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Ford Escape Hybrid on Manhattan Island
Any early, pre-production Ford Escape Hybrid on congested Manhattan Island got better than 37 mpg. But it could do even better as an electric plug-in hybrid. A version with a 30 mile electric-ony range might cost the owner less than $1.50 to travel those same 37 miles instead of $2.30. depending on local utility rates. Of course, owning a car in New York City is an expensive luxury, and finding a place to park nearly impossible.

Plugging for an Electric Transportation Sector

New York Power Authority CEO and President urges development of electric hybrids.

By Gene Zeltmann

Our nation consumes just over 19 million barrels of oil each day, 25 percent of the world total, and nearly 60 percent of that ends up as tailpipe exhaust from cars, trucks and buses. With oil production predicted to peak in five years -- and the number of vehicles on the road continuing to grow -- a Malthusian scenario emerges with clear implications for fuel prices and our economy in the years ahead. Still, we are assured by most experts that the internal combustion engine will be with us for some time to come. Consider that only 88,000 hybrid-electric vehicles were sold in the United States in 2004, accounting for about one-half of 1 percent of total vehicle sales. And this year, with gasoline prices at an all-time high, sales are forecast at around 200,000 hybrid cars, a significant increase, yet still just 1.7 percent of the overall car market.

Despite generous tax incentives offered by the federal government, and most states, including New York, J.D. Power Associates estimates that sales of these vehicles will not exceed 3 percent of the U.S. market by decade’s end, even with gasoline selling above $3 a gallon.

The reason for this peculiar state of affairs is economic: The price premium of $3,000 to $5,000 that consumers must pay for a hybrid vehicle does not in their minds, at least, offset the higher cost of gasoline.

But I believe the economics are about to change in the hybrid’s favor. At Governor Pataki’s direction, the New York Power Authority is funding research to demonstrate the feasibility of plug-in hybrid vehicles. Four plug-in prototypes of the popular hybrid version of the Dodge Sprinter van are to be manufactured by Daimler Chrysler and rolled out on America’s highways as early as this fall. The plug-in option will boost the already frugal gas mileage of the Dodge Sprinter hybrid by as much as 55 percent. For a passenger car, that would be equivalent to a range of between 100 and 150 miles a gallon on a single eight-hour charge. (Once the charge is spent, the car reverts to normal hybrid mode.)

This may or may not signal the ubiquity of plug-in hybrids in the future. But their potential – both to curb our oil addiction and provide major environmental benefits--is clear. And given other incentives, I think we’ll be seeing a lot more plug-in hybrids on the road.

  In addition to significant fuel cost savings, virtually zero emissions and a vehicle with stored energy, the plug-in hybrid would be a boon to our economy and energy security as it is largely dependent not on foreign sources of oil but on domestic sources of electricity. This fuel is available from either the electric grid or from distributed generation, such as fuel cells.

One recent study found that if half of all vehicles were electric, we’d cut oil demand by 4 million barrels a day, or by about 40 percent of the current total. There were also significant economic effects, such as an improved balance of payments account, cleaner air, a vast increase in jobs and bigger gross domestic product.

Governor Pataki is even more optimistic than that. He thinks that 100-miles-per-gallon hybrid vehicles might be the norm as early as 2015. If true, we could conceivably cut oil demand in the transportation sector by 70 percent – and possibly even more.

More, because trucks would account for as much as 64 percent of all plug-in hybrid sales by then. And some experts think that, given current trends in the price of gasoline, there could be as many as 70 to 100 varieties of plug-in hybrid vehicles for sale by the middle of the next decade.

To make sure these predictions come to pass, Governor Pataki is now orchestrating a second phase of the demonstration project – arranging for a consortium of New York companies to put these vehicles in their corporate fleets, where their feasibility and benefits might be readily proven.

As our transportation and financial future is now presented in dark hues, this shows that it can also be presented in bright ones -- powered by clean, domestic sources of electricity.

Gene Zeltmann is Co-Chairman of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, President and CEO of the New York Power Authority and Chairman of the Electric Power Research Institute.

Times Article Viewed: 11532
Published: 26-Jun-2005

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