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Foto: Hildebrandt/LorenzSafety has long been a hot topic in debates over increasing fuel efficiency, but this is less so today. In 2002, Senator Trent Lott warned of ‘purple people-eaters’ (read: silly-looking golf carts) taking over the market if CAFE standards were raised; Mr. Lott now drives a Mini Cooper. Effective occupant protections are proliferating, and U.S. vehicle fatalities continue to decline.

Manufacturers are improving fuel efficiency through a host of strategies that include reducing vehicle weight by removing unnecessary material and substituting lighter materials, which in turn permits downsizing of the engine and other components. Ford, for example, has indicated its intention to reduce the weight of its vehicles by 12 percent on average by 2020. As a rule of thumb, each 10 percent reduction in body weight can lower fuel consumption by 6 percent when component downsizing is taken into account. None of this means changing vehicle dimensions – there’s no need to sacrifice protective crush space to get a more fuel-efficient ride, especially when today’s CAFE standards require smaller vehicles to meet tighter fuel efficiency targets.

At this point, weight reduction is one of the least expensive approaches to saving fuel. Composites such as carbon fiber-reinforced polymers remain expensive for the time being, but lightweight steel, aluminum and other plastics are pressed into service in vehicle configurations that frequently yield net cost reductions. The need to retool and to master challenges such as joining dissimilar materials mean the transition to lighter vehicles is gradual. But there appear to be few obstacles to a long-term trend toward substantially lighter vehicles. The trend will be especially helpful to the adoption of electric vehicles, for which downweighting is critical due to its implications for sizing costly batteries.

There may be a limit to prudent downweighting, but as the fleet turns over and collisions between vehicles of widely disparate weights occur less frequently, any such limit would shift as well. Moreover, as drivers accept increasing automation of vehicle controls, in particular collision prevention, driving around surrounded by a couple tons of metal will begin to feel very 20th century.




Location-efficient affordable housing is key to sustainability. Kalos, the Greek word for ‘beautiful,’ may be the name of an 83 unit affordable housing project in San Diego, California, but it also describes the ‘green’ car capacity the developer, Community HousingWorks, plans for the project as part of its pursuit of LEED platinum certification. We have partnered with Community HousingWorks for nearly nine years now and helped the organization green the Kalos project starting a few years ago. This partnership builds on Global Green’s leadership to advance the greening of affordable housing in the U.S. over the last 18 years.

What’s remarkable about the Kalos development is not just that it is LEED Platinum. It is the inclusion of sustainable transit options. Car-sharing innovator Car2Go will park two electric-powered SmartCars at electric car charging stations. For a $35 one-time fee, Kalos residents will then have the opportunity to access an on-site alternative to first, or second, car ownership. Given that California car ownership runs over $9,000 per year, transportation costs are the second highest monthly expense for low-income families after rent. Car2go’s SmartCars will dramatically expand transportation access for Kalos residents.

The two publicly accessible electric vehicle charging stations are incorporated into the alley entrance of the project. ECOtality, a leader in clean electric transportation and storage technologies, will provide the stations – and federal incentives will further reduce costs.

The leadership of Community HousingWorks, and other organizations who look at sustainability beyond the building envelope, is important to helping improve the environment and lives of low income families. The benefits are many: providing a public amenity in the rapidly gentrifying North Park neighborhood; integrating green, sustainable means of transportation in a low-income housing complex; providing more options for residents who need them; and, serving as an example of green, affordable housing development. Kalos it truly is.




It’s the beginning of awards season in Hollywood as I write this and we are in the thick of making plans for our annual Pre-Oscar party.

It’s been almost 10 years since we launched the Global Green USA ‘Red Carpet, Green Cars’ campaign to help make hybrid and fuel-efficient cars fun and sexy. Once again, we will be highlighting the virtues of green cars at our Pre-Oscar event in Hollywood. And each year the audience is even more receptive and excited for change.

Ten years ago, many of us were the only ones on our blocks driving green cars. We received a lot of press attention back then for shuttling Hollywood influencers to the Academy Awards – in the first-generation Prius, among other green cars – and to the Emmy Awards in hybrid-electric buses.

Now, of course, we don’t really need to introduce the public to vehicles that are better for the environment. The Prius was named the best-selling car in California in 2012 and the third-best selling car in the world. And there’s not enough room in this column to list the actors, athletes, and other influencers who drive hybrid or electric cars.

The downturn in the economy certainly played a role in increasing the profile of green cars, as record-setting high gas prices convinced people to choose vehicles that are more fuel-efficient and wallet-friendly. Consumers have also naturally started making more environmentally friendly lifestyle choices in other areas of their lives – just take a look at the rise in organic food choices at mainstream grocery stores as an example.

Personal choices we make to curb greenhouse gas emissions are to be applauded, but they are not enough. Now, we need more action from elected leaders to make clean our roads.

Again, Hollywood – all of California, really – is leading the way with stricter emission standards for vehicles. California’s Advanced Clean Cars Program will impose very high emissions standards on cars powered by gasoline. We need other states to take California’s lead and make changes to make green cars the norm.


Matt Petersen is President and CEO of Global Green USA, the American arm of Green Cross International

Clean cars and dirty fuels don’t mix. EPA and DOT will issue final standards to strengthen fuel efficiency and slash carbon pollution spewing from 2017-2025 vehicles. These standards pick up where the standards for 2012-2016 vehicles leave off, promising 13 years of continuous improvement in new vehicles. Automakers are churning out vehicles with better fuel efficiency and lower emissions. These steps forward are a win, saving us billions at the pump and cutting heat-trapping climate pollution and demand for oil.

Cleaner cars should not fill up with dirty fuels. Furnace-like temperatures, scorching drought, and extreme weather should be enough to warrant immediate action to curb emissions of the pollution causing global warming. Slashing greenhouse gas emissions is the driver behind EPA’s standards that demand the fleet of vehicles sold in 2025 will emit 163 grams per mile of climate pollution, half of what the 2011 fleet of new vehicles emitted, keeping more than 600 million metric tons of carbon pollution out of the atmosphere in 2030 alone. Just as automakers are racing to bring the best of today’s technologies to market and innovate for the future, Big Oil is racing to bring ever dirtier fuels to the market.

Oil companies are ripping up lush Boreal Forest in Alberta to dig out tar sands that are then refined into gasoline. Accounting for upstream emissions, producing a barrel of tar sands oil emits 20 percent more carbon pollution than conventional oil, on top of the toxic tailing ponds and other damage extracting this fuel causes. Fracking, the dirty and polluting process for extracting natural gas, is being applied to extract oil in multiple states including North Dakota. Fracking for oil releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere either by venting or flaring, increasing the upstream emissions profile of this oil (along with other problems).

As we demand more of the auto industry to cut dangerous climate pollution, it is time to demand that Big Oil keep dirty fuels out of the mix.


Ann Mesnikoff is Green Transportation Campaign Director of the Sierra Club


The Gasoline Regulations Act (H.R. 4471) should be known as the ‘Gutting Air Standard Protections Act’ – or ‘GASP Act’ – because it denies the public the right to breathe clean and healthy air. There is no question that this bill by Representatives Whitfield (KY) and Barrow (GA) and approved by the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee will gut the Clean Air Act and harm children’s health. It will not impact fuel prices, but it will cause more smog, more childhood asthma attacks, and other health implications for people with lung disease.

HR 4471 would repeal the health basis of the Clean Air Act, block clean air safeguards, and hand the scientific process of setting healthy air standards over to economists, accountants, and financial analysts. This has been on the wish list of Big Oil for more than a decade.

The American Lung Association supports the Clean Air Act that sets air pollution standards based on health science. This bill creates new bureaucracies to delay and block health protections.

Those in Congress doing the bidding of Big Oil are woefully out of step with the views of the public on this issue. In a recent survey, conducted by Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Republican firm Perception Insight for the American Lung Association, nearly three-quarters of likely voters (73 percent) nationwide support the view that it is possible to protect public health through stronger air quality standards while achieving a healthy economy, over the notion that we must choose between public health or a strong economy. This overwhelming support includes 78 percent of independents, 60 percent of Republicans, and 62 percent of conservatives. In addition, when asked if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should be setting additional standards for cleaner gasoline and vehicles, 60 percent of likely voters want stronger standards.

The Clean Air Act has a proven track record of success, preventing an estimated 160,000 premature deaths in the United States in 2010 and reducing avoidable medical visits that drive up health care costs for those who are already struggling to get by in a weak economy. To throw it all away now at the behest of Big Oil is outrageous.

We urge all members of Congress to vote no on the ‘GASP Act’ and stand up for the health of our children. Those who do not are standing with Big Oil. The Lung Association urges a no vote on this dangerous bill.


Al Rizzo, MD, is Chair of the American Lung Association Board of Directors



The huge gulf between environmentalists and the auto industry is shrinking. The relationship between these two interests has evolved to where we are finding a way to agree, and not just reflexively oppose everything the other side has to say.

 Last summer, automakers and environmentalist joined together to support the historic new clean car agreement between the Obama administration, California, and major carmakers, crafting a grand bargain that will double the average fuel economy for cars on the road today by 2025, equivalent to 54.5 mpg.

The additional technology to meet this target will result in $300 billion in additional revenue for the U.S. auto industry and ensure it will be a global leader in advanced vehicle innovation. Stopping $350 billion from being sent overseas for oil will strengthen our economy, make us less vulnerable to oil price shocks, and create hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs. And curbing emissions of carbon pollution will help protect our economy against the costly impacts of global climate change. Last January many automakers also joined with environmentalists to support California’s strengthening of its Zero Emission Vehicle standard, which will result in about 1.5 million electric-drive vehicles on the road by 2025.

Unfortunately, ideologues in the media and in Washington have joined forces with auto dealers to try to preserve the status quo and scuttle the historic auto accord. More recently, they have turned their attention to the Chevy Volt and government support for clean energy manufacturing.

Automakers and environmentalists need to work together.

That’s why the head of NRDC, Frances Beinecke, and the former VP of GM, Bob Lutz, joined together in a joint op-ed that called for the end of the ‘petty politics’ that threatens to kill the electric cars and the American innovative spirit.

Moving forward with clean cars offers our country a choice: gridlock or progress. This is a time when automakers, regulators, and environmentalist need to come together, in partnership, to build markets for clean cars, cut our dangerous dependence on oil, and re-invest in American manufacturing leadership.


Roland Hwang is Transportation Program Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council

Revenge has come. In April, 200 Sierra Club members across the country hosted screenings of Revenge of the Electric Car. Thousands gathered to watch a great film and welcome electric vehicles that seemed impossible only a few years ago.  As EVs are hitting the market, Big Oil, their cronies on Fox News, and even presidential candidates are eager to see them fail. But EVs are mainstream, and participants were able to meet EV owners, try electric vehicles, and get the facts.

Earlier this year Exxon Mobil was confident that EVs were nothing for Big Oil to worry about.  Since then, gas prices have steadily climbed, causing pain at the pump and the now-annual gas price panic.

EVs will charge ahead. Sierra Club launched its Go Electric campaign, quickly gathering more than 50,000 signatures in support of EVs that were delivered to the White House in a Nissan LEAF. We guzzle more than 121 billion gallons of gasoline each year. EVs are not the only solution to ending our addiction to oil, but along with fuel efficient vehicles across the board and investing in transportation choices from safe walking to transit, EVs are part of that solution. And contrary to nay-sayers’ claims, EVs will cut dangerous climate pollution. We can switch from oil to electricity and not only save money, but pollute less and less as we switch to cleaner sources of electricity.  A gasoline car will always need oil.

From Richmond and Marietta to Illinois, Oregon and California, EV chargers are appearing and consumers’ choices of electric vehicles are growing. While chargers and the increasing number of EVs in the marketplace -- Ford’s EV Focus, Nissan’s LEAF, Chevy’s Volt, Toyota’s plug-in Prius, and the increasing number of EV trucks from companies like Via Motors and EVI – are not the result of this spring’s rising gas prices, they will offer consumers and businesses the choice to detach from the pump and the pain of rising prices.

Adorning Washington DC's RFK Stadium is a LEAF ad bearing the message ‘Kick Gas.’ Well, now we can.


Ann Mesnikoff is Green Transportation Campaign Director of the Sierra Club



President Obama has announced proposals for continued support of advanced car and truck technologies, including EVs and other alternative fuel vehicles as well as infrastructure needed to support these vehicles. These proposals, and others like it, are essential for advancing technology that can help alleviate pain at the pump and dependence on oil.

The proposal includes a new $1 billion federal program to support 10-15 communities becoming models of advanced vehicle deployment. It also calls for increasing the advanced vehicle tax credit from $7,500 to $10,000, and greater support for advanced heavy-duty trucks while eliminating $4 billion in annual oil industry subsidies.

Because sales volumes of this emerging market have fallen shy of some automaker and analyst projections, some critics have been eager to trumpet the demise of EVs. Despite the critics’ naysaying, electric vehicles sales in 2011 look pretty encouraging compared to early hybrid vehicle sales in 2000. When you consider that an electric vehicle requires a fundamental change in driver behavior – namely plugging the vehicle in – the pace of growth is even more encouraging.

But let’s be realistic. Declaring victory or defeat after one year of electric vehicle sales doesn’t do anyone any good. Transitioning to new technologies in a big way takes time, but the benefits – in terms of national security, energy security, jobs, and the environment – is worth the investment.

If we really want to be spared the pain at the pump, we need alternatives to oil, not more drilling. The Union of Concerned Scientists has a plan to cut projected U.S. oil consumption in half in 20 year by implementing a comprehensive set of solutions. Expanding the deployment of electric vehicles over the next two decades is one of the key elements of this plan. Incentives to support the rollout of advanced technology vehicles in communities around the country can help get more electric vehicles on the road and move us in a direction we need to go – away from oil.


Don Anair is senior engineer for the Clean Vehicles program at the Union of Concerned Scientists