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Dow Jones Newswire: Grp Urges Automakers To Build Plug-In Hybrid Cars
Jan 24, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
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January 24, 2006 1:33 p.m.

Grp Urges Automakers To Build Plug-In Hybrid Cars (Updates with details on DOE providing funds for research of hydrogen-powered cars) By Maya Jackson Randall

WASHINGTON -- A coalition of U.S. lawmakers, city officials, policy organizations, environmentalists, and national security experts Tuesday launched a campaign to urge automakers to speed up development of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

The group sees the vehicles, which combine new gasoline-electric hybrid technology with larger batteries that allow the cars to run about 35 miles or more on electricity, as a way to address the twin issues of oil dependence and global warming.

While plug-in hybrids don't require the car to be plugged in to recharge the batteries, they have that option. Advocates say the cars will be able to go all-electric 90% of the time while close to home. When the electric charge runs out, a small gasoline engine kicks in.

The cars aren't yet produced, but several prototypes have been made.

"Plug-in hybrids represent a real near-term solution to America's over-reliance on foreign oil imports and energy prices that escalate the cost of everything and threaten the very economic life of our nation," said Austin, Texas, Mayor Will Wynn.

Austin and other cities such as Baltimore, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle are all involved in the "Plug-In Partners" campaign.

City officials are running citizen petition drives and encouraging governments to express interest in purchasing plug-ins, which members of the coalition say could get more than 80 miles per gallon.

In Austin, 11,000 citizens have signed petitions urging car companies to produce plug-ins, said Wynn, speaking at a press conference in Washington.

"Our goal is to replicate this program across the country," he said. "Let's demonstrate that a market for these flexible fuel hybrids exists."

Also speaking at the conference was U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who said "no solution holds more short-term promise than plug-in hybrids."

Also Tuesday, the Department of Energy announced it would provide $119 million in funding for the development of another kind of alternative vehicle, powered by hydrogen.

The announcement is part of the $1.2 billion Hydrogen Fuel Initiative President George W. Bush announced during his State of the Union address three years ago.

DOE, which wants to help make hydrogen-powered cars available in showrooms by 2020, touted the vehicles as a way to reduce pollution and the country's dependence on foreign oil.

However, at the coalition press briefing, former Central Intelligence Agency Director Jim Woolsey argued that hydrogen-powered cars are decades away, while the technology for plug-in hybrids is largely available today.

"Forget hydrogen. Forget hydrogen. Forget hydrogen," he said, arguing that massive changes in the current energy infrastructure would be necessary in order for hydrogen to be practical.

"It's still decades away no matter how you cut it," said Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy.

Frank Gaffney, founder and president of the Center for Security Policy, urged Bush to put development of plug-hybrids on the top of his agenda, and to address the need for plug-in hybrids during his State of the Union address next week.

"The way we've been doing business as a country is no longer tenable," he said, adding that most of the countries we get energy from are "either unstable or downright hostile to us."

Andrew Frank, a director of the Hybrid Electric Vehicle Research Center, noted there's been criticism that plug-in hybrids would be too expensive for most consumers because of the larger batteries, among other costs.

However, he argued that the cost of the plug-in hybrid would be equivalent to a car with added features such as a sunroof, a navigation system and leather seats.

"The average consumer is not going to pay much more for this car," he said.

-By Maya Jackson Randall, Dow Jones Newswires; 202-862-9263; Maya.Jackson-Randall@...

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