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Where Are The American Car Companies?
The Honda Insight (the car I drive) has been on the road since 1998, yet American car companies are churning out enormous, gas-hogging vehicles, and have made no substantial progress in fuel efficiency or anti-pollution technology since the fuel crisis in the 70s. Meanwhile, inventors, professors, and tinkerers are getting beaucoup miles by building or further converting hybrids:

Monrovia-based Energy CS has converted two Priuses to get up to 230 mpg by using powerful lithium ion batteries. It is forming a new company, EDrive Systems, that will convert hybrids to plug-ins for about $12,000 starting next year, company vice president Greg Hanssen said.

University of California, Davis engineering professor Andy Frank built a plug-in hybrid from the ground up in 1972 and has since built seven others, one of which gets up to 250 mpg. They were converted from non-hybrids, including a Ford Taurus and Chevrolet Suburban.

Frank has spent $150,000 to $250,000 in research costs on each car, but believes automakers could mass-produce them by adding just $6,000 to each vehicle's price tag.

Instead, Frank said, automakers promise hydrogen-powered vehicles hailed by President Bush and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, even though hydrogen's backers acknowledge the cars won't be widely available for years and would require a vast infrastructure of new fueling stations.

"They'd rather work on something that won't be in their lifetime, and that's this hydrogen economy stuff," Frank said. "They pick this kind of target to get the public off their back, essentially."

How many soldiers had to get their legs amputated because of American companies' lack of technological innovation?

Posted by aalkon at August 25, 2005 7:36 AM

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Comments

While one might lament the lack of "American" technology, it would be misplaced at best. The #1 import truck in America is the Chevrolet S-10. The bulk of manufacturing is multinational.

Better you should ask why American consumers don't appreciate small, nearly-perfect cars. I've driven big stuff in the US, and they're sloppy at best. Conspicuous consumption seems to be the point.

Be wary of claims of large mileage from hybrids with "improved" batteries. TANSTAAFL, as Heinlein would say; the energy must come from somewhere, and a battery is an energy storage device, not an energy source.

Posted by: Radwaste at August 25, 2005 2:52 PM

Adding "just" $6,000 to a car's price tag would mean I couldn't afford it until I was old and cranky (well, I'm already cranky, but you know what I mean).

Posted by: JenL at August 26, 2005 1:51 PM

It's possible to buy it "over time" -- ie, finance it. Honda has really good financing rates for students, I believe (according to a former grad student who's a friend of mine). On the bright side, I go through $24 worth of gas every two months. Oh yeah -- biodiesel is a cheaper option -- can buy an old diesel Mercedes and retrofit for not a lot of money. I am, however, gadgetationally, a moron. So, I bought off the lot.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 26, 2005 4:43 PM

Although I admire the hybrids, I’m tired of the hysterical press coverage about them. It seems every hack who writes about high gas prices feels compelled to include a segment pontificating their virtues, as if they represent the only viable alternative to your gas guzzling 13 mpg gargantuan SUV. I suppose extreme contrarianism sells more papers; the obvious solution of simply purchasing a lighter, higher mileage gas or diesel vehicle is much too mundane.

And what about the Bush administration’s belated and underwhelming response to the gas price crisis – raising the federal standard for average SUV/truck/minivan fuel mileage a whole, gasp!, (almost) 10%? From, like, 21 mpg to 23, well almost 23, mpg by the year 2070 or something. Wow, that ought to really reduce our dependence on foreign oil in a hurry . . .

Posted by: Jeff R at August 27, 2005 8:46 AM

It seems like I see a lot of news stories are saying that the answer to higher gas prices is to buy a more fuel-efficient car.

As an example, I go through about 20 gallons of gas a week. Raising the gas prices by a full dollar would cost me an extra $80 a month.

That's a lot of money - but it doesn't come near to paying covering a car payment (my 1998 Taurus is paid off).

The people who are having to cut back on buying basics in order to pay the higher gas prices are people who really don't have the option to go buy a car that gets better gas mileage . . . .

Posted by: JenL at August 27, 2005 10:13 AM

JenL, that's not entirely true. Here in SC, where there is no mass transit and cars are mandatory, there is now a boom in small-car buying - off the used-car lots. People are correctly reasoning that they don't need this year's poster-child eco-vehicle just to trudge back and forth to work.

Yes, that means a ten-year-old Corsica in the yard - but, gee, surprise, there are some good cars out there made in the '90s. If you have a 30-mile round trip to the textile plant, it doesn't take all that long today to notice that you save $1.50 a trip in direct gas prices, the insurance is 'way less and there's no depreciation when compared to some big new thing.

That Taurus isn't so bad on gas if it's tuned correctly. You're driving an awful lot.

Posted by: Radwaste at August 28, 2005 4:03 AM

I get better than 20 miles to the gallon, but I drive about 25 miles each way to and from work, and usually wind up making the same drive at least one day of the weekend in order to hook up with my boyfriend.

Someone else commutes with me, which helps.

And I haven't exactly been looking at another car lately, so I have to admit that I don't know what's on the used car lots in Columbus. But when I bought my Taurus (in 2001), it ran me about $13,000 (I think it was about a $21,000 car to start with). If it had started out $6,000 higher (which is what the article had specified would be added per vehicle), I wouldn't have been able to afford those extra couple thousand that I'm assuming the car would still have cost a few years later. So, I'd either have bought a vehicle more fuel-efficient than the one I got, but older and with more miles on it, or I would have gotten the same car I did and accepted lower fuel mileage for a car I thought would last me longer. . . .

Posted by: JenL at August 28, 2005 6:55 AM

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