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Preview: Obama at Plug-In Center Thurs + News Roundup
Mar 18, 2009 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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We've been as overloaded as anyone would be who tries to keep track of the announcements of more plug-in concept cars, progress by small companies, new demonstration projects, more books on plug-ins; volume of media coverage and reports, and continuing uncertainty about the fate of the Detroit Three. We're highlighting some of those -- starting with the big news of the week: President Obama's first-hand look at some plug-in cars.

We've picked the stories below because you may otherwise have missed them:

  • Obama to see plug-in cars tomorrow
  • PHEV from Jaguar/Lotus?
  • GM will build Vue PHEV with/without Saturn
  • Green cars in China/Why Warren Buffet invested in BYD
  • Pix of future PHEV concepts
  • Christian Science Monitor surveys broad status of plug-in cars
  • ARB Workshop on Conversions next Wednesday
  • Green:Net conference in San Francisco next Tuesday
  • CA Air Resources Board Chair on battery/fuel cell wars
  • GORT Cloud and Eco-Barons: new books feature PHEVs
  • Giant international foundation on future of automobiles
  • Eminent Emma Rothschild's overview on transportation

Here's how the Detroit News reported on the story at­apps/­pbcs.dll/­article?AID=/­20090317/­POLITICS/­903170357/­1022/­POLITICS :

President Barack Obama will visit an electric vehicle research facility this week, highlighting the administration's push for advanced technology vehicles. But the president isn't visiting any of Detroit's Big Three automakers, opting instead for a research arm of a California utility. California is home to a number of small electric car start-up companies working to produce or convert vehicles to plug-ins. Obama will visit Southern California's Edison Electric Vehicle Technical Center, a research center in Pomona, on Thursday. "Obviously as we imagine an auto industry for the future, and I know the auto industry has put a lot of research and funding into the development of cars that can go 40 miles on one charge of a battery, the president hopes to focus and highlight the ability for clean energy jobs to spur economic growth and job creation as we go forward," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Monday.

A report in USA Today, "California utility prepares for surge in plug-in electric cars"­money/­industries/­energy/­2009-03-15-plug-in-electric-cars_N.htm , describes the Pomona facility and quotes Ed Kjaer, SCE's longtime Director of Transportation (and lead player at the Electric Drive Transportation Association and in the 2008 and 2009 Plug In conferences). The story highlights SCE's large fleet of Toyota RAV4 EVs and others that have driven more than 17 million miles since 1999. Earth2Tech­2009/­03/­17/­obama-to-plug-green-jobs-at-cali-electric-car-lab/­ says the facility has "the so-called 'garage of the future' -- a grid-connected, solar-powered green car dream dock."

President Obama has seen PHEVs at Google (see photo at­photos.html ) and recently his lead automotive advisors Ron Bloom and Steve Rattner saw Volt prototypes recently in Detroit. Stay tuned: the event is closed to the public but will be covered by pool reporters -- and who knows, the President may talk about it when he appears Thursday night with auto enthusiast Jay Leno.

JAGUAR/LOTUS/CAPARO 2011 XJ PHEV PROJECT: see­blog/­1018769_future-jaguar-xj-may-cut-co2-via-lotus-limogreen-project

See report at­2009/­02/­21/­gm-remains-committed-to-the-plug-in-saturn-vue-program/­

CHINESE GREEN CAR ROUNDUP: See Reuters,­article/­reuterscomService5/­idUSTRE52C1A420090313

described in a report from October:­news/­story/­warren-buffett-looks-electric-car/­story.aspx?guid={1FFA3661-1A19-423C-8375-FFAC4541B7CE}

FUTURE PLUG-INS: From the Geneva Show, Eart2tech's Josie Garthwaite has collected photos of 10 concept cars at­2009/­03/­04/­photos-10-geneva-motor-show-cars-the-future-of-transport/­ -- they include the Magna Steyr Mila EV, an EV/PHEV platform; the Mitsubishi iMiEV in an extended-range design; the Opel AMpera version of the Volt; and the Citroen C4 WRC Hybrid 4

ELECTRIC CARS CHARGE AHEAD: Mark Clayton of the Christian Science Monitor, who has been following PHEVs and CalCars since 2004, has an excellent roundup/overview of the status of auto industry plans, advocacy efforts, and community "readiness" programs at­innovation/­2009/­03/­13/­electric-cars-charge-ahead/­

PHEV CONVERSIONS WORKSHOP NEXT WEDS: Following the January 23 hearing of the California Air Resources Board on regulating conversions, some of the interested parties have met with ARB staff. The next step is a public workshop in Sacramento on at 9:30AM on Weds, March 25. See the notice and agenda at­msprog/­zevprog/­hevtest/­hevtest.htm for details and a link to the webcast.

Mayor Newsom has just joined the lineup of a one-day conference, "Where Green and Networks Meet," that aims at educating investors and information technology industry insiders, investors and entrepreneurs about the integration of cleantech and technology. Felix Kramer moderates a panel on vehicles and the grid. The event at­greennet/­09/­ is nearly sold out.

Mary Nichols' frustration at the "madness " of the debate reported at­2009/­02/­arb-chairman-ch.html -- her views and some of the more reasoned comments confirm that the contending solutions are finally being evaluated on their merits.

UPDATES ON BRIGHT AUTOMOTIVE: See­tech/­giga_om/­clean_tech/­2009/­03/­11/­bright_automotive_to_hawk_the_anti_chevy_volt_but_wheres_the_money/­ and­news/­4254/­stealthy-bright-automotive-gives-hi , which concludes, "Bright has other plans that could be realized sooner than 2012. The company's Bright Works division is creating systems for mass-production vehicle conversion, hybrid controls, and battery pack integration that Bright plans to sell to major automakers around the globe. [Bright Vice President of Marketing] Lyle Shuey said he expects the company to announce customers for those products in the second of third quarter of this year."

NEW BOOK#1: THE GORT CLOUD: The Invisible Force Powering Today's Most Visible Green Brands by veteran brand consultant Richard Sereeni with screen and copy writer Scott Fields, maps out a network of experts, activists, tastemakers, special interests, consumers and others. "Driving Fast in the Green Lane" case study profiles CalCars and Tesla Motors as well as Hymotion and Southern California Edison. The book's website is at and you can order the book via the link at­books.html .

NEW BOOK#2: ECO-BARONS: The Dreamers, Schemers, and Millionaires Who Are Saving Our Planet, by Edward Humes, is about "the remarkable visionaries who have quietly dedicated their lives and their fortunes to saving the planet from ecological destruction." It includes a chapter profiling the inventor of the modern PHEV, Prof Andy Frank of UC Davis and Efficient Drivetrains, Inc. You can order the book via the link at­books.html .

IMPORTANT INTERNATIONAL REPORT comes from The FIA Foundation, "an independent UK registered charity which manages and supports an international programme of activities promoting road safety, environmental protection and sustainable mobility, as well as funding specialist motor sport safety research.It was established in 2001 with a donation of $300 million made by the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), the non-profit federation of motoring organisations and the governing body of world motor sport." The FIA, partnering with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), International Energy Agency (IEA), International Transport Forum (ITF) just launched the "50 by 50: Global Fuel Initiative (GFEI) to develop a global fuel economy roadmap to be embarked upon immediately, and integrated into financial support for the car industry. The first development is a report outlining ways to reduce fuel consumption/kilometer by 50% by 2050. (The report notes that the car fleet will triple by 2050 and recognizes the potential consequences for climate change.) The resulting report found at , a very attractive document packed full of useful data, outlines steps using "existing cost-effective technologies' to achieve this goal, and lays out a plan for regional activities and briefings to move toward that goal. Importantly, the publication acknowledges that plug-in cars will be changing the equation and making many more options possible. Its only recognition of steps to be taken related to cars on the road is improving tires or paying to scrap them -- no mention of any conversion options.

Emma Rotschild is a British economic historian and professor at Harvard and Kings College, Cambridge University. She's the author of one of the most widely read books on the auto industry, " Paradise Lost: The Decline of the Auto-Industrial Age," published in 1973 at another crisis point for the auto industry. Now in the New York Review of Books, she asks, "Can We Transform the Auto-Industrial Society?" She starts with some extraordinary statistics about the change in income, wealth and expenditures in the U.S. and the relative spending on automobiles. Examples: "US consumers spent less on new automobiles in 2007 than they spent on 'brokerage charges and investment counselling'; in 1979, they had spent ten times as much." And "In March 2008, General Motors and Ford were together worth about 5 percent of the value of the oil company Exxon." Then she goes on to take a birds' eye view of the challenges for the auto industry and the Obama Administration. (Her views mesh to some extent with the historical and policy perspective presented by Daniel Sperling and Deborah Gordon in the recently-published "Two Billion Cars: Driving Toward Sustainability.") Here are some chunks of the second half of the article -- reading the entire piece at­articles/­22333 will put these provocative comments in context.

But a bailout that includes no more than a commitment to fuel efficiency, or to electric vehicles, without increasing investment in public transportation and in the substitution of information for transportation, would be a denial of the Obama administration's commitments to respond to climate change. For the idyll of plug-in hybrids is also the promise of a high-energy, low-carbon society, in which the auto-industrial organization of space, or of transport-intensive growth, is set in concrete for another generation, or longer. It is frightening in relation to the US, and a dystopia in relation to the world. A new, hybrid economy for the world, at present US rates of 0.8 cars and trucks per person, would include a universewide fleet of a billion hybrid vehicles in China and a further billion in India; an asphalt Asia of more than four hundred cars per square mile.

An enduring bailout, or a new deal for Detroit, would be different. It would be an investment in ending the auto-industrial society of the late twentieth century. This would involve innovation in public transportation, and in the infrastructure that would enable people to work at home or close to home. It would engage the information industries in making public transport more convenient, more enticing, and more secure. It would be open to the sorts of improvements that have been suggested in the expansion of rail and bus transportation in China, Japan, and France, for example, and in India by the information technology services companies.

The automobile industry, and its employees and retired employees, could be part of a bailout of this sort; they could be a source of plug-in hybrids, bus engines, new ideas for assisting deprived urban communities (like so many of the cities of Michigan and Ohio), and long-forgotten projects of public transportation. The condition for continuing support would be a lasting commitment to innovation in low-CO2 vehicles, and also in the public transport and urban projects with which the auto companies were once so involved.

The crisis of the automobile industry presents a seriously difficult set of problems for the new administration. These problems have to do with the connections between short-term and long-term economic policies, policies concerned with the economy, the environment, and energy, and policies that influence the very long-term relationship between the state and markets (as the policies of the New Deal of the 1930s did, for at least two generations).

One of the early outcomes of the economic crisis of 2008 has been a substantial reduction in the competitiveness of the financial services industry, and an increase in its political power; it has become an oligopoly of corporations that are too big to fail. General Motors is already too big to fail; I hope so, because of the consequences that its failure, or bankruptcy, would have in Michigan, Ohio, and elsewhere, and for the hundreds of thousands of people who were in a position, years ago, to negotiate reasonable wages and reasonable benefits. But a new, improved General Motors, or a General Motors­Toyota super-corporation, could be "viable" in the evaluation of financial markets, and also a monstrous leviathan of political influence. "Whenever the legislature attempts to regulate the differences between masters and their workmen, its counsellors are always the masters," Adam Smith wrote of the British Parliament in the 1760s, and the counselors of the US Congress, as of successive US administrations, have been the "masters" of the automobile industry. This is a failure of government, and it is also a market failure, or a failure of markets to exist.

A new deal in which the bailout of the automobile industry was one component of a program of investment in the transformation of the auto-industrial society would connect economic, environmental, and energy policies. It would be a commitment to current as well as capital expenditures; to a Transportation Security Agency, for example, composed not only of people who search passengers in airports but of people who drive electric buses in inner cities. Like the "Economic Security" programs of the New Deal of the 1930s, a new New Deal would be an effort to change the distant future of the United States--in this case the future use of space--by government expenditure and more open regulation. But something of this is going to happen in any case, because of the increase in federal government expenditure that has already been promised --the macro-economic stimulus --and the decrease in state and local government expenditure that is one of the few predictable consequences of economic depression, as income and sales tax revenues fall. For Obama, who is the most metropolitan, as well as the most cosmopolitan, of all modern American presidents, the next generation could begin, for once, with the urgent economic crisis of now.

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