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Archive for June, 2009

Small Cars / Fun Cars

June 29th, 2009 Comments off
Fiat 500 Abarth

Fiat 500 Abarth

One of the outcomes for which I was hoping from the Fiat takeover of Chrysler has now been confirmed!  The Fiat 500 will be coming to the U.S. (as reported by autobloggreen).  I’d love to park that in my garage, alongside the Alfa Romeo Mi.To.  …Of course, I don’t actually have the Alfa in my garage, since it isn’t sold here.  …Which is the case with a lot of the most eye-pleasing, sporty small cars from across the pond.  Why is this?  Why has the North American market been so focused on large SUVs and trucks, while the ultra-compact car segment has been relegated largely to a few featureless, ill-handling, snore-inducing models?

Alfa Romeo Mi.To

Alfa Romeo Mi.To

A large part of the answer is the difference in the price we pay at the pump, as well as different tax systems that penalize larger cars in Europe.  But another reason is the differences in our cultures.  We Americans need large 7-passenger vehicles with acres of storage space to transport our large broods and our gear from our estates in the suburbs to our offices, private schools, and shopping malls spread far and wide, don’t we?  …Cynism aside, this isn’t necessarily untrue.  (My wife and I purchased a 7-passenger crossover when we realized the infant-seat for our second child would not fit in our Audi A4 and still allow room for a front-seat passenger!)

So, perhaps our large, inefficient cars aren’t the problem – they’re just the symptom of a larger problem – our sprawling, poorly-designed cities, which have led us to our car monoculture (as described by Dan Sperling and Deborah Gordon in their book Two Billion Cars).  And as big of an undertaking as it will be to transition our vehicle fleet to an efficient one based on low-carbon energy sources, it could be a much more difficult task to transform our cities to the type of mixed-use places that solve our mobility issue, at least in the way that Rocky Mountain Institute’s Amory Lovins suggests when he says the ultimate mode of transport is being there already.

So, I’m quite excited for the Fiat 500 – the Abarth version, of course!  (This is the car that made Top Gear‘s Jeremy Clarkson quite giddy!  …Top Gear = best show ever, by the way…)  But I wonder – will it sell in America?  Or do we just have too far to drive, and too much stuff to bring with us?

Climate Change & Jobs

June 28th, 2009 Comments off

This is not a political blog.

The Waxman-Markey bill (formally, the American Clean Energy and Security Act) passed the House Friday.  This bill effectively sets up a carbon cap-and-trade system, putting a cap on CO2 emissions, and setting up a tradeable permit system whereby those who emit must purchase allowances (and those who can more cheaply reduce their emissions are able to sell their allowances).  Though the bill narrowly passed (and may face a steeper hurdle in the Senate), it is a huge step forward in addressing climate change at the federal level.

Environmentalists (me included) criticize the bill because the limits are set too low, and initially 85% of the allowances will be given away to the biggest emitters.  However, given the narrow margin of victory for the bill, it likely would not have passed if it were any more stringent.  Others (largely, though not entirely, conservatives) criticize the bill because (they argue) it will make the U.S. less competitive, and send jobs overseas, going so far as to say it will “destroy our standard of living” (according to Republican Congressman Lucas from Oklahoma).

In the Wall-Street Journal this weekend (well, at least the online version), the article “House Passes Climate Bill” describes the passage of the bill and some of the criticism surrounding its impact on the economy.  Somewhat ironically, in the June 27 WSJ, the article, “GE Picks Michigan for R&D Center” announces General Electric’s decision to open a facility near Detroit focused on “developing information-technology, clean-energy and transportation products,” and creating 1,200 jobs in the process.  So, I guess climate legislation such as Waxman-Markey will eliminate U.S. jobs… except for those 1,200 being created in Michigan?  Now, obviously, GE’s announcement isn’t a direct result of the House passage of Waxman-Markey.  But I find it doubtful that GE would be setting up such an R&D center if oil was cheap and stable, conventional energy sources were abundant, and we weren’t about to transition to a carbon-constrained economy.

As an aside, I’m all for considering all viewpoints in a debate such as the one surrounding climate-change legislation.  Much of the debate on this bill is regarding the cost.  YES, there will be a cost to climate change mitigation.  However, the cost of doing nothing will be unfathomable – if not for us, then for subsequent generations.  Since the cost of various mitigation measures (and the benefits of those measures) is quite uncertain, it is worthwhile to argue discuss “how much” and “at what cost” we should act.  However, another voice is also (still) present in the debate: those who believe climate change is in no way connected to man’s use of fossil-fuels.  Coincidentally, there’s an opinion piece in the June 26 WSJ, entitled “The Climate Change Climate Change,” in which the author suggests that more and more legitimate scientists are becoming skeptical of global warming.  These people are the fringe, and have no place at the table.  The science is proven – the only remaining question is the degree to which we will alter the climate system.

…I’ve got to stop reading the Wall Street Journal…

It’s Electric

June 27th, 2009 Comments off

Ford LogoAs reported by autobloggreen, Ford intends to once again become profitable in part through vehicle electrification.  This, of course, isn’t exactly earth-shattering news: the major (and many not-so-major) automakers have been making a lot of announcements regarding powertrain electrification (i.e., hybrids, PHEVs, and EVs) in the past year or two.  And, given that they’re a business, we can sort of assume that they intend to be profitable (though, not many automakers have done such a good job of that lately).  Still, this caught my eye since it is the first time I’ve noticed “electrification” and “profitability” being mentioned together.  Hopefully, it’s not merely lip-service being paid to the DOE as a result of Ford’s recent award of nearly $6B in loans through the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program.

I for one think vehicle electrification is inevitable, and that it’s a good thing.  The hard part is energy storage: batteries have come a long way, but in most scenarios, they’re still too expensive to make electrified vehicles economically competitive with traditional internal combustion alternatives.  (Disclaimer / Advertisement:  I recently wrote an academic paper evaluating costs for automotive Li-ion batteries.)  I’m hopeful that this won’t always be the case.  Others are more skeptical.  (One such skeptic, at least with regards to Li-ion batteries, once criticized a presentation I did at Rocky Mountain Institute.  He did, at least, confess to being an “unrepentant critic of Li-ion batteries,” as well as a former executive and current shareholder in several major lead-acid battery companies…)

In any case, it will be interesting to see how well the electrified vehicles that we’re currently being promised fare as they start appearing on showroom floors.

Categories: Electrification Tags: ,

Inaugural

June 26th, 2009 Comments off

My name is David, and I’m a car guy.  I love fast cars.  I love beautiful cars.  I love practical cars.  I love internal combustion engines, the smell of gasoline, and the taste of oil.  I race Porsches.  …I’m a car guy.

I also have a Master’s degree in environmental management.  I believe in science – that the earth is round, that gravity keeps us attached to it, and that our fossil-fuel-based energy system is gradually heating it up.  Yes, cars, it seems, are like chocolate and beer:  so good, yet so bad for us.

I have a lot of thoughts about cars – how we use them, how we fuel them, and what lies ahead.  The current state of the auto industry makes it an appropriate time to be thinking about cars.  I intend to capture some of these thoughts here.  Perhaps somebody will read these thoughts, and think about cars, too.

Categories: Administrative, General Tags: