What the Greens Want Next

May 2nd, 2008 at 4:37pm

As published by
WardsAuto.com

Small Cluster

If the auto industry thinks it’s going to have a hard time meeting U.S. fuel economy mandates or European CO2 limits, it ain’t seen nothing yet. Hold onto your hat with both hands folks, the regulatory push has barely begun.

I just had a fascinating discussion with three leading environmentalists in California, all with the goal of getting an idea of where the next round of CO2 regulations is headed. After all, as goes California, so goes the nation-and ultimately the world. And what the California environmental lobby wants is somewhere between 70 and 100 miles per gallon.

Automakers will wring their hands in anguish because the investment needed to hit those kinds of numbers is going to suck up much of their cash for decades to come. But they better figure out how to deal with it because I have no question the regulations are coming.

I spoke with Roland Hwang, Vehicles Policy Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council; Dr. Mark Bernstein, Managing Director of USC’s Energy Institute; and Dr. James Lents, President of the International Sustainable Systems Research Center. That interview will run soon on Autoline.

What worries these environmentalists is the lack of progress on reducing CO2. Even most of the countries which signed on to the Kyoto protocol are watching their CO2 emissions rise. And these guys say we need to achieve an 80 per cent reduction in CO2 to reduce global warming.

For those of you who, like me, are skeptical of man-made global warming, it’s too late. We’ve already lost the public debate. Any car company that fights this movement will get pounded with an unceasing barrage of bad press. So what to do?

First, there’s a need to publicly embrace this environmental movement. That’s a massive risk for most automakers because if the greens get the idea you’re eager for their ideas, they’ll push for more, faster. But they’re also willing to get the government to cough up billions to help the industry get much of the funding it needs. I say: be the first in line to get the money.

Second, put the pedal to the metal to come out with plug-in hybrids. The greens are absolutely ga-ga over plug-ins. And guess what? They’ll be perfectly happy with nickel-metal hydride batteries that only deliver a 15-mile pure-electric range. No need to wait for lithium-ion batteries that provide a 40-mile range. In fact, for them, the Holy Grail is a plug-in that runs on cellulosic ethanol.

The auto industry faces a massive challenge to re-tool for the regulations that are already on the books. But once they meet that, there will be no time to catch their breath. The push is building to blow past the current regulations. And those who are ready will be the big winners.

12 Comments to “What the Greens Want Next”

  1. Ronald Edens Says:

    Isn’t the CO2 production from cars just a small portion of the total CO2 production?! The real decrease has to come from the rest of the industry, and other CO2 producers. Including the big power plands that make the electricity for the plug-ins.

  2. Tom Martin Says:

    Even without the regulations, automakers will need to produce 50-70 mpg cars.

    We have reached peak oil, the world population continues to grow, and China, India, Brazil, and most third world countries are on a “car buying” binge. Gasoline will continue to rise. If the rise averages $1/year, it’ll be $14/gallon in ten years. With this price a car that gets “33 city/43 highway/38 combined” won’t sell.

    This should be viewed as an opportunity by automakers — an opportunity to replace everyone of the 600 million cars in the world with cars that are two to four times more efficient. My advice to the auto industry, “Quit complaining and take advantage of this opportunity.”

  3. Tom Martin Says:

    And I agree with Ronald Edens. But it’s more painful than most think.

    What about home heating? Should we require homes to be heated by electricity? Same with buildings?

    What about flying? Should we tack on a $200/ticket charge to reduce air travel? Do you really need to fly to Florida for vacation, when there’s beach nearby. Do businesses need to have so much travel?

    And what can be done to reduce coal, natural gas or oil power plants. Are we willing to pay twice as much for electricity from a greener alternative?

    And we’re going to pay more for everything due to the increased cost of energy–be it taxes (fuel for school buses and police will rise), utilities, trash collection, food, clothes, or mailing.

  4. Dave Ederer Says:

    I watched your show this morning and I found your closing comments and this article interesting. I love cars, I’m deeply involved in the energy industry and you could consider me a “Greeny”. The power industry is the biggest polluter. The automotive industry is in the 30 to 40% range for pollution. If you try an convert all houses to Natural gas would that be a bigger “Job” than converting gas stations to a different fuel? consider that the ratio of houses to gas stations is probably 1000 houses to 1 gas station(at least). You make a good point we should be looking at how to clean up the housing power industry more deeply its just that cars are easier.

  5. Mark Breza Says:

    All of the plug-in talk sounds great but has anyone looked into the long term effects of the current power suppies. Could the electrical grid handle the surge needed to supply a large number of plug-in vehicals? And lets not forget the large amount of fossel fuels needed to produce electricity to power up these plug-ins.

  6. Tom Martin Says:

    Someday Detroit will wake up and build a $7K, 1,000 – 1,200 lbs, single seat commuter.

    It would significantly help the CAFE average and should exceed 50 mpg highway even with a 50 hp gasoline engine. I’d also like to see an “all electric” version. I’d buy one.

    I bet that over 75 percent of the population commute to work by themselves. A lot of families could get by with one 4+ seat car, and one single seat commuter vehicle.

  7. Tom Martin Says:

    Mark,
    There have been many studies on the impact of plug-in hybrids on the power grid, but let’s talk about the current situation.

    There are problems with generation of electric power. For one, we need to stop relying so much on natural gas, oil, and coal power stations. We either need more nuclear power and the problems with that, and/or create other means (solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, or tides to name a few. I don’t think conservation will work, unless the price doubles.

    It looks like we are almost to the point where it will be profitable to place solar panels on home roofs. This could mitigate the increase. Also, the U.S. is building the greatest volume of wind generation (but still only represents < one percent of generation).

    But the big factor is that power generation is needed most during the day. At night, power companies have over capacity. By having a discount in the evening, most plugins would be charged in the evening. In addition, there is a plan to use the power saved in plug-in hybrids during peak periods. That is, you may pay $.10 a KW/hr to charge your car at night, but if your car is plugged in during the day and fully charged, the power company may “buy back” some electricity for $.20/kwh during peak periods.

  8. James Says:

    “Man-made climate change” is socialist-driven crap, powered by Al Gore’s desire to become richer than God. Unfortunately, however, the brain-dead media has just parroted everything Gore has claimed, and so the sheep, er, the people has bought it hook, line and sinker. Of course, government LOVES this because it gives them legitimate reasons to raise taxes and pass new laws and regulations.

    As for talking to environMENTALists, none of them run large enterprises that employs 100,000s of people or deal with billion$ or have to answer to a wide range of audiences –like buyers, govts, enviroNazis, etc– so it’s very easy for them to live in a fantasy world where cars get 100 mpg.

    But John is right: the debate’s lost, largely because it’s been a one-sided debate. The brain-dead and the parrots have won. It’s a damn shame, as we will all help make Al Gore very wealthy, but nothing –NOTHING– will have changed as far as the planet is concerned.

    It will keep on keeping on, as it has for billions of years.

  9. Tom Martin Says:

    James,
    The climate is changing. I don’t know if it’s because of CO2, pollution, or heat escaping from buildings. The snow pack and size of glaciers is greatly diminished from 20 years ago. Storms are becoming more severe.

    I believe that autos get a bad rap. Even the experts admit that automobiles are responsible for less than 20% of the change.

    Still, denying the obvious is like standing on the deck of the Titantic and screaming that it’s impossible for the Titantic to sink and you’re not going to board the lifeboat.

  10. Matt Says:

    Tom, I think that $7K, 1,000 – 1,200 lbs, single seat commuter your looking for is called a motorcycle. ;)

    But seriously, I don’t think you can blame Detroit on the lack of the car you propose. If it was a viable product, someone would have built it already and be selling it. Honda, in particular, is already building some great motorcycles, so you know they have the no how to make it happen. I think the fact that they haven’t speaks more to what consumers would buy than what Honda is willing to manufacture.

    And James, I shouldn’t even respond, but considering Al Gore has used all the profits from an inconvenient truth on support environmental education, how exactly does this make him money?

  11. Tom Martin Says:

    Matt,
    You may be right about the car not being feasible, and probably the 1200 weight was a little optimistic, but I’m thinking of a one seat car with a roof and body panels. It could be 3 or 4 wheels. It would cost less than than a Chevy Aveo. It would have heat, but probably not A/C.

    I would buy a one seat enclosed car that got 50-60 mpg and cost $7K-$8K new. I wouldn’t even mind a 10 sec 0-60 time.

  12. joe cross Says:

    Even at $8/gal you begin to see diminishing returns on fuel efficiency investments.At 20k mi/yr a move from a 40 to 50 mpg ave car will save you $800/yr.A move from 50 to 60 mpg will only save you $536.From 60 to 70 $389.Convincing consumers to invest in more and more expensive or inconvenient modes of transportation will be difficult.Also,once we are all running our current cars on cellulosic ethanol the environmental argument will be thin.