Energy Department Announces $55 Million In Grants For Fuel-Efficient Car Research

CREDIT: AP Photo/Tony Ding

General Motors CEO Mary Barra talks about the 2016 Chevrolet Volt hybrid car at the North American International Auto Show, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015, in Detroit.

The future of fuel-efficient cars looks a little brighter after a round of grants announced this week by the Department of Energy.

Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz announced Thursday that the Department of Energy will be providing $55 million to universities, research laboratories, and companies to find new ways for vehicles — both plug-in electric and fuel-powered — to become cheaper and more efficient. The money will go toward projects related to multiple issues, including advanced batteries, advanced combustion engines, and fuels technologies, and the selections of grant recipients will be made based on applications sent to the DOE.

“Energy Department investments in advanced vehicle technologies have had a major impact on the industry, driving down costs for consumers and reducing carbon emissions,” Moniz said in a statement. “These projects will continue America’s leadership in building safe, reliable, and efficient vehicles to support a strong, 21st century transportation system.”

The DOE also announced that, in February, it would be providing up to $35 million to research on fuel cell and hydrogen technologies.

Moniz made his announcement Thursday at the Washington Auto Show, which runs through Feb. 1 and is showcasing some of the latest fuel-efficient technology. This week, Green Car Journal handed out multiple awards to cars with innovative and effective fuel-saving technologies. The group’s Green SUV of the Year — the first award of its kind from Green Car Journal — was given to the Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel, which gets a highway gas mileage rating of 30 mpg. The group gave its Green Car Technology Award to the 2015 Ford F-150 pickup, which has an aluminum body that makes it 700 pounds lighter than the 2014 model.

“Automakers are stepping up to meet the challenge of offering increasingly efficient, environmentally positive vehicles in all classes of vehicles,” Ron Cogan, editor and publisher of the Green Car Journal, said in a statement. “Their achievements in improving environmental impact in the popular SUV segment, an inclusive focus on vehicles, and use of innovative ‘green’ technologies deserve to be recognized.”

Low gas prices helped boost SUV sales in December, but these low prices also make it a good time to buy an electric car.

“Fuel savings are not top of mind to many consumers right now, and that makes this a great time to buy a hybrid or electric vehicle,” John Krafcik, president of TrueCar, said in a statement. “With gasoline prices now averaging just $2.10 per gallon, and vehicle preferences tied so closely to short-term gasoline prices, automakers are heavily discounting their most fuel-efficient cars to clear inventories.”

According to TrueCar, people looking to buy a Ford Focus Electric hatchback can get one for 16 percent off MSRP on average in the month of January. Buyers of the Prius Two can save 10 percent off the car’s MSRP, which is typically $25,025.

Car manufacturers have increasingly been looking for ways to develop efficient cars that are affordable and, if electric, can go a long way on a single charge. In 2014, Nissan Leafs — which can go about 84 miles on a single charge, and, after federal tax credits, start at around $22,000 — topped the list of the most-bought electric cars in America. But Tesla, which has previously been known for its luxury electric cars, is planning on offering a Model III that will start around $35,000 and go 200 miles on a single charge. And Chevy just announced plans to launch its new Bolt, an electric car that will start at around $30,000 and will also be able to drive for about 200 miles on a single charge.