America Needs Leaders Serious About Energy Policy
|February 11, 2003||Posted by Staff under The Progress Report|
America Needs Leaders Serious About Energy Policy
Even in this post-9/11 world, Bush would still prefer to play politics and make corporate welfare handouts to his campaign contributors than confront serious issues.
Here is an interesting essay circulated by www.evworld.com
by Jack Doyle
On February 6, Bush presented the details on his new “Freedom Car” proposal. The “freedom” Bush is hawking in his new gift to Detroit comes from hydrogen fuel-cell technology, which could legitimately revolutionize transportation in this country and around the world. Freedom Car also helps Bushs image, since it creates the impression the United States will be “free” from its dependency on foreign oil.
Unfortunately, the hydrogen car George Bush first gushed about in his state of the union — and the $1.2 billion program offered to help create it — are simply more of Detroits fantasyland politics, designed to keep Congress from enacting tough fuel economy standards. Every time Congress and the public get close to thinking that real fuel economy is a good idea, Detroit rolls out some whiz-bang autorama to provide the illusion of progress. Bushs proposal to provide for clean cars — which is laudable on its face — is but the latest in a long line of Detroit-White House “partnerships” dating to the Nixon-era that only provide diversion and political cover, not actual clean cars.
During the annual parade of auto shows in 2002, General Motors, a company which has lost 25 points of market share since the ’50s, rolled out a futuristic-looking automotive underbody “skateboard” called Autonomy. Someday — GM didn’t say exactly when — Autonomy would be crammed full of hydrogen-powered fuel cells and computers, and smog would end. A few days after GMs show, U.S. Energy Secretary of Energy, Spencer Abraham, and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), were on hand with GM and DaimlerChrysler to announce the death of one federal “supercar” program and the creation of another. Being terminated was a Clinton-era program — a 10-year joint venture with Detroit known as the “Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles” (PNGV) that was supposed to produce an 80 mpg family car. In its place, the Bush administration substituted a program focused not on fuel-efficiency but on hydrogen fuel-cell technology, “Freedom Car.” However, most of these ventures go nowhere, as Clinton’s “supercar” program shows.
At its September 1993 White House unveiling, Bill Clinton compared the PNGV to the Apollo project that put a man on the moon. GMs CEO at the time, Jack Smith, said the efficiency gains to come from the new venture would amount to “nothing less than a major, even radical, breakthrough.” A whole new class of car would follow, he assured his listeners. Sold to Congress as way to make the Big Three competitive with the Japanese, PNGV became the perfect political tool to keep Congress from moving to improve fuel economy standards, to tout as the industrys global warming fighter, and to help undermine California’s electric vehicle program.
Meanwhile, as Detroit and Washington became comfortable in their new, 10-year research venture, the Japanese were making real improvements. At the Tokyo Auto Show in October 1997, where the Big Three were pushing a distinctly American lineup of big luxury cars, pick-up trucks, and high-powered muscle cars, Toyota’s new car, the Prius, was at center stage. The Prius was unlike any car on the road in America or anywhere else, and the Big Three didn’t have one. Known in the business as a “hybrid,” the Prius was the first in a distinctly new wave of vehicle: a half-gasoline, half-electric-powered automobile that was far more fuel efficient and far less polluting than any vehicle of its time. Rated at 66 mpg for fuel economy and producing half the carbon dioxide of a conventional car, the Prius offered Toyota a competitive advantage in a warming world. Privately, Big Three executives were stunned by the Prius.
Ironically, Toyota’s Prius was instigated at least in part by PNGV, which the Japanese — having redoubled their R and D effort to compete — mistook for a serious American effort to improve fuel economy. “While we were talking about hybrids,” later mused auto industry consultant Victor Wouk, “the Japanese were building one.” Nor did PNGV apply to light trucks or SUVs. “While PNGV was going on,” observed former Chrysler official Tom Gage in April 1999, “light trucks captured 50 percent of the market, with their fuel economy in the 13- to 17-mpg range….”
The fact is, for much of the last 30 years or more, Detroit has not been making the technological innovations in cars or trucks that really matter — those under the hood, in engines, transmissions, and alternative propulsion. (SUVs, after all, are not an innovation; they required no new technical breakthrough or significant engineering advances.) Instead, Detroit has remained steadfastly tied to the internal combustion engine, ratcheting up its power and acceleration, but not its efficiency. As a consequence, America is paying big time for Detroits technological negligence.
Since 1973, oil imports have doubled, rising from six million barrels per day (BPD) to nearly 12 million BPD — climbing to nearly 60 percent of supply. Cars and trucks alone account for the lions share of this dependency, about 8 million BPD. Last year the nation paid $106 billion for imported oil — that works out to about $200,000 leaving the country every minute. Since the ’70s, America has sent more than one trillion dollars to oil exporting countries — money that might have gone to new American businesses and new jobs.
Inefficient cars and trucks not only waste energy, they burn up dollars and economic opportunity. CEOs in the Fortune 500 and elsewhere ought to take note of this Detroit-based hemorrhaging of capital, as it is a drag on productivity and also cuts the availability of start-up capital. American consumers also spend about $190 billion annually on gasoline, an amount if cut by even 10 percent through improved fuel economy, could free up a tidy sum of dollars for spending or investing elsewhere. Why should autos and oil tie up so much money?
Next come the public health and environmental costs. According to the American Council for Energy Efficient Economy, the 450,000 Explorers sold last year, will generate more than $75 million in annual health costs. Over 10 years, these same 450,000 Explorers will generate “lifetime” health costs exceeding $750 million more than 60 million tons of global warming gasses. The taller, heavier and high center-of-gravity SUVs and pickups have also resulted in an escalation of average vehicle weight on the highways, making for more horrific accidents, raising property damage and personal injury costs and creating line-of-sight hazards for other drivers.
The Progress Report points out — Doyle is missing something here. If different types of vehicles on the road are imposing various costs on the rest of society, they should be billed for those costs. Don’t subsidize vehicles. Make them pay their own way based on the costs that they push onto others. Then we will see lots of effort by automakers to create safe, efficient, patriotic, modern vehicles. This policy would be less artificial, and more respectful of individual freedom and responsibility, than the top-down fuel efficiency laws that Doyle calls for.
Meanwhile, American farmers and construction workers, plunking down their hard-earned dollars for 14 to 16 mpg Ford F-Series pickups, Dodge Rams and Chevy Silverados are being taken for a ride, buying 20-year-old technology while rewarding Detroit for its lack of ingenuity.
Rather than being the mythic engine of Americas economy and its technical beacon, Detroit instead is turning out product that drags down national economic performance one mile at a time. The historical record, in fact, is full of Big Three technological neglect and foot-dragging — from turning up its nose at more efficient European front-wheel drive and fuel-injection technologies in the ’50s and ’60s, to watching the Japanese take market share though the ’80s with overhead cams and multivalve engines. Now Detroit lags behind once again as the Japanese have a five-year lead with hybrid cars. What is worrisome, however, is that the Japanese, and now the Koreans, seeing that Congress and successive administrations have done little of consequence on fuel economy, have followed Detroit into SUV/light-truck land. As a result, America, and much of the world, will be in a deep energy and global warming hole for many years to come.
Congress would do well not to be fooled by George Bushs hydrogen car pie-in-the-sky rhetoric. Raising national fuel economy standards to the 40- to 50-mpg level for all cars, SUVs, and light trucks ought be the goal — in five years, not 10 — especially with hybrid technologies here now. Tough fuel economy standards ought to be the floor from which all new automotive technology builds — whether hybrid, fuel cell, or conventional vehicle. The only language Detroit understands is the force of law. Anything less will cost the nation dearly in continued capital outflow, lost technological leadership, further pollution and damaged stature abroad.
Also see Patriotism Means Ending U.S. Dependence on Foreign Oil by Robert Redford
Why don’t automakers act more in the interest of Americans, and less in the interest of those who want to keep us addicted to foreign oil? Tell The Progress Report!