Experts: Key To Fuel Savings, CO2 Reduction Is “Flexibility”

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Despite media EV hype, sales numbers for electric cars are going down, not up.  If government regulators really want to save fuel and reduce CO2, they should remain flexible, according to Global Automakers’ John Bozzella.

Global Automakers is a lobbying group based in Washington, D.C.  Discount the group’s message if you like, but John Bozella’s green transportation credibility is real.  This past July, he and Global Auto makers were instrumental in bringing together automakers, including General Motors, members of the automotive media, electric vehicle advocates, and regulators at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).   The symposium explored the topic of broadening green vehicle adoption by consumers in light of the pending mandates by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and eleven other U.S. states on zero emission vehicles.

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Despite electric vehicles’ clear failure to take hold in the U.S. automotive market, regulators have continued to push for minimum numbers to be sold in order for automakers to continue doing business.  U.S. consumers are buying fewer affordable electric vehicles (EVs) today than in in 2013, which was their heyday.  Even then, electric vehicles of all types never exceeded 1% of the new car market.  In terms of total vehicles in the U.S. fleet, EVs of all types are a fraction of one percent and full battery electrics much less than that.  Tesla, who makes only luxury Electric Vehicles, also lobbies government agencies and says that other automakers are the problem.  However, as of last month’s reporting by Inside EVs, Tesla had only delivered 15 of its newest model, the Model X, launched in September.  This despite a successful two-year pre-order program.  These EV sales and production failures are occurring during the best period of car sales in American history.  Imagine how poorly they might sell if the economy takes a downturn.

So what is John Bozzella talking about when he refers to “flexibility.”  He means that if regulators continue to push for battery electric vehicles at all costs the country is headed for failure in its environmental goals.  Despite terrible sales numbers for EVs over the past year, automakers met the goals laid out for CO2 reduction.  Most exceeded them.  Bozzella said “…EPA Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Performance report shows the industry is complying with regulation through the introduction of new efficient technologies and by earning credits designed to provide flexibility for manufacturers to improve emissions while responding to consumer demand.  As the GHG requirements become more challenging, especially in an environment of low fuel prices, program flexibilities will be critical for compliance.”

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Meanwhile, California Governor Gerry Brown is proposing not just more EV mandates, but that ONLY EVs will be allowed in California by 2050.  California also kicked the most popular green car ever produced, the 50 MPG Prius, out of its “High Occupancy Lanes.”  Its next step was to kick out plug-in hybrid cars including the 95 MPGe Prius Plug-In.  Why in the world would a state that is trying to promote lower fuel use and reduced CO2 emissions punish the best-selling green car in the market?  Because for many influential Californians the real goal is not to lower fuel use, but to switch to battery electric cars.

If you think this story ends with regulators digging in their heels, you are mistaken.  At a CARB meeting this past summer, small automakers asked for an exemption of sorts from having to build battery electric vehicles (BEVs)- and they got it.  The topic is not as cut and dried as it seems.  Big automakers can build EVs and simply eat the losses.  However, consider successful small automakers like Mazda.  Mazda is the U.S. market’s smallest mainstream automaker and is also the country’s leading automaker regarding both fuel efficiency (highest) and also CO2 production per mile (lowest).  Should Mazda be run out of the market because it cannot afford to produce a money-loosing electric vehicle nobody in America wants to buy?  Of course not.  CARB saw the logic in that and instead of forcing the company to build battery electrics has granted Mazda and other automakers with less than $40B in global revenue a exemption of sorts.  Instead of building range-limited BEVs, they can instead meet mandates by building plug-in hybrids.

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With Automakers meeting CO2 reduction goals now and with a constant barrage of electric vehicle advocacy groups announcing “Huge Breakthrough In Electric Vehicle Batteries” daily, why shouldn’t regulators offer automakers some flexibility in the technology and timelines for moving toward zero emissions vehicles?  After all, the big breakthrough that will put all Americans into affordable, long-range electric vehicles is right around the corner.

Image Notes:  Main page image, John Bozzella courtesy of Craig Fitzgerald.  Story Image:  2015 NEMPA Green Vehicle Technology Conference – Included in image are attendees from MIT, Eversource Electric, State of Mass., BestRide, and General Motors.