US News/World Report on Toyota/Hermance/Bush Interest
- 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,
in PDF form at <http://www.calcars.org/downloads.html>
Jump-Starting the Electric Car
By Marianne Lavelle
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 hybrida 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 worlddevelopment 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."
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Felix Kramer fkramer@...
Founder California Cars Initiative
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