Jun 12, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
We've been watching this local phenomenon since David Morris of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance started the ball rolling. It picked up momentum when a local Ford plant closing was announced. Now everyone is on board -- even going so far as calling it "the silver-bullet solution to all the automobile's worst problems". Below is one news story, three weekend editorials from the Minneapolis Star Tribune (most recent first) and an opinion piece by Morris about PHEVs and Ford.
Plug-in hybrid flexible-fueled cars on the way Thursday, June 8, 2006, 2:01 PM by Bob Meyer
Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has signed a law promoting plug-in hybrid flexible-fueled vehicles. The car runs primarily on electricity and renewable fuels like ethanol power the engine. The new law instructs the state to buy plug-in hybrids on a preferred basis when they become available and also it encourages Minnesota State University at Mankato to develop a flex-fueled hybrid. A task force has been created from business, government and utility representatives to develop a plan to build the cars in Minnesota. Specifically, they are targeting the Ford plant set for closure in St. Paul. Coincidentally, the electricity at the Ford plant comes from its own hydroelectric generator on the Mississippi. Frank Hornstein was chief author of the bill in the Minnesota House, he sees this as a great opportunity, "We have the research at Minnesota State, we have the corn and ethanol industry and we have the Ford plant."
http://www.startribune.com/561/story/484208.html Sunday, June 11, 2006 Editorial: Minnesota lays a bet on cars of the future Investments in plug-in hybrids are modest but welcome.
It's not often that an idea wins over all of Minnesota's legislators and its governor, especially when the subject is energy. That investments in plug-in hybrid vehicles won universal backing is clear testimony that this technology may be the silver-bullet solution to all the automobile's worst problems.
Think of plug-ins as the Prius of the future, making a good idea profoundly better. Like today's hybrid gas/electric models, it's powered by both a gasoline engine and a battery-driven motor. But, like many of the big cars and trucks coming out of Detroit in recent years, it could burn E85 -- a fuel blend of 85 percent ethanol to 15 percent gasoline. Best of all, it could meet the average driver's daily needs of up to 50 miles on electricity alone, thanks to a rechargeable battery.
So: a car that emits zero pollution on most days, and stretches a gallon of gasoline over 500 miles or more (because most power comes from electricity or ethanol).
There are no technical hurdles; enthusiasts have already built various prototypes, and Daimler Chrysler has some plug-in versions of production vehicles on the road for extended testing. Even the added cost of perhaps $4,000 per vehicle isn't unattractive when fuel is a penny or two per mile.
But, you may ask, what about pollution from all that extra electricity? Studies by California government are highly favorable; even greenhouse gases attributable to a plug-in using coal-fired voltage are about half what a conventional car produces.
A handful of entrepreneurs are poised to sell kits for turning a Prius into a plug-in. But automakers won't be interested until they see a big, guaranteed market. By committing to buy plug-ins for its fleets whenever practical, Minnesota has become the first state to join a nationwide "preorder" campaign for plug-ins.
The new law also positions Minnesota to benefit from the surging interest in plug-ins -- by encouraging research at Minnesota State University-Mankato, and by directing study of in-state manufacturing potential, perhaps at St. Paul's Ford plant, now set to close in 2008.
In contrast to the Legislature's otherwise lackluster progress on energy this session, the plug-in law makes modest, low-risk investments that could yield significant payoffs. And it's timely -- silver bullets sometimes travel faster than anyone expects.
http://www.startribune.com/561/story/458099.html Saturday, May 27, 2006 Editorial: Is this the 'Return of Big Thinking'? Signs that ambition is making a comeback in Minnesota.
One legislative session doesn't make a trend. But after years of searching for excuses not to do things, years of pretending that pretty good was good enough, years of shying away from investments necessary to compete in the next-generation economy, lawmakers left an impression last week that a corner may have been turned. Maybe, just maybe, Minnesota is ready for big thinking again.
Building a major bioscience lab at the University of Minnesota was also evidence of big thinking, not because it's sufficient but because it's widely considered a down payment. Indeed, in the area of research, there's fresh understanding that Minnesota is well situated to profit from the national market's inevitable shift from petroleum to bio-based fuels. Rep. Frank Hornstein's modest proposal to explore local development and production of a plug-in hybrid car drew wide interest. It's an example of big thinking. So is Minneapolis-St. Paul's bid to host one of the 2008 national political conventions or the idea to pursue the Olympics. The astonishing renewal of the Twin Cities cultural venues offers more evidence that ambition is back.
Please take note: Public spending must be smart, prudent, efficient and strategic. It can't solve everything. Problems with health care, persistent poverty and urban education are partly matters of culture that cannot be quickly overcome. But perhaps a corner has been turned. Six years ago, this page wondered whether Minnesota, facing a new, more mobile economy, would compete or retreat. The answer isn't certain, but things are looking up.
http://www.startribune.com/561/story/344079.html Sunday, April 2, 2006 Editorial: Cars of the future deserve state backing
Thirty years of engineering advances have made the standard automobile much more fuel-efficient and far less polluting. But this progress has been steadily eroded by consumer behavior -- we drive more miles each year, in ever-larger vehicles -- and, anyway, the gasoline engine's fundamental problems endure. Even the best waste energy, foul the air, accelerate global warming and shackle the nation's security, as well as its economy, to imported oil.
Until quite recently the only true alternative appeared to be the hydrogen-powered car, a revolutionary technology whose predicted arrival kept retreating farther into the future. Now it seems possible that a comparable breakthrough is just around the corner: a practical, affordable, high-performing car that runs on rechargeable batteries, home-grown biofuel and perhaps a dollop of gasoline.
As David Morris details on the cover of this section, the plug-in, hybrid, flexible-fuel car combines three familiar, road-tested technologies in a way that melds their advantages and removes their drawbacks. Like the all-electric car, it could go up to 50 miles -- more than most people travel in an average day -- on an overnight charge from a household outlet. Beyond that range, it would automatically switch to the high-mileage hybrid drive made popular by the gas/electric Toyota Prius, but could go the Prius one better by burning fuel that's up to 85 percent ethanol.
Prototypes have been getting their own road tests since about 1990, when the first version was built at the University of California-Davis. What may have seemed a cool but quirky idea back then has gained credence in parallel with rising oil prices and growing worry over supply disruptions. A chief proponent is James Woolsey, the former CIA director, who said recently, "The combination of 9/11 and $60-a-barrel oil is something that has changed a lot of people's mentality on this. This is a parade the participants are forming."
Those participants include a couple of dozen city and county governments, and more than 100 public power utilities, that helped found the Plug-In Partners campaign. Nine of those utilities are in Minnesota, whose wind power and ethanol resources make these vehicles even more attractive. In Texas, where wind power is expanding rapidly, Austin is trying to recruit 50 cities to join in jump-starting a market for the new vehicles by committing to buy them for municipal fleets, and providing purchase incentives to businesses and individuals.
In Minnesota, the House is considering a bill that commits state agencies to buying comparably priced plug-in hybrid cars, trucks and vans for state fleets whenever practicable. It also grants $100,000 to the automotive engineering program at Minnesota State University, Mankato for a demonstration project on converting existing vehicles to plug-in hybrids.
A Senate bill seeks strategies for promoting widespread purchase of plug-ins by private buyers, as well as the state, and for integrating the vehicles into the power grid. It would also explore possible incentives for building them at the Ford plant in St. Paul.
That last idea is a potent reminder that this new technology can provide horsepower for Minnesota's industries as well as its motorists. The plug-in parade is one we ought to join, beginning with these modest steps.
http://www.startribune.com/146/story/125465.html December 17, 2005 - 12:08 AM
Business Forum: Ford can find its way by looking to future Toyota and Honda are winning the hybrid race. But Ford has a foothold in the technology -- and a golden opportunity in Minnesota.
By DAVID MORRIS The imminent eclipse of General Motors by Toyota as the world's largest car manufacturer was decades in the making. We will read many instructive tales about how General Motors, and U.S. car companies in general, lost their way. Let me add one more: the dramatically different way the Japanese and U.S. private sector addressed hybrid cars. I emphasize the private sector because in both countries the public sector promoted this technology with equal vigor.
Here's the story.
Roused to action by the 1991 Gulf War, Japan and the United States each launched initiatives to reduce oil consumption. They targeted the primary consumer of oil, vehicles.
In the United States, the centerpiece of the effort was the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV), a $120 million-a-year, seven-year program launched in 1993.
In Japan, the centerpiece was the somewhat less handsomely funded Popularization Plan, launched in 1994. Each program focused on developing a new type of automobile that promised substantially higher fuel efficiencies: a hybrid car propelled by both an electric motor and an internal combustion engine.
PNGV funds were available only to U.S. companies. Recipients agreed to unveil a concept hybrid car by 2000 and a preproduction prototype by 2004 and to be in full production by 2010. Ford, GM and DaimlerChrysler happily accepted the money and the terms. In early 2000, each unveiled its concept cars.
Then the U.S. car companies, gorging on the profits from selling ever-larger SUVs, abandoned hybrid cars. Why? Hybrids would lose money.
In December 1997, Japan unveiled its hybrids at the annual car show. Detroit pooh-poohed the Japanese companies' achievements. "I don't see six months' difference in anything that's being done," then-GM Chairman John Smith told Business Week. The magazine added, "the only difference, say the Big Three, is that Japanese manufacturers are willing to accept huge losses."
As late as April 2002, GM CEO and President Richard Wagoner insisted, "How will the economics of hybrids ever match that of the internal combustion engine? We can't afford to subsidize them."
Japanese corporations adopted a more farsighted strategy. Each sale of Honda's original hybrid, the Insight, did indeed lose money, as much as $6,500. Toyota reportedly lost $16,000 per car on its first-generation Prius. But as Hisao Suzuki, president of Honda's European R&D division, answered when asked why they would sell a car at a loss, "We are investing in the future."
Despite its initial losses, in 1999 Toyota announced it would introduce the Prius to the North American market in mid-2000, "shocking the domestic auto industry," industry observer David Chao said.
The rest is history.
Since 2000, hybrid sales in the United States have doubled each year. This year sales will exceed 200,000. More than 90 percent will be made by Toyota and Honda. The best-selling Prius has a five-month waiting list. Booz Allen Hamilton, a global strategy and technology-consulting firm, predicts that hybrid cars will make up 80 percent of the overall new car market by 2015.
Oh yes, and Toyota is making a nice profit on its Prius. In fact, in 2004, Toyota became the world's most profitable car manufacturer. In contrast, that year Standard & Poor's downgraded Ford Motor Company's credit rating to BBB-, one notch above a junk rating. A few days ago, in a desperate move to avert bankruptcy, General Motors announced it would lay off 30,000 workers.
There's probably little that can be done anytime soon to make GM competitive. This year it finally introduced a hybrid vehicle so primitive and ineffective that it doesn't even qualify for the new and very tolerant federal hybrid tax incentive.
Ford is a different story. Bill Ford was smart enough to know what his company did not know. He licensed Toyota's technology for its first-generation Escape hybrid and thus has a state-of-the-art hybrid system. The company is working aggressively to nurture in-house expertise.
Ford is deciding what to do with its St. Paul truck plant and has received overtures from local politicians. But late last week, news reports said the St. Paul plant is slated to be closed, although Ford has not said as much officially.
Here's my suggestion. Keep the St. Paul plant open and make hybrid trucks. And make them "plug-in" hybrids, allowing them to connect to the electrical grid system. Finally, make it a flexible-fuel vehicle, capable of operating not only on electricity but on any combination of gasoline and ethanol.
The Escape, as Ford's ads proudly tell the world, can run solely on electricity, at least for short distances, unlike GM and Honda hybrids. With a grid connection and larger batteries, Ford could make electricity its primary hybrid fuel. That would cut in half the vehicle's operating costs and would give Ford the technological edge even over Toyota, which so far has refrained from making a plug-in hybrid.
Bill Ford wants to make his company a technological leader again. By deciding to convert the St. Paul plant into a "plug-in" hybrid, flexible-fueled truck manufacturer, he can make St. Paul's auto workers, officials, wind-turbine owners and farmers very happy.
And I firmly believe he will make his stockholders very happy as well.
David Morris is vice president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, based in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. His e-mail is dmorris@....