I always learn when I read Geoffrey Styles page, Energy Outlook.  On Wednesday December 19th he opens an issue that I want to link with, comment on and add some things that were overlooked.

The post is titled “Rethinking Fuel Economy,” and starts by reflecting on the so-called “Energy Bill” that was signed into law late Wednesday.  Mr. Styles trigger may have been NPR’s Science Friday where a discussion took place about what is possible and about students and faculty that are rethinking the concept of cars as personal transportation.  Then in a striking dose of good sense Mr. Styles considers that opportunity applied in economically emerging societies where the SUVs and heavy cars are not ingrained as status symbols.

The energy bill made it into law with the “CAFÉ” (Corporate Average Fuel Economy), raised to 35 miles per gallon.  Mr. Styles correctly points out that US consumers will not have access to automobiles that are essentially the same as today.  Our expectations of vehicle prices, performance, weight and implied safety are on a collision course with simple physics, with tradeoffs that haven’t been thought through by congress or the president and especially the media.

Here is where I interject my thoughts.  We as consumers are only to a limited extent controlled by the choices that manufacturers provide.  Outside of the limits are choices to not buy, rebuild, and choose seemingly esoteric models and a range of other choices.  By passing the hugely dumb CAFÉ, rather than to incentivize innovative power and power train designs, weight and aerodynamic improvements, alternative fuel sources, the trap is set on both the manufacturer and the consumer.  This bill will be very expensive in both engineering and product prices.  We will likely remain prisoners of internal combustion engines and conventional fuels much longer than could have been realized with policy based in good science instead of political pandering to the loudest, easiest “fix.”

Other counties have a huge opportunity.  As Mr. Styles points out, when the western expectation of quick acceleration, ranges beyond 300 miles and the shear size and weight that American’s in particular are accustomed too are ignored, people can envision designs that offers much lower pricing and dramatically lower fueling costs.  In societies that haven’t conditioned buyers to believe that the bigger, heavier and least efficient vehicle is the top choice offered, opportunities for innovation abound, some of which we have covered here.

This brings us to the prime point.  In the US and western countries the main buyers of new cars and light trucks are at the top of the income pyramid. Other large buyers are fleet and rental businesses. But, most people buy used cars. As we already know from the first rounds of CAFÉ, that the highly efficient cars are hard to sell.  That makes it very hard for the automobile manufacturer to meet demands scarred by a legislated fiat that restricts the numbers of new cars most buyers expect.  The only effect will be to further narrow the customer base for the soon to be much more expensive low efficiency cars and a dearth of investment in developing the affordable highly efficient cars. It’s a disaster we witness starting today.

Mr. Styles goes on to describe the work of VDS (Vehicle Design Summit) whose work is aimed in the first stage to design a prototype with a series hybrid design with a multifueled generator for longer ranges and small battery or super capacitor pack for short ranges for an anticipated 100-mpg.  (see “Have You Driven a Hybrid Lately”) This principle is aimed at the emerging and developing economies.  We already know from the work by Johnathan Goodwin that the engineering is available for US and other western country applications.  European and Japanese manufacturers already have high efficiency diesels and hybrids for sale.  They will be offering much more to come.

But what about the stockholders, managers and workers at Ford, GM and Chrysler?  Will they be able to afford the investment, survive the sacrifices, and engineer the available innovations into desirable vehicles?  The lobbying against the new CAFÉ standard was primarily done by the US big three automakers.  Their choice has been to stay timid in the market and bold in the back halls of congress.  Both paths have backfired badly.

The question then remains; will America’s auto manufacturers get it?  We consumers may well find solutions in the new car showrooms of foreign made cars and then those same cars later on used car lots..

The tools to innovate new designs and engineering abound.  I have to wonder what is holding the Big Three back?  There are ideas worldwide, patents issued, licenses offered and an endless supply of talent to connect today’s state of the art to those ideas that can be connected to out class the world competition, take back the market, and go a long way to reduce emissions and fuel costs for drivers worldwide.

35 mpg?  Dumb, I can’t be impressed by anything less than 60 mpg in a midsized car.


2 Comments so far

  1. Ford » New Innovations Could Equal Energy and Fuel Savings on December 20, 2007 9:00 AM

    […] Here’s another interesting post I read today by New Energy and Fuel […]

  2. Learn about used cars » Blog Archive » New Innovations Could Equal Energy and Fuel Savings on December 21, 2007 3:29 PM

    […] View the whole post at New Energy and Fuel […]

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