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This Week in Sustainable Transportation, 1/23
Mike Millikin, 23 Jan 05

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:

In its latest Oil Market Report, the International Energy Agency nudged demand growth for 2005 up just a bit, and worried if suppliers would be able to keep up with demand if demand growth in 2005 exceeded expectations. (GCC)

Chinese demand for oil increased strongly in November. Data from the US EIA indicated that US imports of oil increased 4.5% for the four week period ending 7 Jan 05 from the same period last year. Sluuurp.

This year may once again surprise the forecasters by the strength of the growth in demand for energy—assuming economies are not cooled off by a reverse feedback loop if prices get too high.

The Detroit’s North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) continued to run this last week. Side conferences and interviews provided some insight into the thinking of the major companies in the auto industry.

The “industry” consists of much more than what one thinks of as the automakers—GM, Toyota, etc. It comprises numerous supplier companies, large to small, that provide the subsystems necessary for the final assembly of the vehicle.

One of those companies is Metaldyne, a $2B metals-based components (e.g., engine, chassis, driveline) supplier. At the Automotive News World Congress in Dearborn, CEO Tim Leuliette spoke passionately about the imperatives for a hydrogen economy and outlined a program he thought would help make the transition happen in the necessary timeframe—i.e., sooner rather than someday. (GCC)

In addition to his analysis of the need and the specific policies suggested, there are two interesting elements to the speech (full text here).

The first is this section:

Those who support this path [to a hydrogen economy], do so for three fundamental reasons. First, we must find an alternative energy source for national security reasons. Second, we must find an alternative energy source for environmental reasons. And third, we must find an alternative fuel source for fundamental long-term economic reasons. How you rank these reasons is your own concern, but the answer doesn’t change.

That encapsulates a very important point—the recognition of the urgent need for the rapid transition to an alternative energy source needs to become a national meme.

The other interesting section is his categorization of the three schools of thought with respect to energy policy.

Today, we are at a strategic fork in the road with respect to an energy policy. This fork in the road has three paths, as there are three schools of thought. First, there are those who doubt that we have a problem of any scale. Let’s call them the “complacent crowd.”

The complacent crowd is secure in the knowledge that, up until now, this crisis has always mitigated before it became unbearable.

Then there are those that I call the “incrementalists”. They share the concern about our oil supply, but for reasons of economics and the fear of change, the internal optimistic trait that belies our specie [sic] is [that] they wish to buy time and continue working the internal combustion engine. They see hybrids as a safe middle ground, and not just a transitional power source.

Incrementalists find solace in attempting “good things,” like movie stars driving hybrids and college kids wearing t-shirts promoting solar power. But there is a risk, that the appearance of attempting “good things” will placate us with a false sense of security.

And lastly there is the third group: those convinced we need a fundamental change in energy policy in this country, and eventually the rest of the world.

Since I am part of the group, and since this is my speech, with the power of the pen, I have labeled this group the “realists.” The “realists” accept that we need to move down the periodic table to the element with an atomic number of “1”: harness the most abundant fuel in the universe and move this industry [the auto industry] to the most environmentally friendly energy source for as long as we occupy this planet.

Assuming you accept the path of the realists, where do we go from here? I suggest to you, that this decision is as important to this country as any it has faced in decades. Short of all-out war, no single endeavor carried out by this nation will be as important.

Leuliette’s proposed solution, a government-industry Project Hydrogen, seems like the business end (as in, let’s get it done) of the Apollo Alliance vision.

Also from NAIAS is a Mercedes-Benz S-Class diesel hybrid. (GCC) The sedan uses DaimlerChrysler’s version of the two-motor hybrid drive that will be further enhanced through the partnership with GM. The Hybrid S-class promises fuel efficiency of 34 mpg (6.9 liters/100 km).

There were multiple announcements about natural gas as a vehicle fuel coming out of China this week.

Beijing Public Transport ordered 450 more Cummins Westport Inc. B-series CNG engines. BPT currently operates more than 2,200 CWI engines in its transit fleet. (GCC)

The city of Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei province in North China, plans to have all taxis and public transit vehicles converted to LNG use by the end of 2005. (GCC)

Westport Innovations signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Guangxi Yuchai Machinery Co. Ltd. (Yuchai)for the two to develop, market, and sell gaseous-fuelled vehicles in the People’s Republic using Westport’s portfolio of direct-injection technologies. (GCC)

Also on the transit front, Toronto Transit is about to make the largest single order to date for hybrid bus purchases. The organization is to spend up to $110 million on 100–150 series hybrid electric buses from Orion Bus Industries, powered by BAE’s HybriDrive. (GCC)

New York City has 125 of the Orion hybrid’s in service, and reports fuel savings of up to 28% based on operational data in addition to reductions in emissions.

These buses are designed quite differently than the parallel hybrids powered by GM-Allison. Those buses appear to be experiencing some problems with expected fuel savings, although are performing better than expected with respect to emissions reductions.

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