PLUG OK license plate
NRDC's Hwang & LA Times' Neil on Energy Source Winners & Losers
Jun 16, 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.
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Here's the transcript of most of the last 10 minutes of a Los Angeles radio talk show. We've included the dialogue between Roland Hwang, Vehicles Policy Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Dan Neil, Pulitzer-Prize winning automotive journalist for the LA Times (he wrote the cover magazine story on PHEVs you can find in our top media stories list at­news.html and excerpted at the top of­kudos.html. Hwang reflects NRDC's increasing support for PHEVs (see Op-Ed by Vehicles Campaign Director Lovaas at­calcars-news/­375.html), and Neill essentially endorses electric power as the top option for fueling cars.

Friday, June 2
Is There Life After Petroleum? Airtalk Broadcasts Live from the
Petersen Automotive Museum (Listen)
Larry Mantle and his guests, [Neil/Hwang, described above} and James
Bell, publisher of IntelliChoice Magazine, examine alternatives to
the gasoline-powered vehicle.

The show is at­tools/­media/­player/­kpcc/­news/­shows/­airtalk/­2006/­06/­20060602_airtalk1?start=00:00:17&end=00:54:46
at the bottom of this page:­programs/­airtalk/­listings/­2006/­05/­airtalk_20060529.shtml

[Larry Mantle: Well, let's take listener questions here from our audience at the Petersen Automotive Museum. Sir, your first name, if you wouldn't mind, and your question for our panelists.

[Audience member:] Yeah, this is Al and my question is what can cities and municipalities do to implement or accelerate implementation of programs such as [have been] proposed by Plug-In Partners in Austin, Texas, where cars, powered by electricity, can charge at night when electricity usage is low, and can even provide energy to the grid during the day when usage is high, and these cars could be plug-in hybrids or pure battery electric cars.

[Mantle:] Roland, do you want to lead on that?

[Roland Hwang:] Sure. There's some efforts under way currently to deal with that: Plug In America -- I don't know if you may have mentioned that group -- there's currrently a consortium of utilities and others that are working with mayors, for example, to try to get an aggregate purchase requirement. Well, what can you do to get plug-in hybrids? Well, the basic problem is that no one builds a plug-in hybrid. You want somebody like a Toyota or a Ford or Honda to build these vehicles, and you want to get them out at a price-level where everybody can afford it. So the first thing you have to do is create a demand for it; and the second thing you've got to do, of course, once you get that demand, is... there's some great options that cities can have. For electric vehicles, ten years ago, there were programs in Santa Monica that had preferential parking for these kinds of vehicles -- all kinds of different incentives you can think about.

[Mantle:] All right... Dan, you want to weigh in at all on this?

[Dan Neil:] I would just say that I think the demand... there's a latent demand -- an emotional demand -- out there for these vehicles. What really is required is for a manufacturer to step forward to satisfy that demand. Interestingly, Ford has announced that they were going to be the first major manufacturer to build and market a plug-in hybrid. And so, I have a little shout-out to Ford...

[Mantle:] All right... very good. James, anything to add?

[James Bell:]Yeah, just that I referenced earlier that I had just recently taken my new, 2006 Prius and I am in a very massive mental battle right now about taking it up to one of these conversion companies and...

[Mantle:] and getting the plug.

[Bell:] and learning something about that. Yeah, I'm really tempted to [do that].
[Mantle:] But I guess my point is if it's that difficult for a car company -- first and foremost their job is to figure out what consumers want. If THEY have a tough time with it, doesn't that make it even more difficult for the government to have a sense of what's not only going to be environmentally responsible, but that isn't going to be a debacle financially, and cost Americans jobs and huge amounts of money?

Roland, do you want to answer that?

[Hwang:] Yeah, absolutely. One of the things we currently see from Washington is a failure of leadership on this issue. We don't need to look very far to understand we do have a serious problem with our petroleum dependency and in fact, even our President said that we are addicted to oil and that it's a matter of national urgency. He doesn't have real solutions...

So I think we have a broad-based agreement that this is a serious problem. Do we need to pick winners and losers? And then I've argued at the beginning of this show that we should keep the big tent approach. We need to have everything in the mix and let the marketplace sort it out. But we need to get the rules right -- is it ok to continue to emit, to INCREASE the emissions of your greenhouse gasses? You know, global-warming pollution, coming from tailpipes of vehicles and smoke stacks are contributing to the changing of the climate. The scientists are telling us there is consensus on this.

We need to set performance standards and let the marketplace work, and we need to get the investments being directed to the right solutions.

[Mantle:] So you think the two-pronged regulatory approach of fuel-efficiency standards and environmental standards will automatically push the market to respond? And if there's diversified product, the market will lead it in a direction that works. Is that what you're saying?

[Hwang:] Performance standards for fuel efficiency [are] the foundations of any program to break our dependency on foreign oil and solve global warming, BUT we do know that fuel efficiency at some point we need to switch to a clean, alternative fuel. What about a standard on our fuel supply, requiring oil companies to diversify and lower the pollution from the fuel that you put into your tank? So THEY'RE required to put in not just petroleum, but also renewable fuels like ethanol grown from cellulosic materials.

[Mantle:] Just as an aside, BP has made this commitment that they are looking into alternative sources to put in their mix. Have you seen much evidence that that's a serious commitment?

[Hwang:] All the oil companies have some investments in renewable fuels. But the question is are they committed to bringing them to the market or is it more like General Motors talking about Hydrogen always being ten years away? Without getting the rules right... right now, oil IS getting a free ride, in the sense that we DON'T have the right policies in place to account for all the costs that it's creating on our economy and our environment. So if we get the rules right, then we will see these great technologies and fuels come to marketplace.

[Mantle:] James Bell?

[Bell:] Yeah, I'd just like to add from the marketing side of things, all these policies in place we can only hope [for]. I do believe though, for right or for wrong, that the current geopolitical situation we have and how obviously tied oil dependency is to that is something that the common market is thinking about, and you're seeing it in a lot of sales today. Results for last month came out, and anyone who's very dependent on selling large SUVs or trucks is doing poorly -- though the Toyota Corolla, toward the end of its model's lifespan, is outselling Toyota's expectations right now. So there is an absolute market push that way. I'm scared for the geopolitical situation going on, but maybe it'll help force some of these policies, because it'll become politically savvy to do so.

[Mantle:] Yes, sir?

[Audience Member:] My name is Paul [Scott], and since fuel-cell vehicles ARE electric vehicles, yet they use four times as much energy per mile driven as battery electric vehicles, why are the car makers and state and federal governments putting so much effort toward fuel-cell technology instead of battery-electric vehicles?

[Mantle:] Dan Neil, do you have a thought on that?

[Neil:] Why are they putting so much money toward fuel-cell vehicles?

[Larry Mantle:] "Yeah"

[Dan Neil:] Well, it's the technological Hail Mary pass... I think early on it was an emotionally appealing solution...

[Larry Mantle:] Like Roland was saying, the "Hydrogen Highway"... it sounds great!

[Neil:] Yeah, it does. It sounds wonderful and you know, this is NASA technology. And also, I don't think the people who have been working on fuel cells and Hydrogen infrastructure issues had fully sussed out the cost -- they thought that there'd be, you know, significant advances. You know, there is an expectation that technology will deliver us on these issues and really, I think, this technology has run into a kind of brick wall in terms of cost and effectiveness.

[Mantle:] So you don't feel like in a sense it was a bait-and-switch or that it was a sham, you just think it was a legitimate avenue to explore. At this point, realistically...

[Neil:] I'm not ruling out either possibility -- I think that it was something of a sham and I think it was also people of good will who thought it could work and who still do think it will work. Also, when you give the energy department a couple of billion dollars to work on this problem, you know, it starts to collect its own momentum in a way that's very hard to reverse.

[Mantle:] Yes, sir...

[Audience member:] Hi, I'm Greg from Pasadena, and I wanted to ask: putting aside Hydrogen and battery vehicles, we've got basically some choices of renewables: ethanol, which has some distribution problems; biodiesel, which, you know, also has some distribution problems; biogas from municipal waste and agricultural waste. Do you guys see one single pick winning out, or do you see that we'll have a choice in the future?

[Mantle:] Roland?

[Hwang:] Well I would love to see choices in the future and I think that's what groups like NRDC are fighting for. Right now, you have a choice between regular and mid-grade and premium when you go to the pump. So what we need is for the oil companies to offer you a real choice. And if the oil companies don't offer it to you, maybe you'll plug in to the grid and we'll no longer use their product. But we need those choices out in the marketplace. I think it's a little premature now to pick a single winner. I think we've gone down pathways where we have done that in the past, and that is a risky pathway to do. What we need to do is allow a variety of very promising technologies to flourish and allow them to get to the point where they can compete with gasoline-engine vehicles -- which is very tough competition.

[Mantle:] I'm just trying to picture -- maybe it's because of my limited creativity, but a country the size of this one... all these different fueling options. I mean it's just overwhelming to think of the infrastructure necessary to give those options. Dan Neil?

[Neil:] Yeah... I'm going to pick a winner. I have no problem picking a winner.

[Mantle:] Call your broker...

[Neil:] That's right. I think... electricity. Grid electricity or more specifically, in the future, DISTRIBUTED electricity. There are some people here who have solar cells on their house -- charging their electric vehicles and running their cars on pure solar power.

[Mantle:] We have some people in our audience who do that...

[Neil:] Yeah, absolutely, they're parked outside and by the way, they get to park for free in Los Angeles. So... because, when you use electricity, you bring in all the various ways that you can make electricity: yes, you have coal, but you also have solar, you have wind, you have wave power... you have all the varieties brought to bear on the transportation problem.

[Wrap-up and end.]

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