Drive Star: We can cut oil use in half by 2020

CalCars’ Kramer writes Obama’s JFK energy moonshot speech

“I am not willing to be the latest in a succession of Presidents telling you we’re going to end our addiction to oil. Finally, it’s time to begin. Oil is holding us all hostage, economically and physically. If terrorists had poisoned 40% of our wetlands and 25% of our fisheries, we wouldn’t ask, “How much will it cost to fight back? The good news? At last we have ways to get far within a few years, not over decades! And it will cost much less than you think.”

Tuesday night, President Obama will speak to the nation about the Gulf catastrophe. In a pre-response to that speech, Felix Kramer, Founder of the California Cars Initiative, who successfully advocated for plug-in hybrids like the forthcoming Chevy Volt, proposes that the President follow that speech up with a “realistic and conservative” roadmap to halve our oil use in 10 years.

We know we eventually need to kick our addiction to costly, dangerous fossil fuels. “Realists” say that’s impossible for decades. We’ve believed them, fantasizing we’d avoid calamities, ignoring science that says we don’t have decades. Clearly, that hasn’t worked. Now are we still stuck maintaining our addiction with clean needles, or, best case, settling for methadone? What would detox and rehab look like?

We have a realistic transitional scenario that avoids an agonizing withdrawal. We need persuasive and inspiring leadership for it to happen. In the key area of transportation, we submit our Drive Star proposal. For $100 million in one year, we’ll demonstrate how to rapidly reduce use of oil in transportation with safe, warrantied retrofits of tens of millions gas-guzzlers.

That will enable us in just ten years for $100 billion, much of which the federal government will get back, to cut U.S. oil use in half, by seven million barrels a day.

Tuesday night President Obama will address our nation. He’ll start with the oil catastrophe. He’ll describe the heroic efforts to blunt its deadly blows to citizens’ communities and jobs, to businesses, wildlife, and the Gulf. He’ll express our hopes we can stop the gusher. He’ll talk about identifying the causes and compensating the victims.

When he proposes steps to improve oil industry safety, we hope he won’t say, “Let’s make sure this never happens again.” No one can make that promise. That’s why we need a second speech with a new strategy.

We’ve now in the crisis CalCars knew, when we began in 2002, would some day arrive. (We expected it would come from higher prices or a supply disruption — we’ve all been surprised.)

We’re looking around, asking, “How quickly can we start getting off oil?” We’re happy we’re well on our way with plug-in cars. We now have a sprinkling of promising companies working to get funded to convert gas-guzzlers. That said, we aim to put this solution on the map — only this time in weeks, not in the eight years it took to win on plug-in hybrids. For details on what we’ve called “The Big Fix” beyond the following, see — and we’ll continue adding back-up info at CalCars-News and elsewhere.

The missing piece we dream President Obama will follow up with is an emergency-response roadmap to a world where increasingly scarce and costly oil is used only when needed. We’ve written what we hope he’ll say in a second speech, adding the details he’ll give when he’s joined by business and technical experts at a briefing on Drive Star. Here’s our rough draft, which we’re releasing as we refine the concept — we moved up our plans when we learned about the Tuesday address. We ask our readers to help spread the word to thought-leaders and strategists everywhere. We ask organizations to move this realistic, conservative, and cost-effective approach to the top of their talking points and priorities.

The Speech:  How President Obama Can Announce Drive Star to Cut Oil Use in Half by 2020

Today we are under attack. Admiral Thad Allen describes a Gulf under siege. Oil is holding us all hostage, economically and physically. We are defending our land and sea, our jobs and communities, against a relentless enemy that’s already hit four states hard — so far. We don’t know what’s to come — or if, how, or when we can win. If terrorists had poisoned 40% of our wetlands and 25% of our fisheries, we wouldn’t ask, “How much will it cost to fight back?” We’d put tens of thousands of soldiers at risk and spend any amount to take out that enemy.

I am not willing to be the latest in a succession of Presidents telling you we’re going to end our addiction to oil. Finally, it’s time to begin. The good news? At last we have ways to get far within a few years, not over decades! And it will cost much less than you think. More about that in a moment.

We can’t continue ever-riskier experiments to get oil from remote locations. Even on land, getting oil from tar sands depletes water and other resources and doubles oil’s carbon footprint. And oil only seems cheap. Its impacts are increasingly unaffordable. And it’s going to get more expensive at the pump and at every step once it’s extracted from the ground. In the U.S., and around the world, giant transport ships, aging pipelines and sprawling refineries will continue to fail — and remain in the cross-hairs of terrorists — as long as they operate.

The only way to guarantee our victory — the most realistic solution — is to reduce national and world demand for petroleum. That’s surely a conservative strategy in the fullest sense of the word: protecting everything we value from change we can’t control. So tonight I’m announcing “Drive Star.” At last we will begin our recovery from fossil fuel addiction.

It’s a 21st-century equivalent of what we did in 1942. When our country was attacked at Pearl Harbor, no one believed we could build 30,000 planes and tanks in just one year. Well, America’s auto industry delivered over 100,000. And no one asked what it would cost. We just had to do it. That helped us become the world’s greatest industrial power. If we can again succeed like that, in a decade, we’ll look back and know that we got a great deal: safer, healthier, better lives, an economy no longer held hostage to petro-dictatorships and blindered, monopolistic companies, and a significant response to climate change.

Since our cars and trucks use almost two-thirds of the oil we buy, the quickest way to cut oil use is to free transportation from its grip. Over time, we can conserve by reducing the miles we drive. But it will take decades to shift most freight from trucks to trains, design walkable communities, shorten our commutes, and build better mass transit and high-speed rail networks.

Meanwhile, we all still need to drive all the time. It helps that the auto industry will be building more efficient new vehicles. And the first plug-in cars mass-produced in the USA in a century will go on sale this fall. That means we’ll be powering some miles with increasingly renewable electricity that isn’t made from imported oil. But even these new plug-ins will show up too slowly to have a big impact on our oil consumption for two decades.

That’s too long to wait to improve energy security, protect our economy, and address climate change. Fortunately, if we just open our eyes, the practical answer is right in front of us. It’s under the hoods of the 250 million vehicles we drive today. Using existing technology, we can convert many of them into plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles.

We’ve already decided we’re going to fix already-built houses, offices and factories that waste energy. We’re about to enact the “Home Star” and “Building Star” programs — putting people to work on “Cash for Caulkers” retrofits that will make buildings more comfortable and cut owners’ fuel costs.

Since vehicles are also part of what we’ve built, with bipartisan support, we will enact a similar program: “Drive Star.” “Cash for Conversions” will start by fixing many of our 100 million trucks, vans, and buses. They now gulp down one third of the oil we use. About half of those big gas-guzzlers stay on the road a surprisingly long time: 15 to 35 years. That’s as long as many buildings, so they’re also worth a makeover. And these retrofits will also pay off, for their owners, their communities, and our nation. We already upgrade our computers. We can upgrade vehicles too.

Pioneering companies now have designs to turn gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles into all-electrics or plug-in hybrids, depending on how they’re built and the range their drivers need. The U.S. can lead in a new, profitable, global business opportunity. Retrofit technologies are already good enough to install in large vehicles. As batteries get cheaper and smaller, and motors get light enough to fit inside wheels, we’ll be able to upgrade smaller cars. We won’t need new power plants, since we have enough off-peak electricity to recharge as many retrofits as we can build. And magically, as more electricity comes from lower-carbon fuel sources, our cars will get cleaner as they get older!

While we’re fixing vehicles, we can also equip them with low-cost real-time MPG indicators that show us how to save money and still get to places quickly. We can add carbon filters to diesel trucks to get rid of black carbon — soot, which is another global health and climate problem. Our effort will inspire other startups to accelerate development of liquid fuels from algae and agricultural waste products. These zero-carbon biofuels plus lower-carbon natural gas will fuel plug-in hybrids when they drive beyond their electric commuting range. And to reach our goal of cutting oil use 50%, we’ll also need one other step: end the use of 15% of our oil for heating.

When they’re mass-produced, conversions will cost under $10-$15,000. That’s a lot for anyone with an old car to pay up front. Retrofitters can partner with energy service companies to finance those costs, backed by federal loan guarantees. Payback will come because an electric mile is up to five times cheaper than a petroleum mile. So these retrofits will cost less to drive right away, benefitting public, military, and private fleets, and individual drivers.

We’ll add targeted incentives to jump-start this successor to the $4,500 “Cash for Clunkers” program. Right now, buyers of new plug-in cars get up to $7,500 in tax credits. For the first five million vehicles, we’ll match that for retrofit gas-guzzlers that displace an equivalent amount of oil and are in shape to last 10 more years. As high-volume production brings down their price, we can taper down the incentive over a second five million.

$100 billion on retrofit loan guarantees and incentives is a lot of money. Before we go all in, we’ll start with a $100 million program that entrepreneurs call “proof of concept.” But let’s realize: defending our nation is never cheap. We’ve spent ten times that hundred billion on wars since 9/11. A plan to convert vehicles has to look beyond the immediate payback to take into account the real costs and damages we’ll avert.

Every day, we just hand over a billion dollars to foreign oil suppliers. Drive Star will turn out to be a bargain. For less than we pay for three months of foreign oil, we will catalyze quick retrofits of over 50 million vehicles.

After our one-year test, in summer 2011, we’ll be ready to create a powerful new U.S. conversion industry. In communities everywhere, tens of thousands of Americans will have important, well-paid jobs fixing vehicles in commercial garages — and in boarded-up auto plants. Meanwhile, carmakers and dealers that sell high-efficiency and plug-in cars will, for the first time, get a new revenue stream from upgrading vehicles they’ve already sold.

Drive Star will prove that converting vehicles is profitable. A few startups already make that case, and we expect big news from some of them later this year. We’ll enlist more companies to join this new age of automotive innovation.

We Americans love to race. Since Charles Lindbergh won a $25,000 prize for his first transatlantic flight, we’ve seen again and again how competition sparks innovation. We’ve just sponsored a $4 billion “Race to the Top “for our schools. And ongoing public and private contests in space and science show that creative inventors, engineers and entrepreneurs can take giant leaps.

“Drive Star” starts with a modest but ambitious $100 million challenge: Design a way to convert a popular vehicle. Make it affordable, safe, drivable, eligible for certification and warranty, and installable in high volumes. We’ll pre-fund your prototypes. We’re in a hurry, so deliver your test vehicles in six months. Our judges will come from the Departments of Energy and Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, groups like the Society of Automotive Engineers, the X Prize Foundation, Cleantech Open, the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association, and carmakers and suppliers. We’ll recruit mentors to validate your business plans, identify suppliers, and connect partners.

Early next year, we’ll convene a kickoff summit in Michigan for conversion companies, car and component makers, lenders, fleet owners, and drivers to begin a national rollout of the best solutions.

Drive Star is our opportunity to lead the world in a new direction, as U.S. companies export and license our solutions and work with suppliers, manufacturers and installers to fix vehicles everywhere. Because oil is a global fuel, our solution must spread internationally or we’ll just transfer the fossil fuel risks to the air, water and economies at locations from which they will still threaten everything that lives on our planet.

Every generation is called to step forward. One of our biggest challenges is to clean up our oil mess — and we can meet that challenge. We have cleaner, cheaper, safer ways to drive everywhere. With Drive Star, we have the motivation, the technology, and the resources to cut our oil use in half in ten years. Yes, we can take the first step!

— Felix Kramer,

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41 Responses to Drive Star: We can cut oil use in half by 2020

  1. prokaryote says:

    Policy and politics of climate change.

    “Climate change has long been stymied in politics but this panel discussion asks our politicians for leadership and action.”

  2. Mike #22 says:

    Thank you Felix, well said, well reasoned.

    The Obama administration is funding batteries right now,


    and I think we should start making 200 mpg (15 miles/kwh) cars too:

    Oil stinks.

  3. MartyF says:

    This is too true not to be tried! Sign me up!! I’ve got a SIENNA that I’d love to convert, if I had the cash! I’m behind the whole idea – we should forward this – not just to Obama, but to all our congresspeople. Believe me, I’m into that as a START!

  4. Ken Johnson says:

    Re “‘Drive Star’ starts with a modest but ambitious $100 million challenge …”:

    $100 million sounds like a lot of money — until you realize that there are about 250 million vehicles on the road in the U.S. So we’re talking about 40 cents per vehicle. “Modest” indeed. We can afford something a little more “ambitious”.

    The new federal CAFE regulations are projected to induce technology improvements costing about $1000 per vehicle in 2016. But the investment will save about $4000 in fuel costs. That assumes gasoline prices averaging just $3.18/gal in the 2010-2030 time frame. If only life could be so good.

    So this is the fundamental conundrum of regulatory transportation policy: How do you motivate people to spend more than a dollar to save at least four dollars of gas?

    An “economy-wide carbon price” certainly isn’t going to do it. Gasoline already costs the equivalent of about $300 per ton-CO2.

    Vehicle performance standards have been unable to come anywhere near the “maximum feasible and cost-effective reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles” — the original statutory requirement underlying the new CAFE standards.

    One alternative that Kramer mentions, which could be effective at pushing technology to the cost-effectiveness limit, is vehicle financing incentives. If technology costs for fuel-efficient vehicles can be spread over the vehicle lifetime (or if long-term fuel costs and savings can be internalized in upfront vehicle costs), then CalCars wouldn’t have to be lobbying the government to put up $100 million in seed money. The VC’s would be lining up to buy into the venture.

    [more …]

  5. Roger says:

    Cool idea. We could also call it the “Car Star” program. Let’s do it, President Obama!

  6. hapa says:

    make a list of common fleet cars like the crown victoria and the sienna. mass conversions are possible there.

  7. Well, not a bad speech but you know it’s not going to be the one that President Obama can give on Tuesday night. If we’re lucky, after he talks about what the federal government is doing and will do to stop the gusher, clean up the Gulf, and make sure BP finances compensation and restoration, he can relate all of that to the need to get serious about a clean energy economy, and specifically the climate and energy legislation now in Congress. And realists who understand he’s speaking for the first time to the entire nation from the Oval Office on a matter of deep national concern will be satisfied with that.

  8. I should add that the author(s) of this posting anticipate that their suggestion would be a second speech, but I wanted to emphasize that, because for the next 48 hours, everybody is going to be announcing what the President should–no, what he MUST say on Tuesday night.

  9. Chris Dudley says:

    A 3 million barrels a day cut from rationing right now with this program following up might be lowest cost since we could pay less than a dollar a gallon for gas while we are waiting for this to pull together.

  10. The time is right which changes the USA the energy politics. The possibility has the USA. Now you also have the president.

  11. prokaryote says:

    Very cool! (Just came to read the article)

    The prospect of economy and jobs creation on the run might could be stretched a little further.

    A few thoughts

    You need education of personal
    New equipment to maintain
    The mechanic – resource
    Transportation of the device parts
    You could use recycling of metals
    A clear consumer information program, which includes information on energy security. For example with an electric vehicle you can power your home, when a storm downed your power line.

    I would focus also on the Co2 footprints here (Use certified Car Star – hybrid and electric from day 1 for all the project affecting sectors, requirement).

  12. Chad says:

    The right-wing has a bizarre fascination with terrorism. As far as I can tell, terrorists have killed around 5000 Americans over the last forty years or so. The right’s response to this is to throw the mother of all hissy fits, toss numerous civil rights under the bus, dump trillions down the toilet in Afghanistan and Iraq, and sacrifice several thousand of our brave soldiers lives.

    On the other hand, air pollution kills around 10,000 Americans every year. The right’s response? To deny the science, pretend there is no problem, and defend the polluters.

    I really makes me wonder…

  13. Frank says:

    Actually, 200 mpg is about 6 miles/kwh, not 15 (depending on fuel, which gallon, etc.)

    Carbon tax!!

  14. Mike #22 says:

    Frank, not sure how you are getting that mpg number. Roughly speaking a car capable of 200 mpg uses about one third the energy of say a Prius or Polo TDI, both of those cars being in the 50-60 mpg range as fossil fuel burners and in the 5 miles/kwh range as EVs–hence a VW one litre type vehicle would be in the 15 miles/kwh range.

    Looking ahead to a billion more cars this century (not that I am advocating this), imagine if each one of those are 15 mile/kwh designs, and they go 15000 miles per year, and they are shared by two people. That works out to just 500 kwh per year/per owner. In the 2000 watt model, then their cars are just 57 watts continuous. Fair enough. Battery requirements go down, and integrating PV into the shell would not only provide most of the energy needed for travel, but it adds a whole new aspect to V2G. Take your smart garage with you.

  15. Philip says:

    This post, too, is indicative of Climate Progress’ approach to transportation. After a brief, totally undocumented statement that shelves all alternatives to the car, we are told that the solution is to convert cars with internal combustion engines to plug-in vehicles. One factor that isn’t taken into account is this:

    6.2.4 Electric cars cannot replace the current vehicle fleet.
    There are alternatives to the conventional auto that do not use petroleum at all. One such automobile type is
    the plug-in electric car. However, there are significant infrastructure challenges in bringing electric vehicle use up to any meaningful scale. Electric vehicles require hours to fully charge, which eliminates the possibility of establishing charging stations that, like gas stations, could quickly recharge the vehicles.
    Even if the City were willing to spend the necessary funds to build and maintain citywide electric-car-
    charging infrastructure, San Francisco does not have access to the significant electrical power that would be
    necessary to charge more than a fraction of the vehicles on the road: A recent study estimates that, given
    current capacity, California’s electric grid would be unable to handle the conversion of more than 15% of the
    current automobile stock to electric vehicles.
    San Francisco Preparedness Task Force Report; p.60

    It would thus appear that converting America’s fleet of gas fed cars to plug-in vehicles is more difficult than the author would have us believe. Without a dramatic increase in our electricity producing infrastructure, we
    would have the cars, but we wouldn’t have the energy to fuel them.

    In a previous comment I cited an article that mentioned that 40% of all trips in Copenhagen were by bike. As most cars carry little more than one passenger, it would not be unfair to say that each bike replaces approximately one car. So let’s consider the following:
    It takes less energy to manufacture and scrap or recycle a bike than a car.
    Bikes need drops of oil for lubrication, but not gallons of oil for fuel.
    Bike lanes require less land than roads for cars and less space to park.
    Bikes pollute less.
    Bikes offer health benefits that cars do not.
    Bikes can be an option for those who are too young to drive, too poor to own a car, or who simply don’t drive.

    Why it should take decades to build up a bike friendly infrastructure in American cities is beyond me. And the same goes for mass transit, which is the only realistic option for many who are too old to drive. A number of cities have either installed or reinstalled light rail lines, yet, according to the author of this post
    (and Climate Progress in general), this is either irrelevant or – as this sort of thing lies decades into the future – currently undoable. In passing, I might mention that bikes and mass transit offer far greater climate benefits than cars.

    Maybe Climate Progress should begin writing about America’s addiction to the automobile.

    P.S. I regret the typography. I especially don’t understand why the quote from the San Francisco report has become such a mess.

    [JR: I’m letting this through even though it is a mess in every sense — in particular and most annoyingly it conflates pure EVs with plugs ins (which can operate just fine if the charge runs down) and it assumes that every single post on this blog has to propose every single solution simultaneously. And it ignores the links to other proposals and frankly while bikes are terrific and deserve to be encouraged as has been said many times here, they hardly can be offered as somehow a big critique of Kramer’s proposal here.]

  16. homunq says:

    What’s keeping the US tethered to the old ways? The dysfunctional senate. Any speech by Obama which doesn’t touch this issue is 3/5 hot air.

    Filibuster reform now.

  17. Mike #22 says:

    Good candidate vehicles for conversion would include late model light pick up trucks, fuel efficient small cars, and minivans.

    Why not just start converting them right on the assembly line? Divert new equipment down a seperate assembly line–offer a refurb program on models were the assembly line are still running?

  18. prokaryote says:

    Philip “Electric vehicles require hours to fully charge, which eliminates the possibility of establishing charging stations that, like gas stations, could quickly recharge the vehicles.”

    The existing and current deployed charging stations can power load batteries in minutes (15-20 min). You refer to conventional household sockets. And than there are battery exchange schemes.
    For example

  19. john atcheson says:

    Philip #15

    Bikes are great — but when you can’t get Americans to drop their cheeseburgers and get off the couch and onto a treadmill to save their own lives, you probably won’t get much traction there.

    As for recharging — there are schemes which would switch out batteries which would take less time to do than fill an SUV —

    And as Joe pointed out, you seem to not know the difference between plug-ins and EVs.

    Not sure your comments add much of relevance to the discussion.

  20. Alex says:

    I’d better get my Ford Mustang before the eco-thugs outlaw it, and any other car that isn’t a battery powered shiny happy mobile that runs on unicorn farts and rainbows.

    Leave me be, and the millions of other people who like to drive. I know, it’s a foreign concept to most of you here.

  21. Philip says:

    prokaryote –
    Quoting the report. Thanks for the information about current charging stations, but that doesn’t address the main point, which is the amount of electricity available for charging cars. If the electricity isn’t there, the cars can’t be charged. (But as JR noted I was confusing EVs and plug-ins.)

    JR –
    Please consider this sentence:

    But it will take decades to shift most freight from trucks to trains, design walkable communities, shorten our commutes, and build better mass transit and high-speed rail networks.

    Kramer himself introduces some alternatives, and then more or less dismisses them (“but it will take decades”) in order to segue into the topic of his choice. I am not claiming that every post has to deal with everything, but I find what he does here to be inaccurate and manipulative.
    I’ve read your book, Hell and High Water, and there you wrote much about cars and nothing about other forms of transportation. I am fairly new to this blog, so there is much I haven’t read, but from what I’ve seen thus far, the tendency is similar. The last of the two most recent posts “dealing with” bikes was about exercise bikes, not bikes as a means of everyday transportation. The preceding post was about Google maps
    for bikers. This is about recreation. I have not yet seen bikes treated as a serious means of transportation that in many instances can replace cars. I haven’t yet noticed reports about cities that are trying to encourage biking, for example by creating or expanding a bike infrastructure or offering bike sharing programs. I haven’t seen any calculations of how much energy could be saved if a certain percentage of all trips in America’s cities were by bike. Thus far, other than a bit on trains that was packed into a post on cars, I haven’t seen anything on mass transit. Try searching “mass transit” or “mass transportation”, and see what you get. I get nothing that refers to those subjects. I will readily admit that I don’t follow every link, but it seems to me that if a link is of primary importance, the subject should be treated independently as a post.

    Finally, as mentioned above, I did mix up EVs and plug-ins. Thanks for making me aware of that.

  22. joan devlin rykiel says:

    We keep blaming BP and the government, but the real culprits is the American public who refuses to make short-term sacrifices for the long-term good. Shame on us. This is where we need strong leadership, Preident.

  23. Felix Kramer says:

    We’re encouraged that most responses to our post have been so positive. I would like to address some comments by Phillip #15 and #21, since he raises issues that frequently come up. As his second post acknowledges, he didn’t initially distinguish between plug-in hybrids with extended liquid fuel range and all-electric vehicles.

    I didn’t intend to be “dismissive” of these solutions, but I do believe they will arrive long after our one-two-decade window to address energy security and climate change. Of course, anyone who wants plug-in vehicles would prefer that first we do all we can to reduce miles travelled. And light-rail and “bus rapid transit” (look it up at Wikipedia) are certainly cheaper and quicker to build than fixed rail. If other transitional and societal solutions come sooner, we all win.

    We love bikes — they get 1,000 miles/gallon of water (or beer?). But they are not an all-climate solution for most people, or one that accommodates people who carry lots of gear or drive others who are unable to bike. Even the most bike-friendly communities are still very four-wheel-vehicle-dependent.

    The issue of grid capacity is worth looking at a bit more. The report cited, found at is focused on San Francisco. The cited section (actually report p.53 and PDF p. 57) is followed by another quote (report p.56 and PDF p.60) that says, “Remember that the theoretical maximum of electric vehicles that the grid in California can charge at night is only 15% of the current fleet. The realistic maximum is even lower…” These are confusing conclusions, not supported by other studies.

    And the report footnotes the well-received Pacific National Lab study of 2007. That analysis was welcomed as validating the concept that if we woke up tomorrow and all our vehicles miraculously had plugs, we could charge AT NIGHT 84% of cars, pickups and SUVs! The report did note that these were national numbers and localities would vary. Read our summary and find a link to the report at .

    Of course, even with Drive Star, vehicles won’t arrive so quickly that utilities won’t have time to get ready (see for what communities are doing). Utilities expect to have to upgrade local distribution facilities, much as they’ve had to do for plasma TVs (which place similar demands on the grid as a 120-volt-charging PHEV).

    Once grid capacity is our biggest challenge, our problems will be almost over!

    –Felix Kramer, Founder,

  24. hapa says:

    private car size & use will keep shrinking because of total cost of operation. we can plan for it or we can let history mow us down.

  25. You can sign Obama’s petition for a clean energy and climate bill at:

    I got this alert (which points at the petition) today:

    The BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast is the worst environmental disaster of its kind in our nation’s history. I am returning to the region today to review our efforts and meet with families and business owners affected by the catastrophe.

    We are working to hold BP accountable for the damage to the lands and the livelihoods of the Gulf Coast, and we are taking strong precautions to make certain a spill like this never happens again.

    But our work will not end with this crisis. That’s one of the reasons why last week I invited lawmakers from both parties to join me at the White House to discuss what it will take to move forward on legislation to promote a new economy powered by green jobs, combat climate change, and end our dependence on foreign oil.

    The House of Representatives has already passed a comprehensive energy and climate bill, and there is currently a plan in the Senate — a plan that was developed with ideas from Democrats and Republicans — that would achieve the same goal. But this is an issue that Washington has long ignored in favor of protecting the status quo.

    So I’m asking for your help today to show that the American people are ready for a clean-energy future.

    Please add your name to mine:

    Thank you,

  26. Jeff T says:

    I want a revolution, too; and I hate to rain on the parade. However, Drive Star doesn’t look that good to me. The proposal is to spend a substantial fraction of the cost of new vehicles to retrofit old ones. What is the associated energy cost of the retrofit, and the carbon cost? A carbon tax with offsets in other taxes would be much more effective. If you want to target liquid fuels in particular (not the best approach for climate problems), tax them.

    Targeted solutions like Drive Star will just result in more cases like corn-to-ethanol: marginal or negative effects on the environment, misallocation of resources, and entrenched industry with political power to perpetuate the waste.

  27. prokaryote says:

    Philip “Thanks for the information about current charging stations, but that doesn’t address the main point, which is the amount of electricity available for charging cars. If the electricity isn’t there, the cars can’t be charged.”
    It is about load balancing – energy to grid.

    The wiki has more …

    Load balancing (electrical power) (daily peak demand reserve) refers to the use of various techniques by electrical power stations to store excess electrical power during low demand periods for release as demand rises.[1]

    Grid energy storage stores electricity within the transmission grid beyond the customer. Alternatively, the storage can be distributed and involve the customer: for example in storage heaters running off peak tariffs such as the United Kingdom’s Economy 7, or in a vehicle-to-grid system to use storage from electric vehicles during peak times and then replenish it during off peak times. Of course these require incentives for consumers to participate, usually by offering cheaper rates for off peak electricity.

    Telephone exchanges often have arrays of batteries in their basements to power equipment[2] and in the past metro systems such as the London Underground had their own power stations[3], not only giving some redundancy but also using the grid for load balancing. Unfortunately today often these supplies of power have been replaced by direct supply from the grid and so are no longer available for the purpose of load balancing.

  28. Bill W says:

    Alex #20: I like to drive, and ride motorcycles, too. But I’m a grown-up, and I realize that both activities contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming, which will affect millions (or billions) of people, including me. I’ve cut back significantly on both activities, and switched to a more fuel-efficient car (my Mini Cooper, BTW, is a lot of fun to drive). But I know that’s not enough. Sure, the first electric cars produced will be aimed for the widest possible market, and will therefore be as boring as a Camry or Accord. Give ’em time, though, and I’ll bet we’ll have electrics that are as much fun as any sports car. Remember that electric motors generate maximum torque at 0 rpm!

    Now, getting back on topic, the Drive Star proposal worries me. I’m afraid that, if successful, it would put off action on moving our communities to configurations that require less car use. Sure, rural areas will always need cars to get around. But suburban sprawl requires far more driving than better-planned, human-scaled communities. Walking and biking are healthier, too. And riding trains is greener.

    If you’ve never been to Europe, go, as soon as you can. You’ll find that you can get almost anywhere without a car, and it will be a pleasant experience. Heck, we should send our entire Congress to Europe. I hear some of them don’t even have passports. They desperately need some perspective.

  29. Philip says:

    john atcheson # 19

    Sorry, but I didn’t see your comment earlier. Regarding the relevance of my comment to the post above, please see #21. Had Kramer written, “Shifting freight from trucks to trains etc…are all things that need to be done, but tonight I would like to focus specifically on…,” or something to that effect, I would not have felt that he was dismissing transportation alternatives. (But I still would have found it incomprehensible that he hadn’t mentioned bikes as one of them.)

  30. Alex says:

    You may have a point, but electric cars just aren’t the same without that V8 rumble. The engine noise to me is a pretty crucial part of the sports car experience, if it’s just wind noise, where’s the fun in that?

  31. Leif says:

    I am sure that there will be an after market app. for electronic V8 noise for you. Even controlled by your acceleration. Noise is noise in my book, Alex.

  32. Mike says:

    Bill W. and Phillip:

    There’s NO need to change suburban sprawl to “better planned” dense communities. This may be a surprise to you, but there are many of us who absolutely hate living so tightly bunched like sardines or in apartments the size of a prison cell. I, and many others, don’t like noise, congestion, and filth; we want the calm and peace of rural and exurban areas.

    Bikes are perfectly fine for getting around in sprawling areas. In some suburbs, the traffic is bad enough that bikes are actually faster than cars. A 6-8 mile trip usually takes less than half an hour by bike, which is shorter than the commute times of many Americans. Heck, some people can RUN that distance in less than half an hour. The bike is still awfully good for longer trips too, provided that you’re willing to get off the couch and train – I’ve biked 20 miles in just over an hour, and that route included some small hills and traffic lights.

  33. Windsong says:

    Alex (#29)likes the “V8 rumble””. That’s good because lots of rumble are headed our way! (Record heat waves, dozens of Katrinas, the West Antarctic Ice sheets unhinged and the buffers gone). Yep. Lots of rumbles to enjoy– all the result of burning fossil fuels.

  34. Mike #22 says:

    Phillip, we in the US do not have a short path to bike/rail friendly infrastructure. Our population is much more spread out than in Denmark, and local governments lack the authority to cut in the tracks and ways.

    With the longer distances we must travel, and the obstacles to light rail, I think that we must turn to light weight passenger vehicles to keep our local economies going without the fossil fuel burden.

    Freight has similar difficulties. Locally, the county I live in is working to create more rail to truck facilities, but the spread out nature of our infrastructure means we need trucks for now. There are programs underway to increase ton mile per gallon efficiencies (search this site) and of course the electrification of delivery vehicles is promising

  35. Twigger says:



    Bill W. (#27), I guess you are unaware of the Tesla Roadster. I watched 5 of them shutting down Corvettes, Mustangs and big block muscle cars at the Wayland Invitational Electric Car Drag Races last summer in Portland, OR.

  36. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    thanks for describing this innovative and potentially very useful concept.

    While retrofitting and repairing is hugely more conservative of ecology, raw materials, prosperity etc than vehicles’ replacement, it has to be said that it has its limitations, which you’d do well to address rather than overlooking them and risking overselling the concept.

    The primary limitation is the opportunity cost of the name “Drive Star”, with its exclusive focus on 4W road vehicles, rather than say “Travel Star” which would accommodate equally significant parallel efforts. These could and should include bicycle facilitation, and buses/trams’ rapid expansion, and also restored & new railways, (in particular the potential mass build-out of ultralight mag-lev gantry-hung lines to minimize extant land-use impacts, opposition, delays, and costs, with the cherry of setting CSP plants at intervals with long-term power supply contracts).

    To focus on maintaining the car fleet at the expense of other options (they’ll grow together or compete for the same funds) doesn’t make a lot of sense, particularly in view of some evident disbenefits. With current US oil use at around 19 MBbls/day, leaving 7 MBbls by 2020 (~36%) on international markets would be quite an achievement. Yet it would have disbenefits and they do need consideration.

    First, the uniquely authoritative DOE account of March 2009 (report filed under Peak Oil) indicates a global oil shortfall off normal oil-driven GWP growth of around 10 MBbls by 2015, and of 25 MBbls by 2020. Thus the proposed cut of 7 MBbls/day by 2020 requires as pre-requisite the Global Climate Treaty to commit all nations to reducing fossil fuel dependency, and specifically to providing the outstanding 18MBbls/day by 2020 of cuts in global oil usage.

    Without that treaty the alternative, with or without ‘Drive Star’, is to face ruinous oil-price volatility with extreme spikes between recession troughs, with the ‘malign’ feedback that oil investment will decline along with investor confidence, thus cutting supply faster than the DOE curve. (In addition, the DOE graph is of global supply; the internationally traded supply on which the US depends will decline still faster as producers put rising fractions of their output to serve their growing domestic demand. Search: the “Exportland” dynamic). This scenario would leave the dominant oil-dependent fraction of the 2020 US vehicle fleet being just too costly to run, with pretty desperate national economic consequences.

    Second, unless the US were to make proportionately larger cuts in other fossil fuels’ usage, 7/25ths of global cuts in oil usage by 2020 is well below its fair share of the global effort – it’s only about 28%, when the US is liable for over a third of present airborne anthro-CO2. Thus 7 MBbls/day by 2020 would not be an appropriate offer in UN negotiations, let alone a ‘leadership’ position. All of which reinforces the case for an inclusive ‘Travel Star’ initiative that advances the non-car options equally rapidly to raise the rate of viable change.

    Third, the ‘Drive Star’ concept would, beyond question, consume most of or more than the new non-fossil energy supply that can be afforded in the next 10 years: 7 MBbls/day is a truely huge amount of energy to replace. For this reason, while politicians may welcome the idea as a visible means of ‘doing something’ about Peak Oil, it will also be heartily welcomed by the coal industry for whom it offers the lifeline of their providing an ‘essential’ energy supply. Yes, it might or might not require additional coal stations depending on the rate of new non-fossil energy provision, but it would certainly ensure the lifespan of extant coal stations and provide better profits to the coal industry.

    In light of these points, it seems fairly clear that retrofitting road vehicles could be a vital part of an inclusive and highly benign ‘Travel Star’ initiative, or it could be a damaging and deficient dead end through sucking in funds and political commitment that have to be spread more widely to be effective.

    Trusting that you’ll consider this assessment as being the constructive criticism that’s intended,



  37. Felix Kramer says:

    Thanks, Joe, for retrieving my response from this afternoon from the Spam folder. You can now find it at #23 to see my responses to some early posts. A few comments on those since:

    Jeff T (#26): Embedded energy counts in favor of this approach. One reason to FIX old vehicles is that bout 15% of the energy used in a vehicle’s lifetime goes to build it; very little is needed to convert it. From our White Paper, “Cash For Clunkers Paves the Way to Retrofit Gas Guzzlers” at — if you crush a vehicle and buy a new more efficient one it will take you 40,000 miles before you’re saving energy; you’re ahead after 8,000 miles with a retrofit! (A price on carbon via tax or otherwise is also a much-needed step.)

    Lewis (#36) Thanks for the thoughtful post. I could have been more positive about the entire menu of transportation options, and “Travel Star” is a great name. Though I spent 8 years promoting plug-in hybrids because I think they’re the most likely TRANSITIONAL platform until EVs take over, if I’m proven wrong and they arrive sooner, we all win. I focus on retroofits because I believe we urgently need steps that can have a large impact in the next 5-10 years. This one I hope can be broadly accepted by anyone in favor of any of the three advantages of electricity over fossil fuels: cleaner, cheaper, domestic.

    I hope the proposed 7M barrels/day can be vastly expanded by the spread of the solution globally. And if we’re serious about climate change, we also have to stop using coal, and move to renewable low-to-zero-carbon electric power generation, as proposed by,, and so many others. The package is a huge challenge and we all need to work where we can be most effective.

    I hope readers at ClimateProgress who support this approach will spread the word.

    Thanks, Felix Kramer, Founder,

  38. Philip says:

    #23, 27, 32, 34

    To clarify a few things. I should have said that Kramer’s initiative is important and constructive, and I regret that I didn’t. We need people who can offer us solutions that can reduce the future impact of the climate crisis, and Kramer is obviously one of them.

    In order to reduce these impacts most effectively, I believe we have to look everywhere we can and do everything we can. This means not only reducing the oil/energy consumption of cars (based on a life cycle analysis including manufacture, use, and scrapping/recycling), but also, where practicable, replacing or supplementing cars with better alternatives. I am not suggesting that bikes are “an all-climate solution for most people.” My argument is for a multi-facetted system of transportation that provides (low energy) mobility and social justice, a system that provides mobility for the young, the old, the handicapped, and the poor. This, of course, means expanding and improving mass transit and correcting skewed government policies that spend “80 percent of our national transportation budget on highways and only 20 percent on transit.” (Laura Barrett: Addressing Transportation Inequity to Keep America Moving)

    I hope that my irrelevant comments have helped to broaden the discussion in a relevant manner.

  39. Alex says:


    Nice try, but I’m not budging on my position.

  40. Hallucigenia says:

    I admire the ambition, but I don’t see answers to questions like – where will the resources come from? For instance, a Prius NiMH power pack requires 12kg of lanthanum, one of the rare earth elements (REEs). 97% of the world’s REEs are currently mined in China (mostly at Bayan Obo), whose consumption is rising at such a rate that exports will cease (if they are not actually forbidden, on strategic grounds) within the next 5 years or so. By then the REE supply for the entire world ex-China will pretty much come from two mines, Mountain Pass and Mt Weld producing about 40,000 tonnes between them. About a third of that will be lanthanum, enough for just over a million Prius-type powerpacks for the world ex-China, assuming no other uses for NiMH batteries. has more on the rare earth supply story.

    So that’s NiMH. If you’re looking to do this right now, the only other technology that is close to being market-ready is Li-ion. The Volt power pack uses about 1kg of lithium. The lithium supply story isn’t that much better than for lanthanum. Global supply was 25,400 tons in 2008, 18,000 tons in 2009. ( ) It has other uses, including things like aluminium production which presumably people here would regard as essential. At present there’s about 5000t going into batteries. Say total Li production could double by 2020. That’s still only 20-25 million Volt-sized power packs per year, and that assumes that China, India etc don’t consume lithium in other ways such as iPhones, laptops, cordless power tools and glassmaking.

    If you’re wanting to power something bigger than a Prius or Volt, or to go for full PHEV-ness, then obviously you can’t fit batteries to so many vehicles. Yeah, technology may help, but you’re pretty stuck with current chemistries if you want a working prototype within a year and you don’t get huge leaps in electrochemistry in the way you do with eg electronics. Maybe on a 10-20 year timescale then you might be able to use other chemistries that are less constrained by what can be mined, but that’s missing the point of Drive Star AIUI.

    My other problem is that it sounds like someone with a hammer who sees all problems as nails. We’ve been very lucky to have a low-cost, energy-dense fuel for transportation until now, but we’re going to be forced to abandon that one-fuel-fits-all philosophy. Just within the US, it could be that mains-powered (hydroelectric powered?) EVs will suit the northeast, local PV generation for EVs will suit California and Florida, diesel will suit the warmer bits of the Mid-West + South, and CNG/hythane in the Rockies. Different vehicles will suit urban commuters and farmers or delivery men, they don’t have to have the same thing. I recognise the potential economies of scale if they do, but I just don’t think we’ll have that luxury.

    If you seriously want to save a couple of million barrels a day, then the obvious choice is diesel rather than EVs – no refuelling problems and it’s well-established technology that many mainstream cars are already geared up for, even if the diesel variants aren’t necessarily sold in the US. But the displacement of gasoline engines by diesels will save more CO2 in the US over the next decade than EVs will, I can promise you.

    There is a bit of a resource issue, in that the Euro V/VI diesels that enable the coming diesel revolution in the US, need platinum group metals (PGMs) for their catalysts in order to pass the EPA regs on NOx. I can understand where the EPA is coming from on that front, even if the NOx regs were heavily influenced by protectionism against European manufacturers who are good at diesels. But if you want to reduce oil consumption quickly and easily, there is perhaps an argument for increasing tolerance of NOx outside the main conurbations where NOx smog is an issue. Something closer to Euro IV wouldn’t make much difference to air quality in Mississippi, but would allow easy cuts in oil consumption and CO2 whilst saving precious PGMs for fuel cells in LA or wherever. In time the “Mississippi standard” could be upgraded to a “Euro 4.5” as and when non-PGM catalysts were developed, even if they weren’t quite as good as their PGM equivalents. There’s some really interesting things happening in the CNG/hythane world as well, they’re maybe not very visible from a US-centric perspective but they’re going to be huge in much of the world.

    We need to think a bit differently in a resource-constrained world. Just as we don’t have enough oil for every Chinese/Californian/Croatian farmer to drive a Humvee, there isn’t enough lanthanum and lithium for every such farmer to drive a PHEV, either. Diversity will be forced on us, so it’s best to plan that way from the start. As others have said, we need to look at the big picture, so things like town planning and mass transit are important bits of the jigsaw, this is not a narrow engineering issue.

  41. As CalCars’ Technical Lead, I collaborated with Felix on writing this article, and would like to respond to several of Hallucigenia’s concerns in posting #40:

    Re. raw materials:
    1. NiMH batteries. NiMH batteries, now used in nearly all hybrids, are unlikely to be commonly used for the larger PHEV, let alone BEV, battery packs, as not only are they inferior in most ways, but their materials costs will keep their prices high while Li-ion traction battery prices continue to decline as production lessons are learned volumes increase.
    2. Li-ion batteries. I just returned from the 2010 Advanced Automotive Battery Conference (, where materials constraints have been discussed for several years. The conclusion has been that there is plenty of lithium and the other necessary materials to make enough batteries for all billion cars world is likely to soon be ‘blessed’ with, though rates of extraction will have to increase significantly until recycling begins to cut the need for new materials. Though it isn’t the cheapest source, the U.S. even has sufficient domestic lithium supplies for all U.S. vehicles. Also, by the way, new Li-ion factories can now go from bare field to production in as little as 12 months.
    3. PbA batteries (yes, really!). Firefly, sadly bankrupted by the market crash, was purchasing production equipment for lead-acid batteries with carbon foam instead of lead plates. If someone buys the IP and continues, the second generation battery could split the difference between NiMH and Li-ion performance at a fraction of either’s cost. Though lead is a hazardous material, these batteries would have much less of it, so that the lead in existing already-highly-recycled starter batteries could go a long ways toward electrifying an equal number of vehicles.
    4. The permanent magnets used in the PM motors in hybrids and many BEVs require rare earth metals that are indeed limited (and Toyota has been quietly buying up much of the world’s supplies). However, induction motors that do not use permanent magnets at all are capable of equal overall efficiency and power-to-weight ratios. Though the Tesla Roadster uses an induction motor, PM motors are currently more common because they are easier to design controllers for, there is as yet no shortage of PM materials, and induction motors are more suitable for BEVs and PHEVs than HEVs.

    Diesels: Only now have emissions controls been developed to scrub the tiny particulates Diesel engines inherently emit, and that have recently been found to be a serious health threat. These controls are not only expensive but also reduce the Diesel’s edge in efficiency, which is only around 15% anyway (A 30% lower fuel consumption translates to only 15% higher efficiency because Diesel fuel has 15% more energy per gallon). And Diesel hybrids are very uncommon because they are extra expensive, and because their efficiency gain is less than that for gasoline hybrids, as the Diesel engine doesn’t have the Otto cycle’s efficiency-robbing pumping losses at low throttle settings that hybrids help ameriorate.

    In contrast, electrification can lower ‘well-to-wheels’ carbon emissions by an average of 60% (says an extensive EPRI/NREL study) on the current U.S. grid, with EVs getting cleaner every day due to the renewable portfolio standards that an increasing number of states have enacted; and as old, inefficient coal plants are replaced by, at worst, natural gas generators that are also far more efficient.

    Felix and I do indeed support promotion of the following and more, within their respective limitations: ride sharing, telecommuting, smaller vehicles as appropriate, bicycling and walking (within health, weather, terrain, time, and baggage-carrying constraints), mass transit (within population density, door-to-door slowness, cost-of-new-system, baggage-carrying, and last-mile constraints), biofuels (e.g. from cellulose, algae, etc.) that don’t compete with rainforests or food production, natural gas propulsion and conversions (though carbon emissions reductions are limited to 30%) for long-distance trucks and buses for which electrification is as yet impractical, urban planning, personal rapid transit (PRT) if that can ever get off the ground (so to speak), etc. And we agree with many comments indicating that we must ‘throw the kitchen sink’ at our fossil fuel, and especially oil, dependencies.

    This article concentrated specifically on a credible plan to cut U.S. oil consumption in half in a decade — by doing something about our existing gas guzzling vehicles — precisely because essentially no one up to now has believed that that is possible, because: these vehicles are 97% oil-dependent; they consume 2/3 of the U.S’s excessive oil consumption; despite what many would wish, they aren’t going away for decades short of major social upheaval; and even if all new production was suddenly of smaller, non-oil-fueled (e.g. electric) vehicles, it would cost five times as much energy to rebuild today’s vehicles (up to 80% of each new EV’s lifetime fuel consumption) after crushing them early, than to convert them.