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Hybrid Cars Newsletter: Issue No. 021
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~~~ Hybrid Cars Newsletter: Issue No. 0021 ~~~
Moderator: Bradley Berman [email@example.com]
Greetings, Hybrid Car Enthusiasts,
I’ve finally recovered from the jet lag from my recent trip to Bangkok, Thailand. I had the good fortune of receiving an invitation to participate as a panelist in an all-day conference, "Staying Ahead of the Energy Scenarios," sponsored by the Thai media company, The Nation Media Group. It was a thrill to provide my views on how hybrid cars could play a role in Thailand’s burgeoning auto industry I felt like an interloper on the panel, which included chief strategists from Shell International, senior economists from research institutions in Tokyo, China, the U.K., and the World Bank, and the CEOs of Thailand’s largest oil and coal interests.
I was the only presenter who wasn’t representing (and answerable to) a larger entity, and as such, the only one who could speak freely. I couldn’t waste the opportunity, right? I used my time at the podium to try out my recently hatched concept I call "Gasoline Fundamentalism." This is the best term I could concoct to describe the regrettable adherence, on the part of too many companies, industries, and societies, to a singular approach to solving our growing global energy problems. I stood before the crowd of 500, tested the term "Gasoline Fundamentalism" and pointed my finger at Detroit as the worst culprit. I told the cautionary tale of the Big 3′s recent financial troubles, and said that hybrid cars represented the antidote to this fundamentalist approach. The crowd ate it up.
Hybrids are not well known in Thailand. I explained how the worst of the effects from the overwhelming congestion on Bangkok’s maze of wide avenues and narrow alleys-which leaves long rows of vehicles at a complete standstill at all times of the night and day, could certainly be alleviated with the hybrid’s idle-stop technology. But my goal was to convey the big picture. The spirit of hybrid cars is about taking the best of our multiple, readily available technologies, and mixing them to accentuate the benefits of each while mitigating their drawbacks. I encouraged the ministers of energy in attendance to avoid silver bullet solutions , and instead to look at the full-range of practical and available technologies and fuel choices, and combine them to make imperfect but tangible and immediately implement-able changes to energy and transportation systems. Hybridize the strategy! Do what you can today, and improve along the way. Clutching to a single fuel source or a single technology-or constructing a massive, complicated framework and portraying that approach as the only ultimate answer-can be described only as fundamentalism.
I returned to the States to find our national leaders rolling out a number of legislative proposals. Suddenly, hybrids have broken through to the consciousness of our elected officials, as we try to stay ahead of our own energy scenarios. The extent to which any of the newest proposals succeed, if indeed they become law, also will depend on the hybridization of small, simple, common sense, and immediately feasible steps. In this issue of our newsletter, we’ll take a look at the new crop of proposals and discuss a few other more immediate matters, like what to expect from your hybrid during the cold winter months. Enjoy.
Declining gas prices slowed down the feverish pitch of hybrid sales during the early fall. The Toyota Prius seems to defy gravity and continues to fly out of showrooms across the country. Good news for Honda: Motor Trend named the Honda Civic its 2006 Car of the Year. Angus MacKenzie, editor-in-chief at Motor Trend, said, "With the sizzling Si, a sleek coupe, an elegant sedan, and a Hybrid that averages 50 miles per gallon, each model shines through with what Motor Trend looks for when crowning Car of the Year. The engineering passion that Honda Motor Company was founded on radiates from these new Civics." This marks the second time of the last three years that Motor Trend has bestowed its highest honor on a hybrid (or a model offered as a hybrid). Besides the introduction of 2006 models of the Prius and Civic, our list of available hybrids is stuck at 10. Still no minivans or convertibles.
> See our list of available hybrids
Vehicle and Fuel Choices for American Security Act of 2005
On Nov. 16, a bipartisan group of 10 senators and 26 representatives introduced the Vehicle and Fuel Choices for American Security Act. Based on the Blueprint for Energy Security of the Set America Free Coalition, the sweeping bill provides an array of fuel-conscious policy initiatives, from offering financial incentives to enable Detroit to ramp up production to seeking ways to reduce diesel consumption by heavy-duty trucks. In a write-up for HybridCars.com, Anne Korin, co-chair of the Set America Free Coalition, explained who is behind the bill:
"These are not the usual suspects you’d normally hear preaching for alternative fuels and better mileage but–reflecting the sea change in Washington about an issue most Americans regardless of political affiliation care deeply about–a group of primarily southern conservatives who are fed up by the unprecedented transfer of wealth to OPEC and the vulnerability of our transportation sector, which accounts for two-thirds of U.S. oil consumption."
The act doesn’t stipulate specific regulatory programs, but directs the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to publish and carry out an action plan to save 2.5 million barrels per day by 2016, 7 million barrels per day by 2026, and 10 million barrels per day by 2031. Deron Lovaas, vehicles campaign director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the act "a very ambitious mandate, somewhat like the Clean Air Act in its breadth and the flexibility of its interpretation."
Other items in the act include closing the SUV loophole, lifting the per manufacturer cap on consumer tax credits for hybrids, providing retooling tax credits for manufacturers and suppliers of advanced diesels and hybrids, and establishing targets for production of flex-fuel, alt-fuel, gas-electric hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and fuel cell vehicles starting at 10 percent in 2012 and rising to 50 percent by 2016. To qualify, vehicles must meet a performance standard of 175 percent of average fleet fuel economy.
The Healthcare for Hybrids Act
Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was among 10 U.S. senators sponsoring the Vehicle and Fuel Choices for American Security Act. Two days later, on Nov. 18, he introduced a separate bill, co-sponsored with Congressman Jay Inslee (D-Wa.) called "The Healthcare for Hybrids Act." The act connects the dots between the financial hardships faced by Detroit automakers–in part due to the health care burden faced by the Big 3–and the need for American automakers to develop more fuel-efficient vehicles.
The bill’s "findings" section has one of the best plain-English summaries of our collective predicament. In seven easy steps, here we go:
- The United States imports more than half the oil it consumes.
- According to present trends, the United States’ reliance on foreign oil will increase to 68 percent of its total consumption by 2025.
- With only 3 percent of the world’s known oil reserves, the health of the United States’ economy is dependent on world oil prices.
- World oil prices are overwhelmingly dictated by countries other than the United States, thus endangering our economic and national security.
- Legacy health care costs associated with retiree workers are an increasing burden on the global competitiveness of American industries.
- American automakers have lagged behind their foreign competitors in producing hybrid and other energy-efficient automobiles.
- Innovative uses of new technology in automobiles in the United States will help retain American jobs, support health care obligations for retiring workers in the automotive sector, decrease America’s dependence on foreign oil, and address pressing environmental concerns.
What do Obama and Inslee want to do about it? The bill proposes that up to 10 percent of the retiree health care costs for a qualifying manufacturer be paid by federal financial assistance–that is, if the carmaker invests at least 50 percent of the those savings into alt-fuel, flex-fuel and hybrid vehicles, including the retooling of assembly lines, the retraining of workers, and other costs associated with "the diversifying of domestic production of automobiles through the offering of high-performance fuel efficient vehicles." (In other words, if they break from gasoline fundamentalism.)
Auto economist Walter McManus, who lives a stone’s throw from one of the plants threatened by General Motors’ recent closures, called Obama’s bill "a stroke of genius." McManus has recently documented in detail the crisis faced by Detroit for failing to invest in hybrids and other fuel-saving technologies. In his HybridCars.com blog, McManus wrote, "It gives no joy or satisfaction to say, ‘I told you so.’ And unlike all measures that have gone before, the Obama-Inslee legislation takes no such satisfaction. Instead, they have risen above petty partisan argument and entrenched positions with bold, out-of-the-box thinking."
What’s so innovative about the bill? According to McManus:
"Typically, the Federal government influences investment decisions through tax credits. But, in order for tax credits to work you have to have something to tax. Companies posting losses–and the Big 3 are billions in the red–pay no taxes and therefore receive no benefit from a tax credit.
"Senator Obama and Congressmen Inslee have recognized these companies are circling the drain, and with them our national economy and energy security. Their stroke of genius is in connecting the dots: Decreasing oil consumption is clearly a top national priority but it will not happen without a national investment…At this moment in history Detroit simply does not have the financial strength needed to transform its fleet quickly enough to survive."
> See McManus’s blog, which includes a link to a pdf version of the Health Care for Hybrids Act
Hybrid Legislation: Pitfalls and Potholes
Michael Millikin, of Green Car Congress, is the newest addition to our roster of bloggers. In a recent blog, Millikin took note of the recent flurry of pro-hybrid, pro-efficiency legislation and reminded us about past government efforts that fell short. He wrote, "It sounds like the government is going to make us be more fuel-efficient and less petroleum-dependent. Unfortunately, we’ve already been in federally funded ‘fuel efficiency’ development mode for more than 12 years."
Millikin then recounts the Clinton Administration’s 1993 project entitled "Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV)." The goal was to develop a vehicle that delivered fuel economy of 80 mpg-three times that of the then–current 1994 family sedans–without increasing car prices or compromising performance and comfort.
The three automakers did indeed produce their super-efficient mid-sized concepts-all diesel-electric hybrids-in 2000. Five years later, none of the vehicles have made it to market. Millikin advised, "Buyers are the best and ultimate market-makers. If we want a market of fuel-efficient vehicles that lasts, if we want to be free of the petroleum monkey on our backs, we’d better start electing to act that way and stop waiting for solutions from Washington."
Millikin spoke up again in response to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce proposal to levy a surcharge on hybrids and other alt-fuel vehicles, as a mean of making up the $42 billion shortfall in our national highway maintenance budget:
"A universal surcharge on fuel efficiency–which, by the way, would need to be extended to diesel vehicles as well to be equitable in terms of comparative vehicle fuel efficiency–would be a stunningly myopic policy blunder at a time when we need to be encouraging the wide-spread purchase of more fuel-efficient vehicles, not discouraging it…We need to figure out a way to adequately fund our highways and byways. But we should not risk tomorrow’s environmental, economic and political well being to fill today’s pothole."
See Michael Millikin’s blog "HyView"
Battle over Greenhouse Gases Heading to New York
While all eyes turn toward the latest legislative proposals, California’s powerful pending regulation to curb global warming pollution may get overlooked. Just over a year ago, California regulators approved a plan to drastically reduce vehicle emissions related to global warming over the next 11 years. "It’s the most challenging regulation that’s ever been proposed by the California Air Resources Board, or even the EPA" said Thomas C. Austin, a top research consultant on the regulation. The new regulation would require the auto industry to cut the car emissions from its new fleets by approximately 30 percent. The only way to cut emissions to these levels is to dramatically increase efficiency.
On Nov. 24, the New York Times reported that New York’s State Environmental Board unanimously approved adopting California’s tighter restrictions for greenhouse gas emissions. New York joins nine other states–Maine, New Jersey, Vermont, Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Pennsylvania–that have either already signed up or are in the process of adopting the California standards.
The response from automakers, Honda included, is that they don’t have the technology to improve efficiency by 30 percent. (Huh?) Lobbyists say there would be no health benefits to the plan; there’s a great debate about what it would cost; and the resolution probably requires presidential approval. Soon after the regulations were first approved in California, a lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Fresno by 13 California car dealerships and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, seeking an injunction to halt California from enacting the plan. The alliance includes GM, DaimlerChrysler, BMW, Volkswagen, and even hybrid-makers Ford and Toyota.
With New York joining the fray, people who like to breathe fresh air and who don’t want to see the world flooded by melting polar icecaps got a strong new ally: New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. Judith Enck, a policy adviser to Spitzer, said she expected more challenges on many fronts, with automakers battling New York every step of the way. "We’re ready for them to file a lawsuit if the state sneezes," she said.
If California and the other states are able to form a powerful alternative regulatory bloc, then the car companies will have to raise the fuel-efficiency standards of their products, or face being blocked from approximately one-third of the nation’s auto market.
> See full article
It is a fundamental of physics, reflected in the Second Law of Thermodynamics, that transforming energy from one form to another inevitably introduces significant losses. According to engineer Chris Ellis, this explains why the efficiency of a battery-based hybrid drive system is so low. When a battery is involved, there are four energy-sapping transformations in each regenerative braking cycle:
- Kinetic energy is transformed into electrical energy in a motor/generator
- Then the electrical energy is transformed into chemical energy as the battery charges up
- Later the battery discharges, transforming chemical into electrical energy
- Finally, the electrical energy passes into the motor/generator acting as a motor and is transformed once more into kinetic energy
The ideal solution is to avoid all four of the energy-sapping transformations from one form of energy to another. This can only be achieved by keeping the vehicle’s energy in the same form as when the vehicle starts braking, and the form it must inevitably be in when the vehicle is back up to speed. In other words, less conversion equals less energy lost. This requires the use of high-speed flywheels, popular in space and in uninterruptible power supplies for computer systems, etc., but novel in cars.
Engineers are now taking the geared high-speed flywheel concept and applying it to full-sized cars, trucks, and buses. The prize is efficiency of at least 60 percent, with the possibility of 80 percent or more with further development. The result is a further dramatic improvement in fuel economy, at lower cost, without sacrificing acceleration.
> Read full article
Winter Driving and Hybrids
Like it or not, the snowy season is upon us. That means it’s time to remind you that the fuel economy of all cars, not just hybrids, will drop along with the temperature. What should you expect?
> Read full article
Where Is Your Car Taking You?
HybridCars.com blogger Andrew Grant recently took a break from driving his hybrid taxi, and began working as a personal coach. In that capacity, he helps his clients create a bridge from their current state of mind to their desired state of mind. In his most recent blog, he wrote, "The choices you make every moment of your life define how you experience it. You can choose to live by the same old patterns that may or may not serve you in the most positive way. The vehicle you drive is a direct case in point."
In the follow-up discussion thread, a site visitor named Michael responded: "Once you really understand the enormous impact your lifestyle is having on the Earth, you can’t go on living as you did before. You must choose: make the world better, or make it worse…As with other burdens and choices in life, if you choose wisely there comes an irrevocable satisfaction and happiness from knowing you did the right thing."
> Read the full blog and follow-up discussion
Thanks for tuning in to this edition of the HybridCars.com newsletter. We hope you enjoyed it. Thanks, and until next time…
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