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The Week In Green Cars
Mike Millikin, 5 Dec 04

Every Sunday, Green Car Congress' Mike Millikin gives us an update on the week's sustainable mobility news. Green Car Congress is by far the best resource around for news and analysis covering the ongoing evolution of personal transportation. Take it away, Mike:

Auto sales figures for November came in this week. GM and Ford saw declines in both their truck and car lines, and both have said they will cut planed production in 2005. The Japanese and Chrysler, on the other hand, had a pretty good month. (GCC post.)

Sales of hybrids in the US dipped 9.4% from their October level, compared with an overall 10% decline in light duty vehicle sales from October to November. (GCC post.)

External events—the price of oil and gasoline for example—haven’t altered US buying preferences much at all. The ratio of trucks and SUVs to passenger cars remains essentially where it was last year: 61:39. Any slight change has actually been in favor of the trucks.

Providing more evidence for what we know experientially (all those big cars on the road), the US Census Bureau released a report this week showing that SUV registrations jumped 56% from 1997 to 2002. (GCC post.)

Coincidentally, CALSTART, a consortium working to develop advanced transportation technologies and clean transportation solutions, hosted a conference on California’s transportation future this week. The keynoter, newly-appointed Cabinet secretary Terry Tamminen, outlined California’s clean fuel strategy: conservation, efficiency and alternatives. (GCC post.)

California is a key bell-weather state with respect to transportation, and has some of everything: the highest concentration of hybrids and the largest number of SUVs, for example. The state assembly passed the country’s first vehicle CO2 emissions restriction bill (AB 1493) earlier this year, and torpedoed a bill (AB 1468) that would have mandated measures to cap gasoline demand at 2004 levels. The bill’s principal author, then-Assemblymember Christine Kehoe (now Senator-elect) spoke at the conference on her frustration and her hopes for the future.

The different fates of AB 1468 (Petroleum Reduction Act) and AB 1493 (Pavley Climate Change bill) are interesting. Automakers opposed the Pavley bill—and the issue may yet end up in court over the legality of regulating CO2—but, at the end of the day, the automakers in the aggregate will still be selling the same number of cars as they might otherwise. Perhaps more expensive, perhaps the Japanese manufacturers may have a slight edge, but people will still buy vehicles. That’s a growth opportunity for years to come.

The oil companies, on the other hand, faced a hard cap on their gasoline business. According to Kehoe, it was the focused and intense lobbying led by the oil companies that scuttled the bill. It failed passage in the Senate and slipped beneath the waves at the end of August.

What could have saved it? Possibly educated consumers who would not succumb to the fear tactics of the opposition (hidden gas tax! job loss! business flight!). But a majority of consumers so educated might not require such a bill in the first place.

Ultimately, resolution of sustainable transportation—especially in the US—depends on the education of buyers. Priorities need to shift. As the sales figures show, and as the fate of a reasonable bill show, they have not yet.

We can be sure that priorities will shift eventually. How unpleasant that experience is depends on how quickly we can ramp up education, understanding and corresponding action.

On the vehicle news side, GM announced that it will be selling its new flex-fuel Saab 9-5 2.0-liter turbo in Sweden starting in 2005. It’s the first luxury/performance flex-fuel vehicle from GM. Too bad they aren’t giving it a shot here.

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If a hidden gas tax is anathema to Californians, they are obviously not ready for real change.  They could achieve the stabilization and fix the state budget deficit by imposing a real gas tax increase; what's their problem?

This seems to be the problem with legislatures:  they are afraid of taking the bull by the horns, so we get non-solutions like CAFE standards and technically-infeasible ZEV mandates.  Had California done the wise thing with the latter and allowed partial credit for hybrids and more credit for plug-in hybrids, we would probably be ten years beyond where we are now.  Instead, CAFE failed to overcome the economics of cheap fuel and California's inflexible demands led exactly nowhere.

Posted by: Engineer-Poet on 5 Dec 04

Unfortunately, E-P, the political reality is that taxes -- hidden or otherwise -- are damnably hard to get approval for these days. Even when popular majorities claim in polls to support the idea of paying a bit more in taxes for a given cause, vocal anti-tax fanatics can be very effective at making life difficult for politicians who propose any sort of tax measure. I'm not saying that you're wrong that a gas tax increase would have measurably positive results, but I do think the situation for legislators isn't as simple as you suggest.

Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 6 Dec 04

The reason a gas tax wont work is alot of cal residents have long commutes and would fire whoever raised gas prices then hunt em down and run em out of town on a rail.

Posted by: wintermane on 8 Dec 04

I like EV World too. It's a terrific souce of information:

Posted by: Laurence Aurbach on 8 Dec 04



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