Nov 30, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This report (written before the GM news broke) describes what we've heard before: that the President frequently asks Energy Secretary Bodman about PHEVs. It's written by Marianne Lavelle, who wrote the magazine story a few weeks ago, http://www.calcars.org/calcars-news/536.html or in PDF form at http://www.calcars.org/downloads.html
Jump-Starting the Electric Car
By Marianne Lavelle
With their cheers muted because of the death of one of their brightest stars days earlier, engineers, enthusiasts, and entrepreneurs gathered in Washington, D.C., this week to celebrate what appears to be an increasingly bright future for the electric car.
With the prospect of more support from the new Democratic Congress and even the Republican administration touting their inventions, car, battery, and electric power companies were set to revel in new advances they believe have taken them closer than ever to their vision of electricity as a widespread, viable alternative fuel to gasoline. But over the weekend, perhaps their most important pioneer, David Hermance, Toyota's executive engineer for advanced technology vehicles, was killed when his experimental single-engine plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean.
Hermance was largely responsible for bringing to the U.S. market the Prius, the bestselling gas-electric hybrid sedan that has made Toyota the undisputed leader in electric car technology. Many of the most promising ideas for electric cars of the future, including the concept to boost mileage to 100 mpg with the addition of plug-in batteries, would be based on the Prius platform. Toyota is the only automaker that has announced it is working on commercial development of a plug-in hybrid-a development for which many credited Hermance.
But Jim Press, president of Toyota Motor North America, pledged to about 300 electric car business promoters gathered at the Electric Drive Transportation Authority that Hermance's dreams would not die with him. Press, who is also a pilot, said he flew often with Hermance, calling him a "superstar, great engineer, and human being" and "a great friend."
"We called him the 'American father of the Prius,' " said Press. "He dedicated his life to promoting electric drive technology. The Earth is a little worse off, but because of the seeds he sowed I know we will all reap the rewards. I dedicate everything we do in this regard to him."
In an interview for a U.S. News story two months before his death, Hermance said, "It is generally regarded as inevitable that we will get a better battery. Nobody knows just when."
Press pledged continued research and development by Toyota on the hybrid, including a goal of reducing the cost of the gas-electric drive system by 50 percent by 2008. He noted that Toyota has sold 426,000 hybrids since 2001.
"It is a big business," he said. But he said sales have slipped in recent weeks, since the phaseout of a consumer energy tax credit. Only top seller Toyota has been hit by the phaseout, which was designed by Congress to be limited based on the number of cars sold. The tax credit "was driving the transformation of this industry, and we need it back," said Press.
The top Bush administration official at the meeting, Assistant Energy Secretary Alexander Karsner, didn't mention the tax credit issue but voiced strong support for electric car technology. He said his boss, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, was taking his cue directly from the White House in pressing him for updates on what is, without question, the greatest challenge in the electric car world-development of a stronger, safer, and more affordable battery.
"The secretary asked me, 'What is the status on lithium-ion batteries? This is the second cabinet meeting in a row that the president has asked me,' " Karsner said.
He said the administration sees as inevitable the use of electricity as a major fuel source for vehicles.
"You are 'in play,' as they used to say in the private sector," Karsner told the group. "This is your hour."