What is the simplest way to stop people claiming something is impossible? Answer: prove them wrong.
That certainly seems to be the policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists in the US which yesterday took on car manufacturers' claims that they would struggle to meet emission standards regulations that have been adopted by California and ten other states and unveiled its own minivan combining a range of existing technologies that can dramatically improve fuel efficiency while maintaining safety and performance.
The UCS said the Vanguard minivan brings together existing technologies that are already on the market in many other models, but have not been combined in the same vehicle. These include:
- Variable valve timing in the engine which better controls the flow of air and fuel into the engine, leading to more efficient combustion and improved performance.
- A six-cylinder engine that can deactivate two cylinders when it requires less power, a feature currently found in 20 vehicle models.
- An "automatic manual" transmission electronically adjusts its six gears to increase performance and efficiency.
- Stronger hoses and tighter connections in the air conditioning system reduces the amount of concentrated global warming pollutants, called hydrofluorocarbons, which leak into the air.
- An engine designed to run on either pure gasoline or a mixture of gasoline and as much as 85-percent ethanol.
The UCS claims the combination of these technologies means that the Vanguard emits 40 percent less global warming gases than comparable models, despite it not requiring a hybrid engine and being built entirely around "conventional technologies".
UCS estimates the innovations in the Vanguard would add just $300 to the purchase price while delivering savings to the driver of over $1,300 during the vehicle's lifetime.
It would also exceed the standards required by Californian legislation, which requires a 34 percent reduction in global warming pollution for cars and light trucks and a 25 percent reduction for larger trucks and SUVs within the next 10 years.
However, despite many of the technologies needed to enhance fuel efficiency being already available the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) and the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers have spent recent years challenging the legislation in court.
"The automakers are sticking to their traditional 'can't do' philosophy," said David Friedman, clean vehicles research director at UCS. "Years ago they cried the sky was falling when they were required to install seat belts and airbags. Now, instead of building cleaner vehicles like the Vanguard, they’re fighting global warming pollution laws in the courts. To get the job done, they should bench their lawyers and call in the engineers."
Spencer Quong, a senior UCS vehicles engineer and former automaker consultant who designed the Vanguard agreed that if the manufacturers focused on complying with the new regulations they could find it easier than they expect. "Meeting state laws for fighting global warming should be no sweat for the automakers," he said. "They already have the solution to pollution right under the hoods of their own cars and trucks."
The new concept car was welcomed by Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski who said the state was committed to transitioning towards cleaner vehicles. "Today's announcement confirms that we already have the technology and the tools to combat climate change and that now it is simply a question of the political will," he said.
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