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The Automotive Industry, Sustainable Transportation and the New Mobility Agenda - Part 1

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  • eric.britton
    The Automotive Industry, Sustainable Transportation and the New Mobility Agenda – Part 1 New Mobility Note: We open this exchange of information and ideason
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 27, 2006
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      The Automotive Industry, Sustainable Transportation and the New Mobility Agenda – Part 1: Invitation to discuss


      New Mobility Note:

      We open this exchange of information and ideason this topic in parallel both in our new collaborative blog, which you will find today if you click to http://www.newmobility.org and then the Co-Blog link on the top menu, and in our Café/Idea Factory, with this very useful article from The Economist of this week on the latest from the auto industry in their push toward ‘sustainable transportation’. As you know the auto industry has publicly embraced the phrase “sustainable development” and most of the firms even have units which vigorously share with the world information on how all this works from their perspectives. The question is of course if technology at this end will do the trick, or if more is required if they are to emerge as not only a clear part of the problem, but also perhaps eventually as a real part of the solution. But let’s start today with this good review of The Economist team, which already suggests that some of the more knee-jerk thinking about hybrids and their future potential may even from an automotive and technological perceptive need a good vigorous shake. – Eric Britton



      From The Economist Newspaper, Jan 19th 2006. Source: http://www.economist.com/science/displayStory.cfm?story_id=T07644



      Alternatives to Petrol:


      Gentlemen, Start Your Engines


      Hybrid motors may not be all they have been cracked up to be, but

      America's motorists do seem interested in more fuel-efficient cars


      VISITORS to the Detroit Auto Show this week will have seen some unusual

      presentations alongside the regular razzmatazz of concept cars and new

      models. With America distraught about the security of its oil supplies,

      and petrol prices stuck well over $2 a gallon (more than 50 cents a

      litre) for the past year, the once-neglected term "fuel economy" has

      re-entered the country's vocabulary. It is not, however, an American

      firm that has led the change. Instead, Toyota, a Japanese company, has

      made itself the market leader, with its fuel-sipping petrol-electric

      hybrid, the Prius.


      Petrol-electric hybrids attain their fuel economy by using electric

      motors in stop-start city traffic and petrol engines when cruising on

      the highway. Toyota expects to sell 400,000 hybrids this year, and the

      Prius itself now has a waiting list of 18 months. In the wake of this

      success, every carmaker in the world seems to be touting an alternative

      to the petrol-driven, four-stroke engine invented by Nikolaus Otto

      (above left) that has dominated motoring for almost 100 years.



      In America, that dominion is still overwhelming. Around 97% of cars

      sold there today rely solely on the pistons, spark-plugs and cylinders

      of conventional petrol engines to power them (compared with about 50%

      in Europe). But petrol-electric hybrids, modern versions of the

      alternative internal-combustion engine developed by Otto's rival,

      Rudolf Diesel (to the right-hand side of the picture), and even

      ethanol-burning engines are making inroads. Ford, for instance, aims to

      sell more than 250,000 hybrid versions of five of its mainstream models

      this year.


      The driving force behind this is hybrids' supposed offer of up to 25%

      better fuel economy. Although hybrids cost $2,000-3,000 more to buy,

      the federal government gives tax incentives of up to $3,600 a vehicle

      for buyers of Priuses and seven other sorts of hybrid made by Toyota,

      Honda and Ford. On top of this, there are non-monetary inducements,

      such as the hybrid driver's right to use high-occupancy vehicle lanes

      on dual carriageways, even when he is alone (and even though this adds

      to petrol consumption per passenger mile). Equally perversely, this

      waiver fails to take advantage of the particular benefits of hybrids,

      which are built for stop-go traffic where braking recharges the battery

      and boosts fuel economy.


      Indeed, research has been picking other holes in the hybrid story over

      the past two years. CONSUMER REPORTS, a product-rating publication,

      tested 303 vehicles in real-life town and highway driving, and found

      that nine out of ten of them failed to achieve the fuel-efficiency

      claimed for them in tests by America's Environmental Protection Agency

      (EPA). In some cases the shortfall was as high as 50% and the worst

      offenders were the hybrids. To the silent glee of Detroit's

      manufacturers, who were slow off the mark with hybrids, the EPA is

      about to revise the way it conducts its measurements. The likely

      outcome is that hybrids (with Toyota and Honda to the fore) will fare

      far worse.


      Only a cynic would suggest that domestic manufacturers had encouraged

      this updating of fuel-economy standards--for there is indeed a case for

      modernising tests last revised in 1985. Since then, congestion has

      grown worse, energy-demanding air conditioning has become routine, and

      highway speed limits have risen from the 55mph that was enforced after

      the oil shock of 1973-74. Hybrids, then, may have been oversold. But

      they are not the only answer to the fuel-economy question.



      One effect of the 1970s oil shock was to encourage people to buy cars

      with diesel engines, which are usually more efficient than Otto-cycle

      engines. However, the fashion did not last. Diesels disappeared from

      American cars in the 1980s because they were dirty, dull and



      Two things, however, are reviving interest in them. One is the

      appearance of cleaner, low-sulphur fuel. This is already commonplace in

      Japan and Europe, and will be introduced to America in the autumn. It

      contains a mere 15 parts per million of sulphur, which is less than a

      thirtieth of the amount tolerated today. Coupled with recent advances

      in direct injection ("common rail") engines that improve combustion,

      and durable particulate traps to capture tiny but dangerous particles

      of soot, this new fuel is cleaning up emissions and transforming the

      prospects for diesels in America. J.D. Power, a market research firm,

      forecasts that the share of the market taken by diesel cars will

      quadruple from today's 3.2% by 2015.


      At the motor show, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, BMW, Nissan and Chrysler all

      revealed their intentions to make diesel engines available in their

      American cars. Volkswagen, which sold about 30,000 diesels in America

      last year, says it could have flogged twice that number if it had

      anticipated the rise in demand. Mercedes is promoting its new BLUETEC

      system--which incorporates oxidising catalytic converters, particulate

      filters and a new nitrogen-oxide-reducing system that injects the fuel

      with urea. This chemical grabs oxygen atoms from nitrogen oxides to

      produce nitrogen gas (which is harmless) and water. BLUETEC will thus

      meet new, tougher federal rules on nitrogen-oxide pollution that come

      into force in 2009. Mercedes claims the new diesel engines it intends

      to put on the American market will also be 20-40% more economical than

      their petrol equivalents. It quotes estimates by the Department of

      Energy which say that if only one-third of America's cars and light

      trucks were diesels, this would save a quantity of oil equivalent to

      the country's imports from Saudi Arabia.



      Dieter Zetsche, the chief executive of DaimlerChrysler, Mercedes'

      owner, is still awaiting formal approval from the authorities for his

      company's new system. He believes, however, that he has satisfied

      concerns from the EPA that drivers would not bother to top up the

      urea-injection system, and that the cars would thus pollute more than

      they should. He thinks diesels are about to take off as smartly as

      hybrids did. Others beg to differ. GM reckons it is wiser to spend its

      research budget on technologies such as "lean-burn" petrol engines than

      to try to make diesels cleaner. Lean-burn engines use a trick called

      homogenous charge-compression ignition--in effect, they are

      petrol-burning diesels, since they use pressure rather than spark plugs

      to ignite the mix of air and fuel. By copying a diesel's operating

      cycle they obtain a similarly superior thermal efficiency and, hence,

      fuel economy.


      And those who don't like diesels can take other paths to clean and

      economical cars. The latest buzz is around "plug-in" hybrids. These are

      vehicles with even smaller than usual petrol engines, bigger batteries

      and the ability to recharge from the mains overnight. Given that the

      average American motorist travels barely 30 miles (50km) a day, the

      petrol engine in such a hybrid is there mainly to stop the driver being

      stranded by a flat battery.


      Supporters of plug-ins, such as James Woolsey, a former head of

      America's Central Intelligence Agency and a man obsessed with the

      country's energy security, think such cars offer a clever answer to

      dependence on petrol. By shifting the donkeywork of supplying energy

      for transport to power stations--which generally burn coal--they make

      drivers less vulnerable to the vagaries of the petroleum trade.


      Carmakers, though, are sceptical about plug-ins. Publicly, they claim

      the batteries will not tolerate the rugged regime of recharging

      envisaged by Mr Woolsey and his fellow enthusiasts. Some people,

      however, suspect that the real reason for the scepticism is a worry

      that the successful marketing message which has launched the Prius and

      its rivals might be tarnished by memories of plug-in electric vehicles,

      such as General Motors' EV1, which flopped in the 1990s.


      If plug-ins fail to catch on, another way of escaping the Middle East

      would be to burn ethanol made from crops. A blend of 85% ethanol with

      15% petrol, known as E85, is gaining acceptance since it can be used in

      normal petrol engines, and advances in biotechnology promise cheaper

      ethanol by turning waste cellulose into the glucose from which ethanol

      is fermented. (At the moment most of it comes from maize seeds.) If

      that works, it would put paid to the old objection that "gasohol", as

      it is sometimes known, consumes more energy in the making than it

      releases in the engine. Further down the road, companies such as Ford

      and BMW see great possibilities for burning hydrogen in internal

      combustion engines (long before it is common in fuel-cell electric

      cars). And then there are fuel cells themselves--though they are still

      some way off. In the race to find alternatives to petroleum, the

      contenders are already on the grid.

      * * *


      (c) 2006 The Economist Newspaper Group Limited. All rights reserved.

      See this article with graphics and related items at http://www.economist.com/science/displayStory.cfm?story_id=T07644

      Economist.com is the online version of The Economist newspaper, an independent weekly international news and business publication offering clear reporting, commentary and analysis on world politics, business, finance, science & technology, culture, society and the arts.

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