Nov 20, 2007 (From the CalCars-News archive)
Another long posting with multiple followups from the LA Auto Show
In our November 10 CalCars-News analysis/report, "California Leaps Ahead: PHEV Center: 100-Household Test; Early Driver Report; Air Resources Board Evolution" http://www.calcars.org/calcars-news/874.html , we said, "We're still hoping the Governor will realize he can achieve his goals sooner and better with plugs than with hydrogen." That evolution continues as last Thursday at the LA Auto Show was the first time (to our knowledge) that the Governor saw a PHEV and talked about them. We start with what the Governor heard and said, then go on to the Awards and to new resources in understanding the situation in California.
On Thursday, the Governor showed up in front of hundreds of journalists and photographers, speaking in front of a half-dozen "green cars" ranging from diesel and fuel cells to hybrid SUVs, and, most notably from our perspective, two PHEVs: the Chevy Volt concept "extended range electric vehicle" and one of four plug-in Priuses converted by Toyota and now in California. See our photos of him with the Volt and the Prius at http://www.calcars.org/photos-leaders.html
OUR EXCERPTS AND COMMENTS
GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER: Before hearing each automaker explain what they were showing, the Governor's remarks included, "This is exactly the kind of innovation we need.Thanks, GM, for bringing its electric car, the Volt. Thank you, Toyota, for bringing its Prius.plug-in hybrid."
GENERAL MOTORS: He heard Al Weverstad, GM's Executive Director, Environment and Safety Policy, explain that the company had made "considerable progress in making the Volt a production reality" since unveiling it last January. Weverstat promised "triple-digit fuel economy beyond its 40-mile range," and told the Governor that "some families may never burn a gallon of gasoline in that car for the lifetime of the vehicle. He concluded, "For transportation, electricity offers a variety of benefits beginning with the ability to use a variety of fuel sources, including many that are renewable. So whether your concern is energy security, global climate or natural disasters, the high price of gasoline, the volatile price of oil, the effect of unpredictability on Wall Street, all of these lead to a diverse energy source for our vehicles."
TOYOTA: We include more lengthy excerpts from Toyota's representative, VP of Communications Irv Miller, who has blogged frequently at Toyota's Open Road on PHEVs, including some exchanges with CalCars and with V2G advocates. He explained to the media and the Governor:
"The plug-in Prius you see behind you is just one of several technologies Toyota is working on. It is similar to the two vehicles we delivered last Friday to the Unversity of California at Irvine and UC at Berkeley. We are active in the development stage of this technology. We are in pursuit of what we call the ultimate eco-car. We have three goals. The first is to reduce air-polluting emissions the second is reducing CO2 emissions, and third, using diverse forms of energy. We believe with larger battery packs than the current Prius, our plug-ins are able to run in full-electric mode more often and at higher speeds. Toyota is aggressively developing battery technology IN-HOUSE. And we will continue to push our R&D efforts in advance of all possible solutions to reduce greenhouse gases and emissions impacts of the automobile. But we can't do it alone. That's why just last week we announced a Clean Mobility Partnership that builds on our long history of working with the Universities of California, and partnering with them in their research and development. ….. Under a grant from the California Air Resources Board, enabled I might add by AB1811 legislation, thank you Governor for that, and with the support of the Bay Area and the South Coast Air Quality Management Districts, the Universities will help us and California better understand what it takes to take these vehicles into operations, rather than just having them on the drawing board. There's a tremendous promise of fuel cell vehicles and plug-in vehicles and other advanced technology. But there are still many questions that have to be answered and challenges that have to be resolved before Toyota WILL bring these vehicles to market. UC Berkeley will primarily focus on the customer experience. UC Irvine will focus on some of the technical challenges as well as determining the emissions benefits of plug-in technology. Developing alternative fuels and high-efficiency low-emissions vehicles will require the cooperation and coordination of many partners. So I'll take this opportunity to thank our partners again, the Governor, the ARB, legislature for helping to develop this. It's breakthrough technology and we're there to push the envelope.
GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER: I'm very excited to see actually first-hand how those beautiful cars. And they have shown us now that they don't have to change the size of the cars or anything else. They look great, they look sexy, they are fantastic looking, all those cars, but the technology inside is changing so this is what is so terrific. Thank you very much for being here today and I'll be back
GM's representatives now routinely include the same points PHEV advocates make, including, in their own way, our fundamental message, that compared to gasoline, "electricity is cleaner, cheaper and domestic." For our take on the Volt, see our posting to CalCars-News, "The Chevrolet Volt: GM's EREV a Work In Progress"
- "IN-HOUSE battery development:" This may be about insider controversies. In addition to charges and countercharges about "who's dissing who," GM's Bob Lutz was quoted in LA saying that Toyota would not make its batteries available to other companies. Since it appears that GM is actually using more advanced nano-phosphate lithium batteries (compared to the Toyota-Panasonic lithium cobalt batteries that Toyota has decided are not ready for use in hybrids) maybe Lutz or Miller know something we don't.
- "WILL bring these cars to market:" Toyota wants to have it both ways, reassuring us that its research program means it's on the way to commercialization, but it's not racing to be first.
GOVERNOR: It's not clear how much he heard the presentations, and of course as a muscle-car guy, his focus is on greening the big cars, but we do know that word is starting to reach him that his enthusiasm for the Hydrogen Highway will not result in anything meaningful for the forseeable future.
GREEN CAR AWARD AT THE LA AUTO SHOW
The cover story for the Fall 2007 Green Car Journal http://www.greencar.com , widely read in the industry for 16 years, is "Electric Drive! Why We Want To Plug In." The reasons are on the page: *pennies per mile *no more oil *zero emissions. The photo shows the Volvo Concept Recharge PHEV.
Inside are four pages on the benefits and potential of PHEVs, focusing on the Volvo, four pages on the GM Opel Flextreme, an editorial proposing battery leasing, and a preview of Venture Vehicles' three-wheel highway-speed series PHEV. There are also short articles on the Toyota Prius Plug-In, the Mitsubishi iMiEV EV, and Brammo's electric motorcycle. This magazine has been covering PHEVs with ever-increasing attention in recent years.
Last week, publisher Ron Cogan also announced the third Annual Green Car Award at the LA Auto Show. Since the awards can go only to vehicles drivers can buy, none of these cars were eligible -- because of the simple fact that there are no production PHEVs or EVs. That meant the contestants lagged far behind the cars we are working to bring to market.
In that context, it may have been unfortunate that the conversion project we participated in outside the LA Auto Show, where we received a "GreenEST Car of the Year Award" from the co-sponsors -- see photo at http://www.calcars.org/photos-groups.html -- might have been seen as a criticism of the Green Car Awards. That was not our intention. Ron Cogan, before giving out his awards, took a few minutes to give his thoughts about the Awards and the "challenge." We appreciate the way he expressed his gracious support for plug-in cars, and his full statement (below) is worth thinking about.
TEXT FOR RON COGAN'S 2008 GREEN CAR OF THE YEAR PRESENTATION
November 15, 2008
Los Angeles Auto Show
We're here today to recognize the achievements that have been made in "green" cars that bring higher fuel efficiency and lower emissions to our highways. These milestones are noteworthy, and the mission more important than ever because fuel efficiency no longer represents just an abstract concept that we may, or may not, embrace. It is now our reality.
Today's high fuel prices make fuel efficiency everyone's business. While fuel economy has appealed to a select group of buyers for years, it has represented but a small blip on the radar for most new car buyers. This has changed dramatically. High gas prices are prompting a major shift in the way that drivers look at their cars and their operating costs. It's hard to escape this when gas prices are over $3.00 per gallon and a fill-up for many costs $50 to $70, or more.
We should take a moment to share how we define what makes a "green" car, and how these cars fit within the context of Green Car Journal's "Green Car of the Year" program.
Some would say that a vehicle like a 100 mpg plug-in hybrid or a full-function battery electric car should rightfully be at the top of our list. Others would point to one of the more popular high-fuel economy hybrids that's been on the market for a number of years. From our perspective, these are important cars. But they are not nominees for Green Car of the Year at this time.
We look for vehicles that move the bar forward in real-time and will be widely offered for sale to the general public by January 1st of the award year. Since Green Car Journal began focusing on this field in 1992, we've learned many times over that some of the most amazing technologies invented, and the vehicles that seek to commercialize them, never quite make it to commercial sales. To recommend such a vehicle by prematurely declaring it the "Green Car of the Year" would be irresponsible. If everyday consumers can't buy it, then its chances of making a quantifiable and real-time difference in emissions and overall fuel efficiency is nil.
Green Car of the Year focuses on real products, available in real time. As much as we believe in the potential of vehicles like plug-in hybrids, no readily-available plug-ins are available to the mass market at this time. This could change in the next few years if battery challenges are overcome. It's a worthy goal and should be pursued with all possible speed.
Plug-in conversions available now are primarily focused on fleets, and for good reason. While plug-in activists are quick to point out these vehicles' benefits, there's rarely a word said about their additional cost of $10,000 or more than conventional hybrids. That's no small challenge in a competitive automotive market where dollars really do count.
Green Car of the Year will clearly consider plug-ins if, and when, they move beyond demonstrations and fleets and become a consumer product. The same holds true for battery electric vehicles.
In our evaluations, we look for continuing progress. Choosing a vehicle that raised the bar in environmental performance some model years back but has not achieved new milestones is not our goal. These vehicles are readily available and already present a high fuel efficiency option for buyers.
What we do look for in the Green Car of the Year is a vehicle that brings new or important innovations to consumers now and moves the bar forward in meaningful, synergistic ways. Vehicles that incorporate environmentally positive technologies that are likely to make their way to additional models and platforms are especially important.
This brings us to our 2008 Green Car of the Year. Our nominees include the first-ever hybrid sedans for three automakers - the Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid, Saturn Aura Hybrid, and the Nissan Altima Hybrid. Two nominees are hybrid SUVs, also representing firsts for Mazda and Chevrolet.
Weighing the merits of these vehicles this year was a jury comprised of four Green Car Journal editors and a larger number of invited outside jurors. They include Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club; Christopher Flavin, president of Worldwatch Institute; Jean-Michel Cousteau, president of Ocean Futures Society; Jonathan Lash, president of World Resources Institute; and two individuals well-known in the automotive community, Carroll Shelby and Jay Leno.
When looking at the implications each nominee held for the market, it became clear to a majority of our jurors that one stood out as offering an approach that was truly revolutionary. One that would have both short-and long-term impact not only on the automotive market, but the world in which we live because of the diverse ways in which this vehicle is used.
To be revolutionary requires rethinking some fundamental assumptions. For instance, that SUVs must by nature be inefficient and anything but "green." That larger vehicles designed for maximum utility must sacrifice environmental ethic. That providing the features most sought-after by large families and those seeking the ability to tow heavy loads cannot be attained without sacrificing environmental sensitivity.
Our 2008 Green Car of the Year represents this revolutionary thinking. It provides maximum functionality with an ability to seat eight passengers, carry 60 cubic feet of cargo, and tow up to 6200 pounds. Importantly, it achieves the same EPA estimated 21 mpg city fuel economy as a much smaller four-cylinder sedan. That, in our considered opinion, represents an achievement worth celebrating.
Green Car Journal is proud to award its 2008 Green Car of the Year honor to Chevrolet's 2008 Tahoe Hybrid.
CALIFORNIA REGULATIONS AND PLUG-IN CARS
The November 10 CalCars-News item we cited at the beginning of this posting included considerable discussion of the Air Resources Board's history and its current reconsideration. The realization that energy independence and global warming will not be affected by what happens with hydrogen fuel cell cars for two or three decades continues to sink in. (The latest: at the Auto Show, US News and World Report's Rick Newman asked GM's Bob Lutz (in an online interview accompanying an excellent print magazine story), "So of all the different technologies GM is working on, how would you prioritize them? Lutz: Electric. Advanced hybrid. Plug-in hybrid. Advanced clean diesels. And far out, there's hydrogen." http://www.usnews.com/articles/business/economy/2007/11/16/qa-gms-bob-lutz-on-the-volt-and-more.html
We end this posting with an excellent Op-Ed in the LA Times by Sherry Boschert, author of "Plug-in Hybrids: The Cars That Will Recharge America" and Founder of the San Francisco Chapter of the Electric Auto Association. Her focus here is on PHEVs and EVs; as the former begin glimpse a slightly more level playing field in state policies, electric vehicles continue to be seen as not arriving soon (though four automakers say they are expecting to produce them in the next few years). This doesns't make sense if the strategy is to displace imported fossil fuels with electricity!
Bring back the electric car
The state should reverse its mistake of putting its clean-air hopes in hydrogen instead of battery-powered autos.
By Sherry Boschert
November 19, 2007
Los Angeles Times
Californians are being taken for a ride by state clean-air regulators, who are bringing the rest of the country along. Decisions made by the California Air Resources Board early next year will determine whether we get the option of driving zero-emission, non-polluting cars soon, or whether we'll see smoggy business as usual from the car companies for another decade.
Many consumers would love to drive cars that reduce greenhouse gases and our addiction to oil, but the automakers resist. Fortunately, the Air Resources Board has the power to compel them to make the clean cars society needs. Progress through regulation is nothing new: It took laws to get seatbelts, airbags and catalytic converters. It took laws to get average mileage standards up from 12 mpg to 27 mpg. It will take regulations to get clean cars.
The air board's first attempt to compel clean cars -- the zero-emission-vehicle mandate of 1990 -- put thousands of gas-free electric cars in the hands of consumers, who loved them. In 2001, however, the board started giving car companies partial credit toward meeting the mandate if they sold hybrids and other gasoline-dependent cars. Bad move. Automakers sued, asserting that because the 2001 standards included gas-burning cars, they were, in essence, fuel-efficiency standards. And only the federal government can set those.
At the same time, automakers were making inflated promises to build zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell vehicles -- if they could just have a few years more. So the board gutted the zero-emission-vehicle mandate in 2003 and essentially turned it into a hydrogen research program. General Motors dangled claims that hydrogen fuel cell cars would be competitive in showrooms by 2004. Daimler-Chrysler predicted that it would sell 100,000 fuel cell cars by 2006.
But since 2003, automakers have produced fewer than 200 hydrogen fuel cell cars, each costing about $1 million, with a fuel cell lifespan of two to four years and many technological challenges left to overcome.
A few major automakers are trotting out their hydrogen hardware this week at the Los Angeles Auto Show, claiming they'll lease small numbers of them to handpicked drivers in the next few years. In a deja vu to 2003, automakers are hyping the promise of hydrogen just as the air board is again revising the zero-emission-vehicle mandate. Behind the scenes, car companies have convinced the board's staff that they can't meet the goal of producing 25,000 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles after 2012, so the staff is suggesting that the board ease that requirement.
There are signs, however, that the bloom may be fading from the hydrogen rose. This month, one of the biggest fuel cell companies, Ballard Power Systems, bailed out after pouring millions of dollars into fuel cell vehicles. A Toyota official predicted that fuel cell cars won't be mass commercialized until after 2030.
That's not soon enough to avoid global warming, thousands of deaths from air pollution and wars over oil.
Meanwhile, the battery electric cars produced until 2003 have shown that they can do the job. Some have passed 100,000 miles on the odometer, and the batteries are still going strong. A few hybrid owners have added batteries and converted their cars to plug-in hybrids that drive mostly on electricity but retain a gas engine for long-distance trips. Building a network of fast-charging stations would cost a fraction of the tab for building hydrogen fueling stations.
The persistent bias in favor of hydrogen among state regulators defies logic -- and yet it could once again distract from fair treatment of more-realistic electric cars. Examples:
- On Thursday, the air board adopted a state alternative fuels plan that suggests using plug-in hybrids and biofuels would be cleaner than scenarios that rely on hydrogen fuel cell cars. But the plan largely ignores battery electric vehicles. That's foolish, especially in light of a study done for the state Energy Commission that found that electric cars -- which use the existing power grid -- reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions by 68% compared with conventional cars. Hydrogen fuel cell cars -- for which there is no infrastructure -- would achieve only a 54% reduction.
- State-funded studies starting soon at UC Berkeley and UC Irvine will compare plug-in hybrids with conventional hybrids and with hydrogen fuel cell cars -- but not with battery electric cars. That makes no sense, especially because right now several major automakers are expressing interest in resuming production of electric cars. The air board should provide state-owned electric cars for the studies, if necessary, for complete comparisons.
- The board's current zero-emission-vehicle regulations favor hydrogen by granting one fuel cell vehicle the same amount of credits as 10 electric vehicles in meeting state goals; the proposed regulations for 2008 give three fuel cell cars the same credits as four electric vehicles. Narrowing that credit gap isn't enough. The board should insist on one-to-one technological neutrality and not push back the deadlines just because hydrogen cars aren't ready. Treat hydrogen and electric vehicles equally, and let the market decide.
There's no time to waste. Only California can pass clean-air laws that are stricter than federal standards. But many other states adopt California's requirements, so what the board does has national implications for our health, for the environment and for national security. A slower drive away from gasoline is a ride we don't want to take.