Scientists Promote Enviro-Friendly Car

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

( - A liberal scientist group on Thursday unveiled computer models combining several existing technologies that it says will help cars meet strict emissions standards put in place in several states, but automakers were unimpressed.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released plans for the UCS Vanguard, a simulated minivan that combines several existing technologies - including cylinder deactivation, automatic manual transmission, improved air conditioning and biofuels - into a model the group says can reduce "global warming pollutants" by more than 40 percent.

The group claims the changes will not affect the performance or feel of cars and trucks. While the adjustments would increase the initial purchase price, UCS estimates that the costs would be recovered within two years due to the lower cost of operating the vehicles.

Spencer Quong, a senior vehicle analyst for UCS, told reporters in a conference call briefing Thursday that the technology, which all exists in real-world vehicles but has yet to be implemented as a package, can be applied in vehicles from "the smallest cars to the largest trucks" with "no sacrifice in performance or size."

"The Vanguard technology package can reduce global warming pollution by up to 43 percent in any car or truck," Quong said. "The phase-in of the Vanguard technology in 2009 would, by 2030, reduce over 73 million tons of global warming pollutants in the air."

Quong estimated the technology would require a "small initial investment of less than $300" that would be made up in savings on gasoline and other reduced operating costs.

UCS developed the computer models in an attempt to prove that automakers are able to meet strict emissions standards implemented in California and 11 other states. California law requires cars and trucks sold in the state to cut their global warming pollution by 30 percent in the next eight years.

Automakers are resisting the new standards and have filed lawsuits in California, Vermont and Rhode Island challenging the laws. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM), whose membership includes nine major manufacturers, is spearheading opposition to the standards.

Charlie Territo, a spokesman for the AAM, told Cybercast News Service that the auto industry opposes California and other state standards, because fuel economy standards are the responsibility of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"The Energy Policy and Conservation Act forbids any state from setting their own fuel economy standards and because carbon dioxide is the measurement of fuel economy, California, we believe, is attempting to regulate the fuel economy," he said.

Territo also questioned the feasibility of the Vanguard model in real-world application. "All of the technologies listed in the report were created by manufacturers, and manufacturers are in a much better position to understand how these technologies work with one another when incorporated into a vehicle," he said.

"Of the 230 million vehicles currently on the road, I am unaware of any that have been built by the Union of Concerned Scientists," Territo said.

"These are technologies that were developed through extensive research and development by the auto industry, and it is our intention to continue to integrate these technologies as it becomes technologically feasible," he added.

The AAM estimates that meeting California's standards would cost consumer 10 times more than UCS's estimate projects. "When all costs are considered, not just those costs selected by regulators, Californians would pay an average of $3,000 more for a new automobile," the group said in a 2004 statement.

AAM also says changes in vehicle technology should be driven by consumer demand, not by government regulation. "The government should not pick the winners and losers, but rather let consumers and the marketplace choose which technologies make sense for them."

David Friedman, research director for vehicles programs at UCS, said automakers initially opposed government regulations requiring seat belts and airbags even though the technologies were easy to implement and ended up saving lives.

"The reality is the automakers in many cases are looking behind them instead of in front of them in making the investments that we need," Friedman said.

Friedman acknowledged that implementing the technology would have an upfront cost to automakers which would have to design and produce the new cars, but he said the long-term impact would be positive.

"The best way to increase your quarterly profits is to invest as little as possible," he said. "Well, that may help in the next quarter but five, ten years down the line it certainly isn't going to be a good way to run the business."

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