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Bush backs 'Freedom CAR' cop-out - US DOE announces fuel cell 'initiative' (Jan 9 2002, Detroit).

" OK guys - you can forget about those pesky, anti-Big Oil fuel-economy targets forced on you by Al Gore (*see footnote below) and I'll tell the folks out there that we're definitely gonna produce fuel cell vehicles at some point in the future...sometime. Definitely. In the future."

- well - OK - admitted, we may be paraphrasing a little here - but judge for yourself and take a look at US Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham's Jan 9th announcement at the Detroit Motor Show of the Freedom C.A.R. ("Cooperative Automotive Research") 'initiative'. (Bear in mind that the fuel cell was invented a 'mere' 163 years ago in 1839...so - hey - what's the hurry?)

Reality check: Most critics and sceptics agree that Freedom CAR will simply allow US carmakers to avoid improving the fuel efficiency of cars now - it has dipped to an SUV-influenced, sub-27 mpg , 21 year low - while giving them no deadlines or enforceable milestones for actually delivering a technology which it is clear will not be commercialized for at least another decade (for whatever reason...)....

Where there's no will there's delay....(...and a golden opportunity for cutting-edge, pure battery EV's to fill the void? )

David Hawkins, director of the Natural Resourses Defense Council's Climate Center in Washington is one of the sceptics(..dare we say cynics?) :

" The Freedom CAR is pointed in the right direction, but by itself it's going nowhere. We can't afford yet another research program that just gives billions of dollars in subsidies to the automobile industry with no commitment from them to actually produce advanced vehicles for consumers to buy."

A spokesman for the Alliance to Save Energy, Washington DC was equally unimpressed:

"The investment in fuel cells is a welcome step but not at the expense of improvements in present day fuel economy . With fuel cells we're looking at long-term technology when we haven't made the first step. Raising fuel economy standards now is the first step".

As so often in the whole ZEV-debate that trusty old Abe Lincoln dictum again aptly sums up the familiar charade here ie. "You can fool some of the people some of the time and all of the people some o.t.t ...but you can't fool all of the people all o.t.t. " Sadly though, in politics, it's often quite enough if you can fool most of the people most o.t.t.

US carmakers would have us believe that raising fuel economy standards is too expensive - or, even more amusingly/desperately, they are now protesting that the new, lighter, smarter materials required to achieve high-mpg performance will undermine vehicle-strength and thus jeopardize passenger-safety(!!!)....

...Strange then that non-US, non-Superpower carmakers such as Hyundai and Fiat have all already been able to develop safe, low-cost ultra high-mpg vehicles.. for example... the Hyundai TB (1.1 litre version) will be the first 94 mpg petrol(not diesel)-powered car ever produced and will go on sale - 'sources say' - in September this year(2002) at a very inexpensive 7000 ($11,000)..

. and similarly... ....two years ago, Fiat announced that the award-winning 94 mpg/97 mph/$6000 /5000 Euro Ecobasic concept car would go on sale in 2004. (Sadly, Fiat have since reneged on their promise....the Ecobasic - like electric vehicles - was no doubt not considered 'incremental' enough by those mysterious automotive 'powers-that-be' ....in other words - way too radical a precedent.)

Also worth a mention: Daihatsu's UFE('Ultra Fuel Economy') hybrid-electric prototype which promises 130 mpg - though no word yet on production prospects or price... The Daihatsu UFE also features Advanced Safety Vehicle(ASV) technology - so much for the claim that high fuel economy means sacrificing safety.

*Footnote: Al Gore's pet 'PNGV' project - 'Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles' - was established by Bill Clinton in 1993 and called on US automakers to develop 80 mile-a-gallon cars by 2004. But Gore gave up the fight... Tip(for the post-Gore era...) : Kerry for President? (...you heard it here first) : Senator John Kerry is emerging as the leading and most vociferous, Primetime-TV champion of the alternative-vehicle/alternative-energy cause and is widely tipped to run for President in 2004 - he should certainly (re)capture much of the lost 'Ralph Nader' vote. Kerry's official Homepage is certainly worth a visit. Here's an excerpt from his "Energy Security & American Security" treatise:

(..on access to the Whitehouse/1600 Pennsylvania Av.): ".. Exxon Mobil, Enron or Chevron enjoyed an access bonanza at the expense of consumers and state-of-the-art environmental technology manufacturers. The process and the results stand as a monument to the difficulty of forcing industry and institutional change...Nothing is more indicative of old thinking, special interest policy than the attempt by the Administration to falsely sell to the American people a rationale for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge(ANWR)...."

US Senate rejects 50% fuel economy increases. ( Mar 13, 2002)

Oil economy - YES! Fuel economy - NO!

- What a shameless sell-out!

By voting against proposed new anti-Big Oil, ANWR-preserving fuel-economy standards, US Senators have demonstrated beyond all doubt that - despite much post-Enron self-righteousness - little has changed either in Washington or in US newsrooms. Sadly, tragically, most Senators - as well as TV & newspaper string-pullers - are clearly as determined as ever to carry on kowtowing to / lovingly kissing the hindquarters of the carmakers, the big-spending car-advertisers and the almighty 'keep-things-as-they-are' car-and-oil lobbies. During this last-chance-saloon Senate fuel-economy debate every favourite Clean Car-related myth and fallacy was remorselessly dredged up and trotted out by the usual motley assortment of Big Corporation apologists and 'loyal-to-oil' stoogies.

And leading the pack - none other than the devoutly 'pro-life-but-not-pro-planet' Trent Lott (Senate Minority Leader) - who at one point stood gesticulating at a large picture of a tiny petrol-powered Smart asking:
"Are we really going to be expected to drive around in European cars like these? We are Americans after all!"
How - we were asked - could 'Soccer Moms' be expected to cope with high fuel-economy vehicles which, by definition, would be 'unsafe' and 'inferior' to the SUV's and minivans they love and 'need' so much?

At this point of course - in an ideal world - eco-Action Hero Senator John Kerry would have come crashing through the Senate House doors - Schwarzenegger-style* - at the wheel of the US Army-tested superfast, supersafe and stealthy hybrid-electric HUMVEE - with its 0-50 in 7 seconds twice as quick as its primitive non-electrified counterpart. (The SCAT hybrid-electric Humvee is also 50% more fuel-efficient, 75% less polluting and has a top speed of 85 mph vs. 70 mph - see Hybrid Humvee humbles ICE - EVWorld Army-test report . Also: PEI Electronics Humvee hybrid promised for 2003 ).

Note: arch-Republican Arnie does of course famously flaunt his own brawny, s-lowtech bummer-Hummer in and around LA - he really will need to 'trade up to keep up'...

Now...we're no great hybrid fans here at EVUK - but if this technology is smart, fast and tough enough for US Special Forces it should - just about - satisfy the needs of even the most environ- mentally-challenged Soccer Mamas and Trent Lott's of this world.... See also: Bill Moore's (EVWorld) excellent, fuming-mad, report-plus-cartoon: "Capitol Hill Capitulation".

...take a look too at Trent Lott's hilariously depressing "Broad Balanced Energy Policy" in which - in true God-fearing Republican tradition - liberal and subversive words like 'renewable energy' ' and 'sustainable development' are nowhere to be found.(Note: Republicans and the US media have a conspicuous predilection for the quaint-sounding word 'conservation' - Why? Well, not just because 'conservation' sounds a lot like 'conservative' : the word also underlines conservatives' overwhelming desire to conserve the energy status quo and to conserve the right of Americans to build and drive gas-guzzling monstrosities...).

See also: Robert Redford - actor, environmentalist - on oil dependency, fuel-economy and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge(ANWR).

 
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