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Spill, Baby, Spill

April 30th, 2010 Comments off

What a mess.

Less than a month after President Obama announced plans to open up areas off the east coast of the U.S. for oil exploration (in an effort to make nice with those who would otherwise attempt to derail upcoming climate change legislation), an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico has gone and exploded.  And sunk. And the well at which it was formerly suckling is now leaking an estimated 5,000 barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  Each day.  For the past 9 days.

By my count, that’s 45,000 barrels of oil floating (and sinking, in the case of the heaviest crude) in the Gulf.  That’s approaching 2 MILLION gallons of crude.  After refining, that would make nearly 900,000 gallons of gasoline, enough to fuel about 22-million miles of driving in your average car.  (Or put another way, the gas used by about 1,500 average cars in a year.)

…So far.  It’s still leaking.

The oil companies tell us that oil exploration and extraction is perfectly safe, environmentally benign, and that the off-shore oil-rigs actually serve as artificial reefs, attracting and supporting a large number of ocean species. (That is, until the oil-rig blows up.)

And it’s not like this is an isolated event.  A quick search demonstrates that hardly a year goes by without at least one spill of some significance.  (The Exxon Valdez spill, 21 years ago, is still fresh in my mind.  By comparison, it resulted in 262,000 barrels of crude being dumped into Alaska’s Prince William Sound.)

This is a disaster – ecologically, economically, and for the families of the 11 oil-rig workers who will likely never be found. There’s no telling what sort of damage might occur to the environmentally sensitive coastal areas and wildlife refuges in Louisiana and Mississippi.  (Of course, you could argue that the Gulf of Mexico is already a vast ecological dead-zone, thanks to all the shit we flush down the Mississippi River.)  Thanks to the Valdez incident, we now have a law that requires BP (in this case) to clean up after themselves.  How much might that cost?  $500-million?  $2-billion?  Who knows – it might even put a dent into the $5.6-billion of profits that BP “earned” in the last three months.

Unfortunately, a year from now, I suspect we will have moved on, and we’ll all be doing the same thing we do now – filling up our gas tanks with little attention paid to the consequences of our addiction.  And complaining that gas is too expensive.

And we’ll be right.  Gas IS too expensive – more than we care to admit.

Categories: Policy Tags:

Peeks, Leafs, and Curves

April 25th, 2010 Comments off

Just over a week ago, I opened my mouth about V-Vehicle Company, and the fact that they appeared to be dead in the water.  Apparently, the folks at VVC read my post, and thus decided to give a few journalists a sneak PEEK of their affordable, efficient, composite-bodied compact.  According to Autobloggreen, it looks like a cross between a VW Golf and a Dodge Neon. …Who knew ThatCarBlog had such an effect on the automotive start-ups?

2011 Nissan Leaf

In other news, this week Nissan revealed that 6,635 people in the U.S. have paid $99 to reserve a Leaf … in only 3 days.  This is notable for several reasons.  First, lack of customer demand was one of the reasons GM cited in the early ’90s for the limited availability (and eventual cancellation) of the EV1 program.  (Of course, when customers … demanded … the EV1, GM’s stance was, “Oh, they’re not really serious.”)  Demand for the Leaf, which won’t be available until the end of the year, is already stronger than expected – a very good sign for Nissan (and EVs in general).  Secondly, compared to the expectations and media chatter surrounding Chevrolet’s Volt, hype surrounding the Leaf has been relatively limited.  This deserves mention, considering the Leaf will arrive at around the same time as the Volt, and it’s an all-electric vehicle (compared to the Volt’s plug-in-hybrid … er, extended-range-electric propulsion architecture).  Many folks still consider pure EVs to not quite be ready for mass-market consumption.  …And finally, the 100-mile range Leaf will cost $25,280 after tax incentives, about $7k less than the Volt.

2011 Audi RS5

And on a final note … I just can’t stop staring at Audi’s new RS5.  This is one sexy car, with subtly striking CURVES and amazing performance potential.  OK, so the 450 hp, 4.2 liter V8 underneath its hood may not be the most efficient power plant imaginable, but with an average fuel economy of 22 mpg, it’s not nearly as thirsty as most cars of this caliber.  And with such visual appeal on the outside, it’s hard to pay attention to what’s on the inside…

Vaporware

April 16th, 2010 Comments off

It’s been about 10 months now since I blogged about the V-Vehicle Company and their plans to turn an abandoned headlight factory in Louisiana into a manufacturing facility for a new, compact, efficient, inexpensive, American-made vehicle.  At the time, they planned to start production of their mystery-vehicle in about 17 months.  That’s 7 months from now.

Since then, they’ve failed to secure a DOE loan, and recently announced a change in command (as reported by earth2tech).  And still, there’s no sign of anything actually being produced by this “company” anytime soon.  They’ve got a lot to do in 7 months…

Lately, there’s been chatter about another company with plans to bring prosperity to the folks in the deep south.  HK Motors, a China-based car company with plans for compressed-natural-gas-fueled hybrid vehicles (with a small gasoline tank back-up – you know, in case you can’t find a CNG station anywhere), intends to build a manufacturing facility in Bay Minette, Alabama.  The manufacturing campus is projected to cost around $4.3B, with an annual output of 300,000 SUVs, passenger cars, and trucks by 2013, eventually employing 5,800 people to build a million cars annually by 2018.  …Wow, that’s about 10% of the U.S.’s current new car market…

Unlike VVC, HK actually has a website.  And some prototype vehicles.  And some sketches of a manufacturing facility.  But I have to look at the description of their technology with a critical eye.  It reads a little too much like an infomercial to be believable. And, cynically, the Chinese auto industry’s strength has not been in developing next-generation advanced vehicle technologies, as much as it has been in copying technology from other manufacturers and figuring out how to manufacture it more cheaply.  From my point of view, HK’s grand plans just seem a little too … grand.

We’ll have to wait and see if HK … or VVC … ever delivers anything besides vaporware.

Categories: Auto Companies Tags: , ,

Piety

April 7th, 2010 Comments off

On my commute to work this morning, a Toyota Prius passed by me in the HOV lane.  (It wasn’t traveling at a high-rate of speed, so I suspect the throttle was not stuck open.)  The personalized license plate on the Prius read “H8 GAS“.  Although I could only see the back of the driver’s head, I’m quite certain his expression bore a certain degree of smugness.

The gas-hating Prius-driver obviously feels he is doing right by the environment by purchasing one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles available.  (I mean, he did go so far as to plaster the motivation for his good eco-deed on the back of his car!)  The irony here, however, is that this driver sat alone in his Toyota, taking advantage of the policy that’s in place in most major metropolitan areas that allow drivers of hybrid vehicles to travel in the HOV lanes regardless of the number of vehicle occupants.  Meanwhile, I was motoring down the carpool lane while seated on a bus – powered by natural gas – along with several dozen neighbors.  (Once disembarking from the bus, we all boarded a subway – powered by electricity.)

Now, I don’t want to fault the Prius driver too much.  Perhaps he had a good reason for taking up space in the HOV lanes today.  And he did, afterall, make a good vehicle purchasing decision from an environmental standpoint.  I do have to question his taste in license-plate personalization, however. It exudes the same self-righteousness as the stock broker whose plate says MONYMAKR.  Or the Christian’s whose plate says FORGIVEN.  …Or the urologist’s whose says GR8FNGRS

I also have to question the HEVs-in-HOVs policy that so many people exploit.  Much like Cash for Clunkers, the intent is a legitimate one (to accelerate the deployment of fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles), and it has been somewhat successful – many folks buy hybrid vehicles solely for the privilege of traveling solo in the carpool lane.  However, I cringe at the large number of single-occupant, HOV-traveling hybrid Ford Escapes and Toyota Highlanders I see – both reasonably fuel-efficient vehicles, but nowhere near as economical as many smaller conventional vehicles.  (God help me the first time I see a BMW X6 ActiveHybrid exploiting the rule..)

Don’t get me wrong – I’m all-in when it comes to promoting the development, manufacture, deployment, and market penetration of hybrid vehicles.  (In fact, that’s what I do everyday.  For my job.  For which I get paid.)  But perhaps it’s time to revisit some of the policies that were put in place to spur the HEV market, and instead focus on policies to promote public transit.  (Some places, like California, are starting to do just that.)  After all, if he hadn’t been able to drive in the HOV lane alone in the Prius, the Gas H8r may have been enticed to keep his conventional vehicle and make a few carpool buddies.

…Or even ride the bus – leaving him time to think of other ways to advertise how proud he is of himself.