PLUG OK license plate
Why No Cars at Carmaker Summit?
Apr 28, 2006 (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.
Want more? Become a subscriber to CalCars-News:

Please forward, and go to­blogs/­power/­why-no-cars to add your comments.

Are we about to get what we've been working for since 2002?

On February 20, after the President announced his Advanced Energy Initiatve, we responded­group/­calcars-news/­message/­305, "We hope the President will call up the CEOs of car companies and find out how he can help them build PHEVs right away."

President Bush will be meeting the "Big Three" -- GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler -- in Washington on May 18. Invited: GM's Rick Wagoner, Bill Ford ad Chrysler's Thomas W. LaSorda. (In this era of confused nationalities, one condition of the Daimler-Chrysler merger was that it would still be considered American-owned.) Toyota and the rest? Not invited. Topics to be discussed include energy and the environment.

Later in the day, the Administration asked Congress for the authority to increase the CAFE (Corporate Annual Fleet Efficiency) standards.

We don't think we had much directly to do with either development, but clearly, pressure is building for new answers on energy. What could come next?

We have two ideas. But first an update on the EnergyCS Prius I've been driving since April 7. A green-letter Thursday: 20 miles of high-speed driving, then 10 short-trip errands that used to kill my Prius MPG -- including my first visit with the converted car to my Prius dealer, where a crowd of salespeople gathered in wonder and admiration. My display when my batteries were depleted after driving 42.9 miles showed 137.8 MPG + electricity used at 146 watt-hours/mile. Translating with gas @$3, stock Prius @48MPG, average car @25MPG, national average electricity @8.5 cents/kiloWatt-hour (I'll soon be able to add a factor for energy losses charging the battery):

Standard car: 1.716 gallons = $5.15
Stock Prius: 1.12 gallons = $3.36
PHEV Prius: .311 gallons=$0.93+6.26kWh=$0.53. Total=$1.46
This illustrates why we talk about electricity at $1/gallon equivalent.
Any questions? Here's mine: how much better could it be in a production PHEV?

Of course, it's not just the economics. 1. Oil dependency: I used 18% as much gasoline as a normal car and 28% as much as a Prius. 2. Global warming: no derived calculations, but here's Joe Romm's general summary of well-to-wheel CO2 annual emissions for 12,00 miles­group/­calcars-news/­message/­65: Standard car: 12,000 pounds Stock Prius: 6,000 pounds PHEV Prius: 2,000 pounds

Back to today's subject. The obvious question is, "Where are the vehicles that answer President Bush's requests?

In the NYTimes article­2006/­04/­27/­automobiles/­27auto.html, silence from the carmakers on that score. Here's how they described their expectations for the auto summit:

  • GM: Let's "Live Yellow, Go Green." They treat the promise of ethanol replacing gasoline as an adequate response. We'd hoped for more, but today we saw a report­archives/­2006/­04/­did_gm_screw_sa.html that GM "pulled the plug" on a Saab 9-3 Hybrid slated for display at the Stockholm Auto show -- turning it from a PHEV into an all-gasoline hybrid.
  • FORD: "Me too" on ethanol. Yet they could innovate their Ford Escape Hybrid into a great PHEV!
  • DAIMLERCHRYSLER: Not quoted in the article. We hope they will drive to the meeting with the President in one of their handful of Mercedes Sprinter PHEV prototype and report on the promising early results of their road tests. The prospect of higher CAFE standards led to a very mmediate reaction from automakers and some legislators: defensiveness and concern over the "hardship" this would create for the companies and their communities­news/­washington/­2006-04-27-mileage-standards_x.htm?POE=NEWISVA.

Rewind to May 1993, the last time the Big Three met the President. The NY Times recalls that it included "an opportunity for the companies to show off their cars. They lined up 120 automobiles in an event called 'Drive American Quality.' Mr. Clinton, a car buff, strolled among the gleaming vehicles, stroking the side panels of some and gazing avidly at others. There are no plans for any kind of auto show this time, officials at the companies said." (Why aren't they proud of their current line-up?)

CalCars' GREAT HOPE is that before May 18 a US automaker will step up to the plate and announce that its new PHEVs will point the way to exceeding high CAFE standards. That same automaker will then be able to point out that meritorious as it may be, expanding E85 will take years. Meanwhile, we can begin to power local miles with electricity. That way we'll need only 40 billion gallons of ethanol a year instead of 140 billion for the passenger fleet.

If that hope is unmet, our FALLBACK DREAM is to bring a plug-in hybrid to Washington that week to give legislators, the media and a vision of what we could have in no time flat -- if President Bush and the car-makers get out of first gear.

Copyright 2003-09 California Cars Initiative, an activity of the International Humanities Center | Site Map