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Inflammatory Language Follows House Hearing on Conversions

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  • Felix Kramer
    When you see a Detroit Free Press story headlined, House talk on plug-in cars erupts, you know the plug-in coalition is having an impact. US automakers who
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 13, 2007
      When you see a Detroit Free Press story
      headlined, "House talk on plug-in cars erupts,"
      you know the plug-in coalition is having an
      impact. US automakers who are asked to improve
      their vehicles by a few MPG over a period of
      years always answer, "you're asking too much."
      These companies and their legislative defenders
      always insist they're protecting US a threatened
      industry. They imply that it's the high-MPG
      advocate who are betraying autoworkers.

      What happens when they hear eloquent statements
      about the cars we need? How do they respond to to
      the undeniable reality of conversions,which with
      all their limitations imply they could build
      PHEVs that could more than double the gasoline MPG? "You're killing us."

      We think it's the companies that have downsized
      repeatedly for years as foreign competitors beat
      them -- not only on price but on quality, design
      and innovation -- who are too busy fighting fires
      to see the future. (Until recently, they've also
      been too narrow-minded to support suggestions
      about changing health and pension benefit
      structures.) If US carmakers are ever to have
      the chance to sell their cars to a
      carbon-constrained world, they have evolve.
      (Increasingly, US cars don't meet China's MPG
      requirements!) If you missed it, see our posting
      from last Sunday, "Detroit Free Press: New
      Technologies Save Some Auto Parts Suppliers,"
      which included a listing of high-MPG cars the
      Detroit 3's foreign affiliates manage to build in Europe.

      Here's the link to the testimony by Frank Gaffney
      of Set America Free
      cited about PHEVs from China (this is not about
      Malcolm Bricklin's Visionary Vehicles, who are also moving ahead):
      Mr. Chairman, let me end where I began, with a
      threat from the Peoples Republic of China. It
      appears that Communist China will shortly be
      introducing to the U.S. and other export markets
      the Chery ­ a car that could sell for as little
      as $10,000. Some believe the Chinese intend to
      translate their competitive advantage in battery
      technology to offer a plug-in hybrid electric
      variant of their vehicle at a price to consumers of $13,000-$15,000.

      Read the Detroit News story below and add your
      two cents to the lively responses posted at the paper's website.

      House talk on plug-in cars erupts
      Mich. lawmaker warns of demise of U.S. auto industry
      Contact JUSTIN HYDE at 202-906-8204 or jhyde@....

      WASHINGTON -- A debate over the survival of
      Detroit's automakers broke out during a
      congressional hearing Thursday on the future of
      plug-in hybrid vehicles, as advocates pressed for
      more action and a Detroit defender warned the
      industry was on the brink of collapse.

      The hearing was a mix of sympathy, castigation
      and bluster that has become typical of any debate
      about the auto industry on Capitol Hill. While
      General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler
      are building prototype plug-in hybrid vehicles,
      none was invited to the hearing of the House
      Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

      That is the panel overseen by Rep. Ed Markey, the
      Massachusetts Democrat who has proposed a fuel
      economy standard of 35 miles per gallon by 2018
      for new vehicles and pledged to add it to the
      energy bill the House likely will consider later this month.

      Markey said it was a lack of will, rather than
      any bugs in new technology, that was keeping plug-in hybrids from U.S. roads.

      "Innovations such as the plug-in hybrid should
      not have been sitting on the shelf for so long,"
      said Markey. "After all, this isn't rocket science; it is auto mechanics."

      But Michigan Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison
      Township, said Markey and supporters of tougher
      fuel-economy standards would force higher costs
      on Detroit without accounting for the advantages
      foreign automakers enjoy, such as government-paid
      health care for workers in their countries. She
      added that the Senate's recent vote for tougher
      fuel-economy standards would bankrupt Chrysler,
      whose reliance on trucks poses the toughest
      efficiency challenge for Detroit automakers.

      "Congress seems to be making a conscious decision
      to bankrupt Detroit," Miller said.

      Miller said after the hearing that Markey had
      enough votes to put his fuel-economy proposal on
      the House energy bill, but had declined her
      requests to hold a hearing in Detroit on new
      technologies or invite auto executives to his panel.

      Automakers and the Michigan delegation support a
      less-stringent fuel-economy plan in the House,
      and have warned that the Senate and Markey bills
      threaten thousands of U.S. jobs.

      "I told him, 'Why you keep insisting on cramming
      higher fuel-economy standards down our throat is
      beyond me,' " Miller said. "I think what happened
      in the Senate will happen in the House."

      Witnesses at the panel -- including actor Rob
      Lowe -- urged Congress to back the nascent
      plug-in hybrid industry, citing the 150-m.p.g.
      efficiency that prototypes can achieve in city
      driving because of their use of nightly
      recharging and driving up to 40 miles on electricity alone.

      The head of A123 Systems, the battery company
      working with GM and other automakers, noted his
      company had to make its lithium-ion batteries in
      China because there was no U.S. alternative. A123
      plans to sell plug-in hybrid conversion kits for
      $7,000 to $10,000 and has pushed for a tax credit
      that would offset some of those costs.

      Some testified about the risks of inaction. Frank
      Gaffney, head of the Center for Security Policy
      and a former Defense Department official in the
      Reagan Administration, warned that Chinese
      automaker Chery could build a plug-in hybrid for as little as $12,000.

      "I dare say that will be the end of Detroit if
      that vehicle is available in large numbers in
      America in the near future," he said.

      Lowe, who said he had driven a Toyota Prius
      converted to a plug-in hybrid by A123, told the
      panel that automakers should move toward plug-ins
      with the same urgency that the nation geared up for World War II.

      "Can't our amazing and powerful Detroit
      automotive industry be given the message,
      together with effective incentives, to speed up
      their conversion to plug-in hybrids?" Lowe asked.

      You can also read an update of yesterday's
      Detroit News story (which we discussed in a posting at CalCars-News):

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