Al Gore on Auto Bailout: We Gave then $1 Billion 15 Years Ago and They Walked Away

Category: News. Written by Grant 

In a recent Newsweek interview with Al Gore, here’s a telling quote on what US automakers have really thought about clean and efficient cars this whole time:

“Whatever assistance might be forthcoming should be focused on speeding the changes that are absolutely essential to ensure that our companies are competitive in the global marketplace. When I was vice president, I initiated a program called the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles. The federal government invested over a billion dollars in partnership with the Big Three to focus on the accelerated development of advanced high-efficiency vehicles. But as soon as they felt they were off the hook at the end of 2000, they pulled the plug and walked away.”

(Link: http://www.newsweek.com/id/171252?from=rss)

While Al Gore is known famously for being pro-environment, how accurate are his claims? Well, the fact is that the Big Three US automakers were indeed given funding from the government back in 1993 to produce affordable, fuel-efficient, low emission cars that met all consumer needs. As Gore mentioned, this program was called the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV, for short) with the challenge to: “”Build a car with up to 80 miles per gallon at the level of performance, utility and cost of ownership that today’s consumers demand.”

The program was led by the US Department of Commerce, with participation of the Departments of Energy, Transportation, Defense, the EPA, NSF, NASA, over 20 Federal laboratories and 350 universities and suppliers.

In seven years, GM developed a working prototype of an 80 mpg diesel-hybrid, Ford came out with a similar 72 mpg diesel hybrid and Chrysler unveiled a 72 mpg diesel-hybrid as well. They did so by reducing vehicle weight, boosting gas efficiency, using fuel cells and regenerative braking (as seen in modern day Priuses) and also developing new carbon applications and treatments. In fact, one of the biggest breakthroughs was figuring out how to reduce the cost of fuel cells from $10,000/kW down to $300/hW in a matter of six years; one of the primary reasons that hybrids are available on the market today.

Yet, in 2001, the program was on it’s scheduled time line, when it was derailed by the Bush administration, with support of the Big Three automakers. The program was replaced by the FreedomCAR program, which redirected the focus from efficient vehicles to hydrogen powered vehicles instead; in essence, using the same inefficient vehicle, but providing another source of power.

I repeat, the PNGV started back in 1993, exactly 15 years ago. Yet, to this day, the best that Detroit has come out with is hybrid SUVs and a still-in-development Chevy Volt that is slated to come out for full production in 2011 at a conservative price tag of $40,000.

If American automakers are asking for their much needed bailout, they have a lot of explaining yet to do.

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