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NYTimes: 100-MPG Cars: It's a Start by Pulitzer-Winner Nicholas Kristof

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  • Felix Kramer
    Nicholas Kristof is a twice-weekly columnist at The New York Times. Most recently, his writing about Darfur has attracted wide notice. See
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 4, 2006
      Nicholas Kristof is a twice-weekly columnist at
      The New York Times. Most recently, his writing
      about Darfur has attracted wide notice. See
      <http://www.nytimes.com/ref/opinion/KRISTOF-BIO.html>.
      We expect to have a one-page PDF version of the
      print version of this story available Sunday at
      <http://www.calcars.org/downloads.html>.

      http://select.nytimes.com/2006/02/05/opinion/05kristof.html
      The New York Times
      February 5, 2006
      Op-Ed Columnist
      By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

      100-M.P.G. Cars: It's a Start

      Imagine if we could develop a passenger car that
      averaged more than 100 miles per gallon — or, if
      used only for short trips, 1,000 miles per
      gallon. What if it could cost the equivalent of
      only 75 cents a gallon to operate and needed to
      go to a filling station only every other month?

      Surprise — we have all that technology today! We
      even have a handful of demonstration vehicles to
      prove it. All we lack is bold political and
      corporate leadership to put this technology in play immediately.

      These vehicles underscore that if President Bush
      is serious about curbing our addiction to oil,
      there's plenty more that he could do — right now.
      There's no need for vague, long-term initiatives
      that are welcome but smack of procrastination.

      The cars I'm talking about are known as "plug-in
      hybrids." They are similar to hybrids like the
      Toyota Prius, but they have bigger batteries and
      at night would be plugged into a standard
      120-volt outlet to charge the batteries.

      They can be built to have a 30- to 50-mile range
      before the gasoline engine needs to be used at
      all. So for someone who commutes 15 miles each
      way to work and rarely takes long drives, a
      plug-in hybrid usually functions as an electric
      vehicle and relies on gas only on rare occasions.

      "If you used it only locally, you would go to a
      gas station only a couple of times a year," said
      Felix Kramer, founder of
      <http://www.CalCars.org>, a nonprofit in Palo
      Alto, Calif., that converted a regular Prius to a
      plug-in hybrid. "This can be done right now. That's why people are so excited."

      Estimates of gas mileage with a plug-in tend to
      be 100 miles per gallon and up, but these
      estimates depend on how the vehicle is used.
      People who only putter around their neighborhood
      could go thousands of miles on a gallon of gas —
      and a supply of household current.

      Eventually, instead, maybe we'll be driving
      hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. A few years ago, I
      drove a General Motors hydrogen prototype on an
      Arizona test track, and it was capable of speeds
      of up to 100 miles per hour, handled well, was
      whisper-quiet and emitted only water vapor for
      exhaust. On the other hand, it also cost $5 million to make.

      In contrast, plug-in hybrids are economically and
      technically feasible today. While the batteries
      still aren't perfect, supporters say that plug-in
      hybrids can be mass-produced today for only about
      $3,000 more than a conventional hybrid (which
      already costs $3,000 more than a regular auto).
      Skeptics say that the additional cost might be
      greater, up to $15,000 more than a regular gas
      car — but even that might find a market among car
      buyers seeking the Hot New Thing.

      The higher sticker price is compensated for by
      lower operating costs, with power from the
      electrical grid. Indeed, if it recharged at night
      when rates drop, a plug-in hybrid could be run
      for the equivalent of 75 cents a gallon or less.

      Another advantage is that plug-ins fit easily
      into the existing infrastructure, unlike cars
      fueled by hydrogen. At least at home, the
      infrastructure is as simple as an extension cord.

      "None of this requires a Manhattan Project,"
      notes James Woolsey, the former C.I.A. director,
      an ardent fan of plug-in hybrids to achieve
      greater energy autonomy and stop subsidizing
      extremism and dictatorships in the Middle East.
      Now, he says, government incentives are needed so
      that auto companies take the financial risk of producing plug-in hybrids.

      Mr. Woolsey has a vision that starts with plug-in
      hybrids averaging, say, 125 miles per gallon.
      Then he would like to see them made of
      lightweight carbon (like Formula One racers),
      which would save enough weight to double mileage
      — taking the vehicle up to 250 miles per gallon.

      Then make that plug-in a flex-fuel vehicle that
      burns E85 (which is 85 percent ethanol and only
      15 percent petroleum), and it will go four times
      as far for each gallon of petroleum. That's 1,000
      miles per gallon with existing (albeit not always very economical) technology.

      Will everything work so smoothly? No, of course
      not. But even if only one-fifth of this dream
      were achievable, the result would still be 200
      m.p.g. cars — and more energy security and less global warming.

      The Bush administration is backing the
      technologies that go into plug-in hybrids, but
      languorously. Instead, the U.S. should promise to
      order 50,000 fleet vehicles of the first viable
      plug-in hybrid — that would be just the stimulus the carmakers need.

      Mr. Bush was forthright in acknowledging
      America's oil addiction, but he sometimes sounded
      like an addict who declares he's going to quit "tomorrow." Let's start now.

      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      Felix Kramer fkramer@...
      Founder California Cars Initiative
      http://www.calcars.org
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/calcars-news
      http://www.hybridcars.com/blogs/power
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/priusplus
      http://www.seattleeva.org/wiki/EAA-PHEV
      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
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