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DOE pledges $50 million for fuel-efficient car technology

Fuel-efficient VehiclesHybrid VehiclesVehiclesFinanceConservation

Speaking today at the Washington Auto Show’s Policy Day, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced $50 million to support development of new vehicle technologies.

“The new research and development funding announced today will help support our domestic automakers’ continued growth and make sure that the next generation of advanced technology vehicles are built right here in America,” said Secretary Moniz in a statement.

While a portion of the money was earmarked specifically for improving affordability and infrastructure of plug-in vehicles through the Department of Energy’s EV Everywhere Grand Challenge, the funding opportunity will support fuel-efficient technologies across the board, from mass-reducing materials to more efficient batteries.

The DOE is riding a high tide for plug-in vehicles, which nearly doubled in sales from 2012, accounting for about 100,000 sales in 2013.

That number is still less than 1 percent of all cars sold in America in 2013, which was the best year of auto sales since before the recession.

The fuel-efficient numbers for all cars have improved to historic highs since Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) legislation was enacted in 1975 and finalized by the Obama Administration in 2012. CAFE targets are designed to improve fuel economy and reduce emissions and dependence on petroleum.

The average adjusted fuel economy of cars sold in 2013 was 24.8 mpg, an improvement of 1 mpg from 2012. The adjusted fuel economy target for 2025 is the equivalent of 43.6 mpg. (Here’s more on the difference between adjusted and unadjusted mpg values, including the 54.5 mpg target for 2025.)

With advanced powertrains and fuel-saving systems making internal combustion engines more fuel-efficient than ever before, there is some question as to the DOE’s continued emphasis on electric vehicles.

“It’s an unknown,” Ron Cogan, editor and publisher of Green Car Journal, says of the future of fuel-efficient automotive technology. “There’s going to be huge competition between plug-ins and internal combustion engines or clean diesel because the efficiencies are increasing at such a rate.”

The latest fuel-efficient innovations are on display for policy makers and consumers at the Washington Auto Show, which runs from January 23 to February 2. Cogan estimates one-third of the vehicles on display are advanced fuel-efficient powertrains, including clean diesel and hybrid cars. 

Sandwiched between the North American International Auto Show in Detroit and the Chicago Auto Show, the Washington Auto Show has taken on greater prominence since 2006 as an intersection between automakers and policy makers.

“At our show you’re more likely to see something like a new fuel-cell vehicle that will have a significant and lasting impact on the industry,” says Washington Auto Show Chair Kevin Reilly, who is also a D.C.-area Hyundai dealer.

The show is a chance for government and industry to see how safety and fuel-efficiency requirements are being introduced to consumers. “There’s a synergy there,” Reilly says of policy makers and automakers.

Policy makers are not just keynote speakers, such as Secretary Moniz, but attendees.

“It’s a great opportunity for them to understand where the industry is going,” says Reilly.  

The show was moved in 2006 from between Christmas and New Year’s to late January to accommodate when Congress is in session.  

Former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood toured the show in 2013, as did President Obama in 2012.

“The Show goes out of its way to accommodate legislators so they have access to vehicles to see where the industry is headed,” says Cogan, who will bestow Green Car Journal’s annual Green Car Technology Award for the best ground-up philosophy for fuel-efficient systems. Mazda’s SKYACTIV system won in 2013. “You can be very removed from what’s going on in the world when you’re in your office.”

rduffer@tribune.com

@DufferRobert

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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