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US News/World Report on Toyota/Hermance/Bush Interest

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  • Felix Kramer
    This report (written before the GM news broke) describes what we ve heard before: that the President frequently asks Energy Secretary Bodman about PHEVs. It s
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 29, 2006
      This report (written before the GM news broke)
      describes what we've heard before: that the
      President frequently asks Energy Secretary Bodman
      about PHEVs. It's written by Marianne Lavelle,
      who wrote the magazine story a few weeks ago,
      <http://www.calcars.org/calcars-news/536.html> or
      in PDF form at <http://www.calcars.org/downloads.html>

      Jump-Starting the Electric Car
      By Marianne Lavelle
      Posted 11/29/06

      With their cheers muted because of the death of
      one of their brightest stars days earlier,
      engineers, enthusiasts, and entrepreneurs
      gathered in Washington, D.C., this week to
      celebrate what appears to be an increasingly
      bright future for the electric car.

      With the prospect of more support from the new
      Democratic Congress and even the Republican
      administration touting their inventions, car,
      battery, and electric power companies were set to
      revel in new advances they believe have taken
      them closer than ever to their vision of
      electricity as a widespread, viable alternative
      fuel to gasoline. But over the weekend, perhaps
      their most important pioneer, David Hermance,
      Toyota's executive engineer for advanced
      technology vehicles, was killed when his
      experimental single-engine plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean.

      Hermance was largely responsible for bringing to
      the U.S. market the Prius, the bestselling
      gas-electric hybrid sedan that has made Toyota
      the undisputed leader in electric car technology.
      Many of the most promising ideas for electric
      cars of the future, including the concept to
      boost mileage to 100 mpg with the addition of
      plug-in batteries, would be based on the Prius
      platform. Toyota is the only automaker that has
      announced it is working on commercial development
      of a plug-in hybrid–a development for which many credited Hermance.

      But Jim Press, president of Toyota Motor North
      America, pledged to about 300 electric car
      business promoters gathered at the Electric Drive
      Transportation Authority that Hermance's dreams
      would not die with him. Press, who is also a
      pilot, said he flew often with Hermance, calling
      him a "superstar, great engineer, and human being" and "a great friend."

      "We called him the 'American father of the
      Prius,' " said Press. "He dedicated his life to
      promoting electric drive technology. The Earth is
      a little worse off, but because of the seeds he
      sowed I know we will all reap the rewards. I
      dedicate everything we do in this regard to him."

      In an interview for a U.S. News story two months
      before his death, Hermance said, "It is generally
      regarded as inevitable that we will get a better
      battery. Nobody knows just when."

      Press pledged continued research and development
      by Toyota on the hybrid, including a goal of
      reducing the cost of the gas-electric drive
      system by 50 percent by 2008. He noted that
      Toyota has sold 426,000 hybrids since 2001.

      "It is a big business," he said. But he said
      sales have slipped in recent weeks, since the
      phaseout of a consumer energy tax credit. Only
      top seller Toyota has been hit by the phaseout,
      which was designed by Congress to be limited
      based on the number of cars sold. The tax credit
      "was driving the transformation of this industry,
      and we need it back," said Press.

      The top Bush administration official at the
      meeting, Assistant Energy Secretary Alexander
      Karsner, didn't mention the tax credit issue but
      voiced strong support for electric car
      technology. He said his boss, Energy Secretary
      Samuel Bodman, was taking his cue directly from
      the White House in pressing him for updates on
      what is, without question, the greatest challenge
      in the electric car world–development of a
      stronger, safer, and more affordable battery.

      "The secretary asked me, 'What is the status on
      lithium-ion batteries? This is the second cabinet
      meeting in a row that the president has asked me,' " Karsner said.

      He said the administration sees as inevitable the
      use of electricity as a major fuel source for vehicles.

      "You are 'in play,' as they used to say in the
      private sector," Karsner told the group. "This is your hour."

      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      Felix Kramer fkramer@...
      Founder California Cars Initiative
      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
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