Hot Cars, Cool Planet

At auto shows, carmakers say electricity is the future

This slideshow features highlights of some of greenest cars at this year’s Detroit Auto Show.  This is a CAP repost.

Visitors have streamed through the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, MI over the past two weeks to look at innovative new designs from the industry.  And this year’s batch is the greenest yet.

It’s no wonder automakers are beginning to design more fuel-efficient vehicles. There was no incentive to do so under the Bush administration, which for years blocked efforts by California and 16 other states to reduce greenhouse gas pollution from motor vehicles. Yet President Barack Obama changed that mentality last year, and in May he announced an agreement with California, the auto companies, and the United Auto Workers to establish the first-ever greenhouse gas limits for motor vehicles (see “White House rolls out details of fuel economy, emissions standard “” The biggest step the U.S. government has ever taken to cut CO2“).

The plan would increase fuel economy standards by one-third by 2016, which would save 1.8 billion barrels of oil. It would also cut greenhouse gas pollution by nearly 1 billion metric tons, which is equivalent to removing 177 million cars from the road. The plan should be final in March 2010.

JR:  The Washington P0st reports today, “At Washington Auto Show, carmakers say electricity is the future”:

Some automakers are using the Washington Auto Show, which opens Wednesday, to proclaim that the electrification of automobiles is just around the corner.

General Motors said on Tuesday that its Chevrolet Volt, an electric car with extended range via an onboard gas generator, would be launched later this year in three markets, including Washington.

Nissan, meanwhile, is highlighting its Leaf, an electric car that the company says will break out of the tiny niche markets for such cars so far. It is expected to go on sale in December.

“We’re serious when we say ‘mass market,’ ” Tracy Woodard, director of Nissan’s government affairs, said at one of the show’s news conferences….

Ford is developing fuel-efficient gas engines and some hybrids, and its first fully electric vehicle, a work van known as the Transit Connect, will be available later this year.

When asked what must happen for electrification to proceed, [Ford CEO] Mulally listed a number of engineering challenges.

“Viable batteries for cars: The size has to come down, they have to work in hot and cold temperatures. We have to get the price down to get widespread use of hybrids or electrics,” he said. “The second thing is, as we move to more electrification, what is the infrastructure that supports that?”

… The companies selling electric cars, as well as some advocates, are relying on government incentives to move the market along. Already, the federal government is offering a $7,500 incentive for electric-car purchases. California will offer an additional $5,000 incentive starting in March.”Something like the Nissan Leaf may be available for less than $20,000,” said Jay Friedland, legislative director for Plug In America, an advocacy group.

The story made no mention of one of the biggest likely drivers for consumer interest in electrics — the inevitable return of high gasoline prices (see Deutsche Bank: Oil to hit $175 a barrel by 2016, which “will drive a final stake into long-term oil demand,” spurred by a “disruptive technology” “” “the hybrid and electric car, that will very likely have a far greater positive impact on oil efficiency than the market currently expects”).

And yes, electric drive cars are inherently more efficient and hence less polluting even from a greenhouse gas perspective than regular cars — and since reduce the GHG-intensity of electricity is considerably more straightforward (and far cheaper) than reducing the GHG-intensity of liquid fuels, EVs and plugs ins enable the transition to a low carbon economy.

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5 Responses to Hot Cars, Cool Planet

  1. SecularAnimist says:

    Another benefit of electric cars is that they not only reduce GHG pollution — they completely eliminate the “traditional” local, toxic exhaust pollution that is still a huge problem in major urban areas.

    And for purchasers, electric cars should have another significant benefit — namely, drastic reduction in maintenance costs. An internal combustion engine has hundreds of moving parts. An electric motor has ONE moving part. Think about it.

    Then think about electric cars designed like personal computers, based on industry-standard interfaces and form factors, easily upgraded with swappable components when technology improves, with a vast technology “ecosystem” of innovative, competitive third-party manufacturers of batteries, motors, control systems, etc.

    In fact, I think that IBM should develop a compact electric vehicle based on those concepts. They could call it the IBM PC (Personal Car). Then everyone else could just clone it.

  2. Leif says:

    Secular Animist: Corporations need to get out of the mind set of planned obsolescence and build durable products that will last a lifetime or two. To keep up there production economies should be viewing the world as their market and capitalism structured in a manor that allows all humanity to participate. Products that are not 100% recyclable or last generations have no justification for production. (Perhaps a case can be made for condoms.) Humanity first, status quo, NO! Capitalism will either have to learn to play nice or we are all toast.

  3. Jay Turner says:

    If we don’t want a repeat performance of the housing bust, we’ll need mass-market commuter cars that don’t depend on oil. What do you think will happen when the folks who moved far out of the city for cheaper housing will do when they can’t afford to commute back into the urban areas? Without practical EVs and Plug-ins, there could be a fresh wave of bankruptcies, foreclosures and distressed sales of suburban and exurban homes. I doubt that many Americans appreciate the hazard to our way of life that oil dependency implies. It’s one more way that another big recession could occur.

  4. Leif says:

    Jay Turner: Unfortunately companies don’t have to worry as governments continue to come to their rescue. Without humanity induced incentives that force capitalism and corporations to put the well-being of humanity above greed and consumption it looks like a long down hill slide to this kid. Humanity first, status quo, NO!

  5. dan bloom says:

    that guy in the foto near the car looks like john edwards!~