel-cells -- was being created. The administration's decision has major consequences for the U.S. economy, energy policy, national security and global warming. TomPaine.com's Steven Rosenfeld asked Jack Doyle, author of Taken for A Ride: Detroit's Big Three and the Politics of Pollution, to discuss the importance of this decision, the history behind it, and its likely ramifications. TomPaine.com: The Bush Administration is ending a federal program to increase gas mileage to create so-called 80 mile-per-gallon cars, and instead says it will focus on hydrogen fuel cell technology. How much progress was being made toward the goal of more fuel-efficient vehicles? Jack Doyle: When the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles, which is called PNGV, when that was created in 1993, [then Vice-President] Al Gore was the chief architect. He looked at it as a solution to getting the United States to [achieve] its global warming obligations, to cut back on CO2, in particular. The auto industry had come to Clinton and Gore just after the election and said, 'We understand that you need some help on health care and trade issues. We're willing to help you on those fronts if you will back off on fuel economy.' It was never put in quite those terms, but they had gone to Arkansas, during the transition, after Clinton and Gore were elected, and a quid pro quo -- a deal was cut, basically -- that said, 'Okay. We create this venture to get to an 80 mile-per-gallon car, fuel efficiency -- and you assure us that you won't enact fuel-economy standards through Congress,' known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, the acronym. This was, as I think Clinton put it at the time, 'a moonshot for fuel economy.' TP.c: So how much progress was actually made in the intervening years? Doyle: Well, to make a long story short, what happened here is basically, this PNGN became a hiding place for the Big Three [automakers] on fuel economy. They got to look around the federal labs. There's been nearly $2 billion of taxpayer money shoveled into this venture and not much to show for it. In fact, it's really served the automobile industry quite well. It really has kept them out of the business of increasing fuel economy. Our national fleet today, all the vehicles out there, average about 20 miles per gallon. That's a technological embarrassment. That's just a real failure on the part of both the government and the auto industry, because, when you think about it, go back to the first energy crisis in the mid-1970s. Then vehicles were around 13 miles-per-gallon average. Look at the top-10 selling SUVs and trucks today, they are getting about 16 miles-per-gallon. TP.c: With the $2 billion that was spent on this program, were there any tangible results? Doyle: There were some technologies developed in the federal labs. And there is probably some advance on batteries for electric vehicles. But those advances probably would have occurred in the federal laboratories, without the Big Three being involved. This joint venture slowed things down, I think. It took away the competitive edge. The irony of this PNGV venture, when it was first established in 1993, the Japanese saw it. They became very concerned about this, because they said, 'Wow, this looks like a major initiative to get to electric or advanced vehicles, so we better step up our effort.' And that's exactly what they did. Some of the companies, namely Toyota and Honda, really redoubled their effort and came up in five years -- Toyota did in five years -- what PNGV has yet to do. The hybrid vehicle from Toyota, the Prius, gets nearly 50-60 mpg, the equivalent of that, with a half-electric, half gasoline engine. And consequently today, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler are about five years behind the Japanese on hybrid vehicle development. TP.c: In Taken for a Ride, you've written extensively about the automakers' repeated attempts, literally over the decades since World War II, to delay implementing new technologies, whether for cleaner exhaust or alternative fuels. So when the Administration today says that there is going to be a shift in focus to hydrogen fuel cells, how do you contextualize that announcement? Is it a lofty new goal, that in reality will take years to implement, so they can keep selling SUVs? Or is it a technology that actually could be poised to be implemented in the near future? Doyle: The fuel-cell vehicle, powered by hydrogen, that is the holy grail of transportation technology right now. It is a lofty goal and it is an important goal. And the federal government and the auto industry should be pursuing it with no hesitation and should be aggressive about it. However, what we have in this instance is really a lot of rhetoric, I think, when you look at what's been happening. It's an exact repeat of PNGV, because we're having the Big Three again, along with the Energy Department, christening this project. I think they're calling it 'Freedom Car' or something. They say, by the way, there are no deadlines, no goals, but we have a 10-year program. So I can't really put much faith in this. And every time the auto industry sees a threat on the horizon, some kind of venture or research monies are thrown at alternatives and nothing changes. You have autoshow after autoshow after autoshow rolling out these prototypes that never never get to production. It's a joke. TP.c: So what is the relation of this White House announcement to the Energy Bill that's now in the Senate? Doyle: I believe it's really an effort, politically, to deflect Congress from going forward with tough fuel-economy standards, and we absolutely need those now. Now that's not to say that the administration cannot elevate and prod fuel-cell production, which it absolutely should, but we can have both. There's no reason why we cannot pursue a fuel-cell program and require tough fuel-economy standards today. This is a national security problem. I mean, [Homeland Security Chief] Tom Ridge is looking for homeland security issues, this should be at the top of his list. Last year, we spent $106 billion or thereabouts on oil imports. That's about $200,000 a minute leaving the country, just leaving our economic system. So, there are security, there are economic -- good, solid, flag-waving issues here -- to make fuel economy a top priority in Detroit and elsewhere. The only way we're going to do that is through enlightened public policy. We can certainly pursue the fuel cell and we should. No question about it, that leadership is welcome. But we need, also, to have tough fuel-economy standards for the near-term. Published: Jan 14 2002 Biofuel at Journey to Forever: http://journeytoforever.org/biofuel.html Please do NOT send "unsubscribe" messages to the list address. To unsubscribe, send an email to: [EMAIL PROTECTED] Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/