Jul 13, 2007 (From the CalCars-News archive)
When you see a Detroit Free Press story headlined, "House talk on plug-in cars erupts," you know the plug-in coalition is having an impact. US automakers who are asked to improve their vehicles by a few MPG over a period of years always answer, "you're asking too much." These companies and their legislative defenders always insist they're protecting US a threatened industry. They imply that it's the high-MPG advocate who are betraying autoworkers.
What happens when they hear eloquent statements about the cars we need? How do they respond to to the undeniable reality of conversions,which with all their limitations imply they could build PHEVs that could more than double the gasoline MPG? "You're killing us."
We think it's the companies that have downsized repeatedly for years as foreign competitors beat them -- not only on price but on quality, design and innovation -- who are too busy fighting fires to see the future. (Until recently, they've also been too narrow-minded to support suggestions about changing health and pension benefit structures.) If US carmakers are ever to have the chance to sell their cars to a carbon-constrained world, they have evolve. (Increasingly, US cars don't meet China's MPG requirements!) If you missed it, see our posting from last Sunday, "Detroit Free Press: New Technologies Save Some Auto Parts Suppliers," http://www.calcars.org/calcars-news/787.html, which included a listing of high-MPG cars the Detroit 3's foreign affiliates manage to build in Europe.
Here's the link to the testimony by Frank Gaffney of Set America Free http://www.setamericafree.org/gaffney071207.pdf cited about PHEVs from China (this is not about Malcolm Bricklin's Visionary Vehicles, who are also moving ahead): Mr. Chairman, let me end where I began, with a threat from the Peoples Republic of China. It appears that Communist China will shortly be introducing to the U.S. and other export markets the Chery - a car that could sell for as little as $10,000. Some believe the Chinese intend to translate their competitive advantage in battery technology to offer a plug-in hybrid electric variant of their vehicle at a price to consumers of $13,000-$15,000.
Read the Detroit News story below and add your two cents to the lively responses posted at the paper's website.
House talk on plug-in cars erupts Mich. lawmaker warns of demise of U.S. auto industry July 13, 2007 BY JUSTIN HYDE FREE PRESS WASHINGTON STAFF Contact JUSTIN HYDE at 202-906-8204 or jhyde@.... http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070713/BUSINESS01/707130384
WASHINGTON -- A debate over the survival of Detroit's automakers broke out during a congressional hearing Thursday on the future of plug-in hybrid vehicles, as advocates pressed for more action and a Detroit defender warned the industry was on the brink of collapse.
The hearing was a mix of sympathy, castigation and bluster that has become typical of any debate about the auto industry on Capitol Hill. While General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler are building prototype plug-in hybrid vehicles, none was invited to the hearing of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
That is the panel overseen by Rep. Ed Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat who has proposed a fuel economy standard of 35 miles per gallon by 2018 for new vehicles and pledged to add it to the energy bill the House likely will consider later this month.
Markey said it was a lack of will, rather than any bugs in new technology, that was keeping plug-in hybrids from U.S. roads.
"Innovations such as the plug-in hybrid should not have been sitting on the shelf for so long," said Markey. "After all, this isn't rocket science; it is auto mechanics."
But Michigan Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, said Markey and supporters of tougher fuel-economy standards would force higher costs on Detroit without accounting for the advantages foreign automakers enjoy, such as government-paid health care for workers in their countries. She added that the Senate's recent vote for tougher fuel-economy standards would bankrupt Chrysler, whose reliance on trucks poses the toughest efficiency challenge for Detroit automakers.
"Congress seems to be making a conscious decision to bankrupt Detroit," Miller said.
Miller said after the hearing that Markey had enough votes to put his fuel-economy proposal on the House energy bill, but had declined her requests to hold a hearing in Detroit on new technologies or invite auto executives to his panel.
Automakers and the Michigan delegation support a less-stringent fuel-economy plan in the House, and have warned that the Senate and Markey bills threaten thousands of U.S. jobs.
"I told him, 'Why you keep insisting on cramming higher fuel-economy standards down our throat is beyond me,' " Miller said. "I think what happened in the Senate will happen in the House."
Witnesses at the panel -- including actor Rob Lowe -- urged Congress to back the nascent plug-in hybrid industry, citing the 150-m.p.g. efficiency that prototypes can achieve in city driving because of their use of nightly recharging and driving up to 40 miles on electricity alone.
The head of A123 Systems, the battery company working with GM and other automakers, noted his company had to make its lithium-ion batteries in China because there was no U.S. alternative. A123 plans to sell plug-in hybrid conversion kits for $7,000 to $10,000 and has pushed for a tax credit that would offset some of those costs.
Some testified about the risks of inaction. Frank Gaffney, head of the Center for Security Policy and a former Defense Department official in the Reagan Administration, warned that Chinese automaker Chery could build a plug-in hybrid for as little as $12,000.
"I dare say that will be the end of Detroit if that vehicle is available in large numbers in America in the near future," he said.
Lowe, who said he had driven a Toyota Prius converted to a plug-in hybrid by A123, told the panel that automakers should move toward plug-ins with the same urgency that the nation geared up for World War II.
"Can't our amazing and powerful Detroit automotive industry be given the message, together with effective incentives, to speed up their conversion to plug-in hybrids?" Lowe asked.
You can also read an update of yesterday's Detroit News story (which we discussed in a posting at CalCars-News): http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070712/UPDATE/707120483/1148/AUTO01