Las nuevas medidas comenzarán a aplicarse gradualmente a los modelos que se produzcan a partir de 2012 y exigirán que para 2016 un automóvil recorra una media de 35,5 millas por galón (aproximadamente cien kilómetros por 6,63 litros de gasolina).
Ello representa, según los cálculos de la Casa Blanca, un ahorro del 5 por ciento anual en el consumo y una reducción de 900 millones de toneladas métricas en emisiones de dióxido de carbono. Una ley aprobada por el Congreso en 2007 requería que el consumo medio de un automóvil fuera de 35 millas por galón para 2020.
Según afirmó Obama, "en el pasado, un acuerdo como este se hubiera considerado imposible". El anuncio de hoy representa, aseguró, "un cambio en la política de Washington y es precursor de un cambio en cómo se hacen los negocios en Washington".
El presidente estadounidense alabó a los fabricantes de automóviles, los sindicatos y los líderes políticos por contribuir al logro de lo que consideró un "acuerdo histórico para ayudar a EE.UU. a romper su dependencia del petróleo importado".
Según el presidente, las nuevas normas permitirán ahorrar 1.800 millones de barriles de petróleo durante la vida de los vehículos que se vendan en los próximos cinco años. Ese ahorro, subrayó, representará más petróleo del que EE.UU. importa de Arabia Saudí, Venezuela, Libia y Nigeria juntos.
Los expertos calculan que la adaptación de los nuevos vehículos redundará en un coste de cerca de 1.300 dólares más por unidad. Obama admitió que "cuesta dinero construir estos vehículos" pero subrayó que ese coste quedará neutralizado por lo que sus conductores podrán ahorrar a la hora de repostar combustible.
En la actualidad, el consumo está fijado en 27,5 millas por galón (8,55 litros por cada 100 kilómetros) para autos y 24 millas por galón (9,8 litros por cada 100 kilómetros) para camionetas. La medida significa que los estados no podrán fijar de forma individual sus propios límites de consumo y emisiones, tal y como quería California.
Las nuevas normas permitirán unificar los estándares de consumo y emisiones contaminantes en todo el país. Catorce estados de EE.UU., entre ellos California, y el distrito de Columbia, habían reclamado al Gobierno federal que les permitiera aplicar medidas más estrictas que las existentes hasta ahora.
El sector del automóvil se oponía a las propuestas de California, al considerar que tendría que imponer estándares distintos según los estados del país. Con este acuerdo anunciado hoy, que se negociaba desde la llegada de Obama a la Casa Blanca en enero, se llega a un compromiso entre el Gobierno, los estados y el sector automovilístico.
Ahora ese sector -que se encuentra en una posición de debilidad debido a su crisis de ventas, que ha puesto a Chrysler en situación de quiebra y amenaza con arrastrar a General Motors- podrá contar con la certidumbre de un estándar único para todo el país pero ese estándar será similar al que proponía California.
En un comunicado, la automovilística Ford afirmó que "nos complace que el presidente Obama adopte medidas decisivas y positivas cuando colaboramos para lograr un estándar único para el consumo y las emisiones de los vehículos que sea bueno para la economía y para el medioambiente".
En la actualidad, las competencias para regular los estándares en el consumo de los vehículos corresponden al Departamento de Transporte, mientras que la Agencia Estadounidense para la Protección Medioambiental (EPA) controla las emisiones contaminantes.
Behind the scenes of the auto emissions deal
The agreement for a strict nationwide standard for U.S.-sold cars by 2016 took a mix of firm demands and major concessions from the government. Obama sees the talks as a ‘template for more progress.’
Reporting from Washington — It had taken weeks of hardball negotiations, but on Sunday afternoon, White House officials thought everything was falling into place. In less than 48 hours they would unveil a landmark deal with U.S. automakers to impose sharply higher fuel-efficiency standards on new cars and trucks.
Then at 3 p.m., the telephone rang.
A senior Ford executive said the company had run the numbers again and concluded it might not survive if it accepted the deal. If Ford pulled out, it would mean a major setback for two of President Obama’s signature goals — combating global warming and reducing the nation’s appetite for foreign oil.
In the end, with more number-crunching and another application of White House pressure, Ford did not bolt. And when Obama stepped into the Rose Garden on Tuesday afternoon to announce the deal with the auto industry and the state of California, he hailed it as a road map for progress on other knotty issues.
Yet the near-collapse of the effort was a dramatic reminder of how hard it can be to break through years of stalemate and build a consensus for action on a problem that has pitted some of the country’s most powerful interests against each other.
"Everybody at some point, from California to the companies, had a moment of going, ‘Uh-oh, what am I thinking?’ " said Carol Browner, director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy.
The push to keep the automaker on board involved a key official on a cellphone who mapped strategy while huddled in the relative quiet of a bathroom at the Washington Nationals baseball stadium. Another broke away from a birthday party in New York.
What made the agreement possible was a combination of unyielding demands by the federal government on some points and a willingness to make major concessions on what it considered smaller ones, said officials involved who requested anonymity when discussing the negotiations. With the U.S. auto industry on the brink of collapse, its leaders came to see that they could no longer forestall action — and would be better off with a single, strict national rule than a state-by-state patchwork.
"We were able to convince everybody to keep their eye on the ball — a national standard — and work on the way we get there," said Browner, who spearheaded the effort.
Obama basked in the success on Tuesday. "All the people who have gathered here today . . . they’ve created the template for more progress in the months and years to come," he said. "Everything is possible when we’re working together, and we’re off to a great start."
The agreement announced at the White House will lead to a 30% reduction in carbon dioxide and other emissions by 2016 from vehicles sold in the U.S.
To meet that standard, according to the White House, new vehicles sold in the U.S. seven years from now will have to average 35.5 mpg, up from 25 mpg today. The agreement, coupled with increased fuel-efficiency requirements Congress approved in 2007, would add $1,300 to the price of a new car in 2016, the administration estimated.
The plan does not spell out specific mileage requirements, but effectively would require them by capping the greenhouse gas emissions that scientists blame for global warming. The new limits are projected to reduce U.S. oil consumption by about 5% a year from 2011 to 2016. The nation currently uses about 7.1 billion barrels a year.
As the deal was being crafted, domestic and foreign carmakers trooped throughout the month of April to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Administration officials greeted them with a message: We’re setting national limits on climate-altering emissions from cars and trucks. The limits aren’t negotiable. Tell us what you need to meet them.
One by one, 10 automakers signed on — after securing promises to make the limits more flexible. A Ford spokesman said the company had "worked closely with the administration to make sure we understood the agreement."
So did California, which since 2002 has sought to impose tougher emissions standards on its own. The Obama plan would achieve comparable cutbacks, but give automakers more time to adapt. As a result, the automakers agreed to drop their legal challenges to California’s standards.
The United Auto Workers union also agreed to the administration’s plan, after being assured that the rules wouldn’t push factory jobs overseas.
On Tuesday, Ford Chief Executive Alan Mulally stood by Obama’s side. "The president is going to continue to work toward an integrated energy policy in the United States, and the consumer is going to be involved," Mulally told reporters at the White House. "We’re all going to move forward, I believe, on this journey to energy independence, energy security and long-term stability."
The deal, which does not require congressional approval, will unify an array of Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation regulations. To complete it, the administration will need to finalize several pending decisions, at which point automakers will drop their lawsuits against California’s proposed emissions limits.
Many Republicans criticized the agreement, saying it would kill jobs, raise car prices and reduce consumer choices.
Rep. John Campbell (R-Irvine) said automakers only signed on "because they’re owned by the government" — a reference to Obama’s recent moves to prop up troubled Chrysler and General Motors.
"These exact companies were fighting this . . . tooth and nail six months ago, and now suddenly they love it?" Campbell said. "No, they don’t love it. This is what this administration is doing: This administration is autocratically forcing people to do whatever it wants."
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a high-profile supporter of the agreement, suggested Tuesday that the federal financial assistance had given Obama’s team leverage to force automakers to accept the emissions limits.
"All of a sudden, the car manufacturers needed . . . the taxpayers’ money," he said. "So in order to get that help, I’m sure that President Obama said: ‘OK . . . here’s what you need to do.’ "
Electric cars are coming!
We’re sorry to be buzz kills. But we’ve heard this one before. Like in 1990. And 1910. Do the automakers have the juice this time?
By Katharine Mieszkowski
May. 20, 2009 |
On Tuesday, when President Obama proposed the first nationwide regulation of greenhouse gases, which would set limits on tailpipe emissions for cars and trucks, he jacked up the buzz about electric cars. The new regulation requires new cars and light trucks to get on average 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, which is almost 40 percent more fuel-efficient than the requirements today. Automakers, which have kicked and screamed for generations about increasing fuel efficiency, stood politely by Obama, having to suck it up, as their fortunes now depend on the government. In good part, they will attempt to meet the goal with a flashy new line of cars powered by the electrical outlet in your garage.
"The industry is already transitioning. Hybrid cars are the first step toward electric drive vehicles, and the question now is how fast will the transformation take place," says professor Daniel Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California at Davis, and coauthor of the recent book "Two Billion Cars: Driving Toward Sustainability."
On May 6, Ford declared it would spend hundreds of millions of dollars to convert an SUV plant near Detroit to churn out the Ford Focus. By 2011, the plant would be producing battery-electric versions of the diminutive car. Nissan recently claimed that 10 percent of its new cars will be electric by 2016. Mitsubishi plans to unleash its i-MiEV in Japan this year and bring it to the U.S. in 2012. Toyota, which has dominated the hybrid market with its Prius, plans to launch an electric Prius by 2012. Even famed investor Warren Buffett is jumping on the buzzwagon: He’s bought a stake in BYD, a Chinese battery and electric car company.
The big automakers can thank independent upstarts for helping electric cars today lose their glorified golf-cart stigma. The flashy, very limited Tesla Roadster goes for a cool $110,000. If that’s a bit steep for you, you’re welcome to put down a $5,000 deposit for the forthcoming Tesla Model S, which will go for around $57,000. Some 1,000 would-be Model S drivers already have done so. (German automaker Daimler announced that it bought an almost 10 percent stake in Tesla on Tuesday.) Not to be outdone on the innovation front, there’s the $27,000 Aptera, which looks like an insect and has three wheels.
The car in the eye of the publicity storm is the Chevy Volt, which the automaker calls an "extended-range electric vehicle," which promises to travel its first 40 miles on electricity, before burning any gas. Obama has said he wants to see 1 million plug-in hybrids on the road in the U.S. by 2015. He’s committed some $14.4 billion in stimulus money to an electric-car future, including $2 billion for battery manufacturing.
The buzz is intoxicating. Yet for 100 years the electric car has shimmered on the horizon, like a mirage, always fleetingly out of reach. Today, even with advances in battery technology, as the major automakers unveil their forthcoming models, they’re still hedging their bets that the internal combustion engine’s glory days aren’t over.
"The technology is always down the road; the better battery is always in the future," says Michael Schiffer, an anthropology professor at the University of Arizona, and author of "Taking Charge: The Electric Automobile in America." "People have been promising better batteries for over a century." Indeed, in 1909, a magazine advertisement for Baker Electric Vehicles touted the revolutionary new cars as "the Aristocrats of Motordom," which would go "100 Miles on One Charge of the Batteries." A century later, in 2009, the Mini Cooper’s electric cousin the Mini E, now being leased in a pilot program to 450 drivers in New York, New Jersey and California, promises to go — you guessed it! — over 100 miles.
While electric-car enthusiasts naturally welcome the flurry of developments, Marc Geller, co-founder of Plug in America, a nonprofit that advocates electric vehicles, can’t help lamenting the time lost by automakers, which turned their back on the vehicles in the 1990s. "The tragedy is that in the ’90s this could have been done at much lower cost in every respect," Geller says. "We would be 10 years down the road in terms of achieving economies of scale and understanding consumer demand. At that point, you had profitable car companies attempting to do it, and at this point you have unprofitable car companies doing it essentially on the public dime."
Indeed, the automakers are going electric in part to win the Washington handout. They haven’t all of a sudden sprouted an environmental conscience or instituted unique business plans to profit from electric cars. "It’s almost impossible at this point for General Motors to make a dime on the Volt," says David Kirsch, a professor at the University of Maryland Business School, and author of "The Electric Vehicle and the Burden of History." "They’ve got to do it to get money from the federal government. Talk about a loss leader."
Ellen Spertus is one driver who can be forgiven for viewing the new generation of electric cars with some skepticism. Back in 2002, the Mills College computer science professor was the happy driver of an EV1, which was General Motors’ zippy two-seat electric car.
In the ’90s, car companies grudgingly produced a handful of electric cars, such as the EV1, Toyota EV Rav4, Ford Electric Ranger and the Nissan Altra, to meet the "zero emissions vehicle" regulations in California, the nation’s biggest car market. The auto lobby in turn lobbied like mad against the regulation. When California weakened its regulations, the automakers largely dumped electric cars. General Motors, in particular, summarily revoked all the leases on the EV1, and crushed the cars, as memorably chronicled in the documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car?"
"It’s great to see a lot of electric cars are in the works now, but it’s hard to get excited about the Volt because G.M. had a great electric car, and they didn’t stand by it, they didn’t promote it," says Spertus. "Why should I expect them to do anything different?" After G.M. took Spertus’ EV1 away, it charged her several thousand dollars for dents in it, despite the fact it was headed to the great auto-body shop in the sky.
Today Spertus, who is now working at Google, while taking a leave from Mills, drives a Toyota Prius, which she calls a "real step backward" from the EV1, since it’s only partially electric. "An American car company had a fantastic lead and threw it away," she says.
That’s not only the view of one disgruntled car driver. Rick Wagoner, former CEO of G.M., fired by Obama in March, has said that his worst decision as CEO was "axing the EV1 electric-car program and not putting the right resources into hybrids." Says Kirsch: "They should have taken the EV1 and turned it into the Volt 10 years ago. It’s 10 years late and $10 billion short."
As the recession grinds on, U.S. auto sales were down 34 percent in April. With Chrysler in bankruptcy and General Motors teetering on the edge, the U.S. auto industry is not exactly in a great position to innovate. Yet it also needs to find a way to meet the new fuel-economy standards and greenhouse gas regulations announced by Obama Tuesday.
While those plans may look good on the environmental drawing board, that doesn’t mean they will materialize on the roads any time soon. "In the next 10 years, automakers have to wean car shoppers off of less fuel-efficient cars, and no one knows how that’s going to happens," says Marty Padgett, executive editor of theCarConnection.com. "It’s one thing for the government to say, ‘This is the new standard, and automakers have to meet it.’ It’s another thing to get consumers to buy the new cars."
Last year, $4 gas found car shoppers considering hybrids and thinking twice about shelling out for monster SUVs. But as the recession has brought gas prices down, hybrids aren’t looking as hot. While hybrids made up 3.2 percent of all cars sold in the U.S. in April 2008, now they’re back down to around 2.5 percent of new vehicle sales.
Auto industry analysts say that for all the current buzz, it will take decades for electric cars to reach the masses and have any significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions. David Cole of the Center for Automotive Research points out that upstarts like Tesla are exciting, but they’re no solution. "It’s pretty easy to do a $110,000 sports car in low volume because you can put a lot of cost in it and recover that in the sale of a specialized product," he says. "When you get down to something that’s got to be $20,000, $30,000, $40,000 — a lower price at high volume — the complexity just blows up dramatically. That’s where the real challenge is."
John Voeckler, who edits GreenCarReports.com, says hybrids are an illustrative example of how long it will take to get lots of electric cars on the roads. He explains it’s taken a decade for hybrid vehicles to get to just 1 percent of global production of new cars and trucks. By 2015, he predicts they’ll be at 4 or 5 percent, making up about 3 million of the roughly 70 million new vehicles made each year globally.
Voeckler estimates that by 2015, electric vehicles will make up just 1 percent of new vehicles manufactured globally, even if you count plug-in hybrids. "Because of how long it takes for new vehicles to become a significant fraction of the automotive fleet, it will be two decades before plug-in hybrids have much of an impact in terms of CO2," says Felix Kramer, founder of the California Cars Initiative for Plug-in Hybrids, who favors retrofitting vehicles already on the road to use electricity, too.
Part of the holdup is that while battery technology has improved, it hasn’t improved enough to make an electric car as affordable as a gas-powered one, even when you factor in the U.S. government’s tax rebate of up to $7,500 for buying an electric. Lithium-ion batteries, which power laptops, cellphones, PDAs and iPods, are thought to hold the key for electric cars. That has battery engineers working frantically to try to improve them. "The cost per kilowatt is really what battery engineers all over the globe are hammering on," Voeckler says.
Electric-car historians say we’ve been waiting for a breakthrough in battery technology for a long time. "In 1898, none other than Thomas Edison promised the super battery," says Kirsch. "We’re been waiting for the super battery for 110 years. Why do we think that the super battery is around the corner?" Schiffer takes an even dimmer view. "Battery technology is really mature, and I expect incremental improvement. But anybody who is pinning their hopes for electric cars and hybrids on better batteries is deluding themselves," he says.
To meet the Obama administration’s new regulations, automakers can’t stop with building electric cars. They will be forced to improve the fuel efficiency of vehicles powered by the old-fashioned internal combustion engine and killing off some of their most hulking gas guzzlers.
Mike Millikin, editor and founder of Green Car Congress, argues that even if automakers make good on their lofty electric car plans, it won’t be enough. "We have to step back and keep in mind what the larger goal is," he says. "Even with the technology coming out, we’re not going to move quickly enough to do the kind of reduction in greenhouse gases we need — absent changes in consumer behavior." Although we’ve heard about those changes many times, he says, they bear repeating: drive less, carpool, walk or ride a bike. "It’s going to require big changes beyond ‘I’m going to drive an electric car rather than a conventional car,’" Millikin says. "Electric cars are part of the answer. But not the total answer."