Jan 25, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
MINNEAPOLIS - ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA
Last update: January 25, 2006 - 12:40 AM
Greg Gordon, Star Tribune
Plug-in hybrid vehicles' lobby introduces itself A coalition of interests wants to show there's a demand for the highly efficient autos to reduce U.S. oil consumption.
WASHINGTON - Former U.S. national security officials, representatives of electric utilities and a half-dozen cities and others worried about a global oil crunch began trying Tuesday to drum up enough demand for highly efficient "plug-in" hybrid vehicles to persuade automakers to produce them.
Spokesmen for General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. noted that the new technology has a ways to go before it's ready for the assembly lines.
At a news conference, former CIA Director James Woolsey; a top aide to New York Gov. George Pataki; a Texas power company executive and an array of people from nonprofit groups declared plug-ins -- hybrids with large batteries that can be recharged at night -- as the best option for curbing the nation's dependence on foreign oil.
Minnesota in the chase
They were joined by a Minnesota legislator who said he will push for the state to commit to buying such vehicles when they become available.
Still in development, plug-ins would move a big step beyond the current generation of hybrid gas-and-electric vehicles that automakers have begun producing, touting fuel efficiency of up to 60 miles per gallon. Plug-ins allow vehicles to travel 35 to 60 miles on batteries, eliminating gas usage for most work commutes and raising efficiency to more than 100 miles per gallon.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called for "the equivalent of a 'space race' to find solutions if we hope to avoid total disaster."
Woolsey quipped that the coalition now consists of "tree huggers, do-gooders, sod busters, cheap hawks and evangelicals" and will be hard for politicians to ignore.
The so-called "Plug-In Partners" initiative, launched by the city of Austin, Texas, and its power company, Austin Energy, aims to persuade cities and companies to commit to buy plug-in hybrids when they become available.
The goal is to send a message to the auto industry that there is demand. The mayors of Austin, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Seattle and Baltimore and 140 electric power companies have joined the effort.
GMC, Toyota interested
General Motors spokesman Chris Preuss said the auto giant is exploring a wide range of options for improving vehicle efficiency, including watching for "viable battery breakthroughs" for use in a plug-in hybrid.
"Right now, we're not seeing a specific approach that would meet most of the expectations of consumers," he said, but if such technology became available, "there would be a fierce race to get that technology first." Toyota spokesman Wade Hoyt said the world's most profitable automaker is examining plug-in technology.
State Rep. Frank Hornstein, a Minneapolis DFLer who has been pushing legislation to offer state motor vehicle tax breaks to buyers of standard hybrids, said he will offer a bill that would commit the state to buying plug-ins.
He said he also wants a task force formed to ensure the state government is doing all it can "to ensure this technology takes hold."
Greg Gordon is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau.
From the Los Angeles Times
Cities Join Push for Plug-In Hybrids
By Nick Timiraos
Times Staff Writer
January 25, 2006
WASHINGTON - A partnership of cities, municipal utilities and organizations - including the cities of Los Angeles and Irvine - kicked off a national campaign Tuesday urging automakers to build plug-in hybrid vehicles.
This next-generation type of "green" transportation uses an additional battery to boost mileage and allows drivers to plug their gasoline-electric cars into standard electrical outlets for recharging.
The technology is designed to appeal to urban commuters who routinely travel relatively short distances in heavy traffic.
Once charged, the hybrid relies solely on electricity for 25 to 35 miles or more and can achieve fuel efficiency exceeding 80 miles per gallon. That makes the vehicle ideal for city travel, where stop-and-go and slow-moving traffic is common.
"It's 95% the same car," said Edward Kjaer of Southern California Edison. "You're just putting a new battery and charger on board."
Austin, Texas, will lead the effort by purchasing 600 of the hybrids when they become commercially available.
Los Angeles and Irvine are joining Austin in the Plug-In Partners national campaign, along with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and municipal utilities in Anaheim, Burbank and Pasadena.
"If you will build hybrid plug-in vehicles, Americans will buy them," Austin Mayor Will Wynn said at a news conference announcing the initiative, which includes a partnership between the Electric Power Research Institute, an independent research group, and automaker DaimlerChrysler to research and test a prototype van.
Proponents contend that the technology curbs emissions that harm the environment and reduces dependence on foreign oil imports.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) hailed the technology as a "silver bullet for our nation's energy and transportation needs."
But automakers have been reluctant to build plug-in hybrids, arguing that the additional battery results in increased costs. Marketing campaigns for hybrid vehicles have promoted the fact that, unlike the electric vehicles of the 1990s, hybrids do not have to be plugged in.
A spokesman for Toyota Motor Corp., Bill Kwong, said his company had no plans to build plug-in hybrids and questioned the environmental benefits since the vehicles could use electricity generated from coal- or other fuel-burning power plants.
Energy Control Systems Engineering of Monrovia has taken the lead in converting Toyota's Prius hybrid for use as a plug-in.
DaimlerChrysler, the only auto company that has manufactured such a vehicle, uses its fleet of 40 plug-in hybrids to improve battery development for other hybrids, spokesman Nick Cappa said.
Meanwhile, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman announced Tuesday that the Bush administration would make $119 million available for hydrogen fuel cell research over the next five years.
1/25/2006 01:47 AM
Hatch backs hybrid cars
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune
WASHINGTON - Sen. Orrin Hatch on Tuesday endorsed a campaign to urge automakers to produce more "plug-in" hybrid vehicles, saying they hold the best short-term promise for energy conservation.
"The world is heading for an energy crunch, and we need the equivalent of a space race to find real solutions if we hope to avoid a global disaster," Hatch said at the kickoff of the effort to accelerate development of hybrid vehicles that can store more electricity than current gas-electric vehicles.
"We have proven that battery electric vehicles are technologically feasible and hybrid electric vehicles are very marketable," said Hatch, who doesn't have a hybrid himself but said he is interested in getting one.
His Utah GOP colleague, Sen. Bob Bennett, was the first senator to drive a hybrid and now has a Ford Escape Hybrid.
Salt Lake City Corp. is a pending partner of the Plug-In Partners group, and public utilities in Brigham City, Heber and Murray are also members.
http://www.dailytexanonline.com/media/paper410/news/2006/01/25/TopStories/Will-Wynn.Pitches.PlugIn.Hybrid.Cars.In.Nations.Capital-1504007.shtml Daily Texan Will Wynn pitches plug-in hybrid cars in nation's capital Mayor, energy leaders begin national, grass roots campaign By Ricardo Lozano
Austin Mayor Will Wynn is in Washington, D.C., this week to help launch a national campaign aimed at encouraging auto makers to mass produce plug-in hybrid vehicles.
PHOTO: Paul Labuda sits at the wheel of his Toyota Prius. Labuda has owned his Prius for about eight months and hopes to someday convert it into a plug-in. Media Credit: Harmony Reforma
Wynn, along with a group of leaders in the energy field, announced the national campaign at a press conference Tuesday. The movement's leadership hopes to gain strength through a grass-roots venture of petitions, commitments by businesses showing their willingness to purchase plug-in hybrids in bulk and pledges from public utility companies to support the purchase of these types of vehicles through tax incentives and rebates.
This national campaign is based upon one started in Austin last year. Austin already has 11,000 signatures from local citizens and soft orders of more than 600 vehicles from local governments and businesses.
"We have made our intentions clear that we want to pave the way for the plug-in hybrid initiative," Wynn said.
Hybrid vehicles run off of self-charging batteries that do not need to be plugged in but switch to gasoline for high speeds and long distances.
Plug-ins, unlike current hybrid vehicles, have a larger battery and can go farther and faster without needing to switch to gasoline. However, they need to be plugged into a standard electrical outlet at night. The plug-in variety of hybrids is currently not available commercially.
According to Plug-in Partners Coalition, the organization behind the campaign, the plug-in hybrid gets more than 80 miles per gallon and could reduce the average American's gasoline consumption by 50 percent to 70 percent.
James Woolsey, CIA director from 1993 to 1995, said the push for plug-ins is a realistic goal since it would require only a small change to the existing auto industry's infrastructure.
"The only infrastructure investment - an extension cord." Woolsey said.
George Pipas, a sales analysis with the Ford Motor Company, said their hybrid models have sold more than 18,500 units, but the hybrid is still a niche product.
"As awareness grows and people talk about their experiences, I think the demand should probably grow with each passing year," Pipas said.
Nancy Hubbell, spokesperson with Toyota Motor Company's corporate office, said their flagship hybrid vehicle, the Prius, has been available for two and a half years, and they have always had a waitlist for buyers. Toyota sold more than 150,000 hybrids last year.
But while the consumer interest for hybrids is steadily growing, the marketability of the plug-in variety may be more difficult.
Hubbell said one problem with the plug-in movement is that hybrids do not have to be plugged in, an attribute that has made them so successful.
Alan Richardson, CEO of American Public Power Association, said 140 publicly owned utility companies in 33 states already support the campaign, and this support is expressed only after gaining full support of their local city councils and board of directors.
Austin Energy has committed to a reserve of $1 million to use for tax and rebate incentives to help insure the success of initial plug-in production.
Several other cities that have pledged their support of the plug-in initiative.
"We have received an incredible response from cities and industries in the U.S. and worldwide. This is only the beginning of a long effort, but I look forward to making this vision a reality," Wynn said.
For more information or to sign the group's petition, visit www.pluginpartners.org.