Hybrid vehicles

Hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles are a game changer for both of those arguments. The best hybrids, like the Toyota Prius, allow a 60% to 100% fuel economy gain with no reduction in weight or size. The onboard energy storage device, usually a battery, increases efficiency in several ways. It allows "regenerative braking"-recapturing energy that is normally lost when the car is braking. It also allows the internal combustion engine to be shut down when the car is idling or decelerating.

It allows key components, such as the air-conditioning unit, to be run off the battery. Finally, because gasoline internal combustion engines have lower efficiencies at lower power, the battery allows the main engine to be run at higher power and thus more efficiently more of the time, especially in city driving.

Electrifying the car also has numerous safety and performance benefits. The Prius has an electronic brake-by-wire system that is arguably safer than traditional brakes, and hybrid electronics hold the promise of far more controllability, instant response, and safety. Ultimately we may see electric motor on every wheel for increased control.

Also, most manufacturers are using some of the efficiency gain from the hybrids to increase acceleration, yet another performance gain. Since hybrids actually cost a little more, they represent a source of increased income and jobs for Detroit and for the country as a whole. This creates the possibility of replacing imported oil with hardware manufactured by Americans.

Temporary tax credits can help consumers with the price cost for initial models. But once hybrids are in mass commercialization in a variety of models from several automakers, their incremental costs will likely be less than three years of their gasoline savings-a good payback for all consumers and businesses.17 Also one can't simply ascribe a pure cost to hybrids since they deliver performance, safety, engine-downsizing and other benefits beyond their energy savings.

General Motors has, until recently, been very dismissive of hybrids, especially hybrid cars. Indeed, as recently as January 2004, CNN/Money reported: "General Motors Corp. has no plans to try to answer the success of the Toyota Prius, the critically-acclaimed gas/electric hybrid car, said Robert Lutz, GM's vice chairman of product development. It just doesn't make environmental or economic sense to try to put an expensive dual-powertrain system into less expensive cars which already get good mileage, Lutz said at the North American International Auto Show."18 Yet by March, GM was taking out full-page ads in major newspapers and magazines, with a paragraph that begins: "HYBRIDS. Powered partly by engines, partly by batteries, hybrids deliver improved fuel economy with uncompromising performance.. Cars, trucks, SUVS and buses you already know and trust, with an extra boost at the fuel pump.

" So GM can no longer argue that fuel economy is incompatible with "uncompromising performance." And Ford Motor took out its own two-page ad in late March touting their new hybrid: "As the first and only gas/electric SUV, the Escape Hybrid compromises nothing." GM's and Ford's ads highlight that hybrids are now likely winners in the marketplace, delivering improved performance with higher fuel economy. Probably the biggest danger for U.S. from a jobs and competitiveness perspective is if car companies fail to embrace them quickly enough.

Moreover, hybrids are almost certainly the platform from which all future clean vehicles will evolve. For instance, if we achieve two major scientific breakthroughs-in fuel cell membranes and hydrogen storage-then fuel cells may well be inserted into hybrids. If battery technology continues to improve, then plug-in hybrids are likely to become an attractive option. Biofuels require highly 6 efficient vehicles to reduce the land and infrastructure impact of a major switch away from gasoline. All of these issues are discussed further below.

So from a policy perspective, a top priority for any clean transportation technology is to promote the use of hybrids. Indeed, policy should promote hybrids that are also partial zero-emission vehicle (PZEV). These vehicles running on low-sulfur gasoline have very low tailpipe emissions, for instance, only 0.02 grams of NOx (nitrogen oxides) per mile. Both the Toyota Prius and the Ford Escape hybrid SUV are hybrid PZEVs. These vehicles qualify for special consideration under California air regulations as Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emission Vehicles (AT-PZEVs). Accelerating the market penetration of AT-PZEVs would go a very long way to addressing the impacts cars have on air quality, gasoline consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions while creating the conditions for the next generation of alternative fuels.

Studies by the national laboratories for DOE, by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change have concluded that even greater savings could be cost-effective while maintaining or improving passenger safety.13 The Europeans have a voluntary agreement with automakers that will reduce carbon dioxide emitted per mile by 25% between 1995 and 2008-2009 for the average light-duty vehicle, which equates to a vehicle fuel efficiency of almost 40 mpg. Japan has a mandatory target with similar goals.14

Efforts to raise fuel economy standards have been stuck in political limbo for years. Because of this inaction, the fuel economy of the average vehicle on American roads is at its lowest level in two decades.15 The fuel economy laws have a loop-hole allowing sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and light trucks to average 20.7 mpg, 25% lower than the new car standard. This has allowed overall vehicle efficiency to drop as the SUV share of new vehicle sales has grown. Ford, for instance, has backed off a voluntary commitment to increase SUV fuel efficiency, and, in fact, its 2003 model year SUVs were less fuel-efficient than the previous year.16

The two most potent arguments against raising fuel economy standards have centered around safety and jobs. The argument has been that fuel economy standards will inevitably push people into smaller and lighter vehicles. Such vehicles are supposedly less safe-a claim with little analytical support but tremendous political potency. The matching argument has been that Detroit makes most of its profit on bigger vehicles, and a move to smaller vehicles would inevitably come at the expense of profit and hence the jobs of autoworkers.