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Hybrid Cars Newsletter: Issue No. 003
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~~~ Hybrid Cars Newsletter: Issue No. 0003 ~~~
Moderator: Bradley Berman [firstname.lastname@example.org]
In This Issue:
– Giving Cars a Green Score: Interview with Jim Kliesch of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE)
—-> Establishing a Vehicle’s Greenness
—-> Fuel Costs vs. Total Costs
—-> 20 Tons of Carbon Dioxide Year
—-> Hybrid Cars As a Starting Point
– Held Hostage to Oil Prices?: Interview with Jason Mark of Global Exchange
—-> The Effects of Oil Addiction
—-> 50 MPG by 2010
—-> Tangible Immediate Steps
Greetings Hybrid Cars Enthusiasts,
As prices at the gas pump continue to climb, and news of a possible OPEC cut in oil production makes the headlines, interest in hybrid cars is soaring. I’ve seen nearly a two-fold increase in daily visitors to hybridcars.com in the last several weeks. Is a hit to consumers’ wallets going to be the key to getting the American public to think about fuel economy? How high will prices need to go before car buyers walk past the SUVs and head toward the hybrids? And how long until those folks who want it all—the SUV’s size and the hybrid’s eco-benefits—can have their cake and eat it too with a hybrid SUV? These questions, and a lot more about what it all means in this exciting period before hybrids really take off, are answered in newsletter number three. Thanks a million to Jim Kliesch of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and Jason Mark of Global Exchange for their help in unraveling the green car puzzle.
One last announcement. If you or anyone you know drives a hybrid, electronic vehicle or bio-diesel vehicle, please invite them to this important event:
Hybrid, Electric Vehicle and Bio-diesel Rally and Parade at NYC Auto Show
Saturday, April 10,12:00 Noon
Assemble at 36th Street and 11th Avenue
~~ When Will See the First Hybrid SUV?~~
The race is on for which car maker will release the first Hybrid SUV: Lexus or Ford. I’m keeping close tabs on the progress of the Ford Escape SUV and the Lexus RX 400H Hybrid SUV, and their real versus promised features. I have the basics on each one on hybridcars.com at:
It’s mostly marketing fluff, but that’s all we really have at this time. I’ll post updated specs as they become available. And, to make it easy to join the bandwagon, I’ve started a no-obligation waiting list if you want to test-drive either or both of the SUVs as soon as they arrive:
Ford Escape Hybrid Waiting List: http://www.hybridcars.com/escape-waiting-list.html
Lexus RX 400H Hybrid SUV Waiting List: http://www.hybridcars.com/lexus-suv-waiting-list.html
“Choosing a vehicle that’s a few miles per gallon better offers insurance against volatility in the fuel market,” says Jim Kliesch, a green vehicle technology expert at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). He is the author of ACEEE’s annual Green Book, and manages the companion greenercars.com website. A few weeks ago, Jim and I discussed how ACEEE gives its scores. Jim holds an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, and a Masters degree in environmental and energy policy.
Establishing a Vehicle’s Greenness
BB: Your background positions you very well to understand the energy efficiency of various cars that are available. The average consumer doesn’t have an inkling of engineering or energy policy. How do you approach helping them to make their purchasing decisions?
JK: That was whole idea behind our publication of the Green Book. We wanted to develop a methodology that provided an environmental scoring of today’s cars and trucks, and make that information available to consumers in an accessible fashion. We’ve taken the major components affecting a vehicle’s greenness, including its fuel economy, how clean its tailpipe emissions are (commonly known as the emission standard of the vehicle), manufacturing impacts, which are related to vehicle mass, and some other information about upstream emissions [oil production costs prior to reaching the pump], and combined them to produce what we term a “green score,” a comprehensive environmental evaluation of the vehicle. We do this for every car and truck on the market.
In other words, we took out all of the guesswork. We did the legwork to provide consumers with a resource that allows them to literally compare one model next to another on an environmental scale. So, if they want to find the greenest pick-up truck on the market, or the greenest car bar none on the market, it’s something they can easily do.
Fuel Costs vs. Total Costs
BB: Let’s talk about the criterion you have on the site. You have fuel costs, health costs, greenhouse gas emissions, and environmental damage index. Could you run those down? Especially with the fuel costs, I want to ask you about the up front costs of purchasing a hybrid, getting to the issue of whether or not you’re recouping that investment by gas savings.
JK: Regarding fuel costs, an assumption has to be made about the annual amount of driving that’s done. The number that’s typically used is 15,000 miles. The fuel costs we specify are official government numbers and are also available on the fueleconomy.gov website. They include general assumptions about the cost of diesel, the cost of gasoline, and the cost of premium gasoline. Mathematically, it’s just 15,000 miles divided by X miles per gallon times a buck fifty per gallon, or whatever the price is for the type of fuel the vehicle uses. That’s going to be your annual fuel cost.
BB: That’s a facile kind of calculation. And yet, when you calculate that, you’d have to spread the cost over many years before you’re recouping the two or three thousand dollars more for a hybrid car.
JK: Sure. It’ll take a number of years before you recoup your investment in fuel savings, or maybe not necessarily years, if you drive coast to coast every other week. It’s dependent on how much you drive.
BB: Which leads us to the other kinds of costs.
JK: Health costs are a monetary representation of the damage caused by the various pollutants that the vehicle emits. Our methodology includes research of epidemiological studies that state, for example, Nitrogen oxide causes so many millions of dollars worth of damage in respiratory ailments, etc. Those numbers can be taken down to the damage caused by a vehicle over a year of driving. Examining each of the major pollutants, such as particulate matter, nitrogen oxide, hydrocarbons, and carbon monoxide, a composite monetary health damage can be estimated. The resulting number will indicate, for example, that $120 per year in health damage is caused by driving a given car for one year.
BB: What would be typical comparisons of, let’s say, the unhealthiest cars, say a big SUV, versus a smaller car or a hybrid car?
JK: Let’s look at the classic large SUV, the Ford Excursion. While not necessarily the unhealthiest, the Ford Excursion’s health costs are $330 dollars a year. The Civic Hybrid, on the other hand, is $110 per year. So an additional $220 dollars a year in health damage is being caused by the pollutants being emitted by the Excursion.
BB: I think what this is helping me to see is that there is a “whole cost” that you’re recouping [when buying a hybrid] versus a strict fuel cost.
BB: Can we jump on to the environmental damage index?
JK: The environmental damage index, or EDX, is the overall amount of damage caused by the vehicle, everything included — upstream emissions, in use emissions, embodied emissions, the whole nine yards. The EDX actually is used to produce our Green Score, which is simply a more user friendly zero-to-100 representation of the EDX. But for comparing vehicles, the EDX is really handy. For instance, the EDX of the Ford Excursion is 4.14 cents per mile, while the Civic Hybrid’s is 1.42 cents per mile. To compare the vehicles, just look at the ratio of the two numbers.
BB: It’s a ratio. An apples to apples comparison, not one that you could really, if somebody wanted to hold you to the fire, say it’s really costing you that much.
JK: No. It is. It really is costing you that much, as best can be done according to us, using current estimates of damage costs and such. But you can also divide those numbers and find that the Ford Excursion on a per mile traveled comparison is 2.9 times as damaging as the Honda Civic Hybrid. It’s a comprehensive way to look at the overall environmental impact of the vehicle.
20 Tons of Carbon Dioxide Year
BB: Let’s look at the fourth one: greenhouse gas emissions. I’m looking at the Civic Hybrid numbers, and it says six tons a year. Could that be right?
JK: Yes. That is right.
BB: So, a very clean hybrid car is emitting six tons of CO2 a year?
JK: That’s right. Compare that to the Excursion, which is twenty tons a year.
BB: Twenty tons of CO2?!
JK: Yeah. The reason for that is gasoline has a lot of carbon in it. You burn carbon and it combines with the oxygen to produce CO2. One gallon of gasoline produces 19 pounds of CO2. Over 15,000 miles of annual driving, think about how many gallons you’re burning, plus the upstream emissions related to that, as well as the greenhouse emissions of other pollutants. CO2 is your primary greenhouse gas pollutant, but there are others as well. Nitrous oxide, for example, N20, has a certain global warming potential. As does methane, CH4. While there’s not as much of these gases coming out of the tailpipe as CO2, there is a global warming effect caused by these gases nonetheless.
BB: A car emits between six tons and twenty tons a year, and from my window right now, I can see many many cars traveling along the highway. Given this, I would like to get to a sense of what your work is really about and what effect you think it could have.
JK: Clearly, just as you said, you look outside, and you see just how many cars are on the road, and frankly just how many large trucks there are on the road. Although I don’t think I said this earlier, if you look at our “meanest vehicles” list, it’s dominated by large SUVs that have poor fuel economy and that meet the bare minimum tailpipe emissions standards. Conversely, our “greenest vehicles” list is populated by vehicles that have high fuel economy and meet the most stringent tailpipe emissions standards. The technology is on the shelf. We can definitely clean up cars. And, in fact, over the last five years, tailpipe emissions of vehicles has been getting much much better. Unfortunately, fuel economy has gone nowhere, literally, in the last twenty years. Examining overall average fuel economy for each model year, we’re at the lowest level we’ve been since 1981.
BB: Across all cars, makes, and models?
JK: Across all passenger cars and trucks, all makes and models. The average fuel economy of model 2004 vehicles is no better than it was 23 years ago. A big reason for that is the popularity of SUVs throughout the ‘90s. The growth of the SUV market has just been astounding compared to other vehicle segments.
Hybrid Cars As a Starting Point
BB: Are you optimistic at all about the growth of hybrid cars?
JK: Yes. We are. A couple of different studies have come out and placed significant growth on the order of somewhere between 350,000 and a half million vehicles annually being sold around 2006 – 2007 timeframe. We think that’s doable and are excited by the prospects. There are a number of new models that have been announced, as you probably are already aware, some very well known nameplates. Honda Accord, Ford Escape, Toyota Highlander. Popular, popular vehicles that we feel would be really promising in hybrid versions.
BB: And yet when you look at the total U.S. annual sales of cars, which I believe is sixteen million, against that figure which might rise to 100,000 this year, and in the next years to two or three hundred thousand…
JK: Sure. It’s still a drop in the bucket compared to sixteen, seventeen million vehicles annually, but you’ve got to start somewhere.
Jason Mark leads the Clean Car Campaign for Global Exchange, a non-profit human rights organization based in San Francisco. In that capacity, Jason is directing Global Exchange’s "Jumpstart Ford" campaign, which is demanding that Ford Motor Company and the other auto manufacturers do everything they can to break America’s addiction to oil. Jason previously developed and implemented campaign strategies to stop Nike and Gap sweatshops, and to pressure Starbucks to offer Fair Trade certified coffee. He’s the co-author of Insurrection: Citizen Challenges to Corporate Power [Routledge Press].
The Effects of Oil Addiction
BB: For a consumer thinking about buying a hybrid car, or buying any car, what should they know about gas consumption and its effects?
JM: There’s no question that the United States is addicted to oil. We’re only five percent of the world’s population, yet we consume twenty-five percent of the world’s oil. Like any addiction, oil addiction is very dangerous. I’ll enumerate some of the reasons why that’s so.
Oil addiction endangers our economy. You look at the periodic oil shocks that have occurred since the early 1970s. They’ve cost the U.S. economy literally trillions of dollars. You look at the way our economy is literally held hostage to oil prices. For example, right now we’re seeing an increase in oil prices, and that has an inflationary effect throughout everything that we buy and sell, every good and service that we may use because this is the life blood of industrial society.
Being addicted to oil is not good for our economy. It’s not even good for the auto industry. You look, for example, at how the Japanese auto companies have really taken the lead on hybrids. Well, that’s not good news for GM, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler. Unless the American auto companies make an immediate U-turn, I think we’re looking at a repeat of the early 1980s when Japanese car companies hammered the North American ones. That’s not good for U.S. workers or the U.S. economy.
Oil addiction quite obviously endangers our environment. The most obvious proof of that is global warming, which any respectable scientist, any scientist who has not been bought and sold by the oil and gas industry, they’re going to say that global warming is happening. In fact, even the Pentagon is acknowledging that it’s happening. The Pentagon recently commissioned a report to look at the geo-strategic risks of global warming and it’s not a pretty picture.
You can see how we’re changing the entire climate of the globe. And then there’s the very immediate consequences and environmental dangers of our oil addiction, the way that it leads to habitat destruction, sensitive eco-system destruction in the world’s rain forests, and other sensitive areas, for example, within the Arctic Circle and Antarctic areas. You can see the impact here in American waterways, where thousands of gallons of oil are spilled everyday into America’s streams, rivers, and lakes. So, there’s a very real environmental cost to our oil addiction.
Oil addiction also endangers human rights. There’s been a number of different books, a great one is Resource Wars, by Michael Claire, or another one called The Paradox of Plenty, that look at how nations who are dependent upon oil are some of the most violent countries in the world, some of the most repressive. You can look first at Saudi Arabia, but there are even less well known examples like Angola, where you’ve had a brutal civil war based in part on competing control of the country’s natural resources. You can look at Colombia, currently in the midst of a forty year civil war, where competition for that country’s oil resources have led to violence that have killed innocent bystanders. The list goes on and on. Nigeria.
50 MPG by 2010
BB: What’s the goal of Global Exchange’s Ford campaign?
JM: We’re asking Ford and all the other major automakers, the big six automakers, to take immediate action to create a new car fleet that’ll average 50 mpg by 2010, and have zero tailpipe emissions by 2020. We need to see a concrete detailed plan for how they would reach those goals we’ve set out for them before we would stop our public campaigning and direct action and protest.
BB: Do you mean for their entire fleet?
JM: The entire new car fleet.
BB: So when they come out with the models for the year 2010, you’re asking that they have an average fuel efficiency of 50 mpg?
JM: That’s correct.
BB: Have they responded?
JM: We’ve had two meetings with Ford, and we have a third coming up. They say they’re not going to be able to meet our demands. We say, we bet you’re going to find a way to try.
BB: Do they say why they’re not able to meet your demands?
JM: They say our demands are unrealistic. We point out that they have at least two full production cycles between now and 2010 to overhaul. We’re also pointing out that between 1942 and 1943, the American auto industry entirely shut down, retooled, and became quote unquote “the arsenal of democracy.” What we’re asking is not impossible. If the challenges we’re facing today, environmental challenges, and social challenges associated with war and threats to our national security, we believe are every bit as pressing as those faced in 1942.
BB: In reading some of your material, I saw that Ford cars today on average get fewer miles per gallon than they did twenty years ago.
JM: That’s correct. In fact, the typical Ford vehicle on the road today gets worse gas mileage than the Model T did eighty years ago.
Tangible Immediate Steps
BB: I look at the challenge that we all face to reverse this trend, and to turn around a gigantic ship, and it sometimes seems insurmountable. I drive around in my hybrid, and I almost never see anyone in another hybrid. Maybe in other cities, there are more. I see some billboards promoting the Prius and hear radio sponsorships, but the availability of hybrid cars have not permeated the consciousness of America.
JM: These issues do seem insurmountable, but as I was explaining to you about other corporate accountability campaigns, that change is possible. One hundred years ago in this county, women couldn’t vote. Most Blacks, though they technically could vote, didn’t enjoy the franchise. Women vote today, and we no longer have Jim Crow laws, because people got together and organized for real social change. I think the issue has that same kind of potential. Because of the grip oil has over our lives, we can’t get away from it. At some point, we’re going to have to deal with this dependence and this addiction. I think change is possible. It happens slow, and sometimes glacially. Working together, we can see real progress.
BB: And there’s such a real and tangible step people can take, in terms of the car people drive, and even the way that they drive.
JM: Exactly right. It’s sort of the Ghandian idea of “be the change you want to see.” For some people, it’s going to mean riding bicycles or taking mass transit. But face it, most of American geography, the design of our cities, is not going to accommodate that. So I tell people, getting out of your SUVs and into a hybrid car is not going to be the end of the world. But not getting out of our SUVs just might be.
There you have it; a movement in the works. It’s a movement that you can join with a single purchasing decision. (Or, if you prefer, it’s just a fun car to drive.)
Until the next time, happy driving.
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