En general el consumidor estadounidense tendrá que acostumbrarse a la transformación de su flota automotriz. Los vehículos no sólo serán más pequeños, sino que muchos serán cargados con electricidad, a fin de cumplir con los límites establecidos que entrarán en vigencia desde el año 2012 y que deberán haberse cumplido para el año 2016.
El promedio de eficiencia deberá ser de 57,13 kilómetros por galón (35,5 millas por galón), unos 16 kilómetros por galón (10 mpg) más eficientes del promedio actual. Los automóviles de pasajeros deberán tener una eficiencia de 63 kpg (39 mpg) y los camiones ligeros de 48 kmg (30 mpg).
Eric Fedewa, vicepresidente de la consultora automotriz CSM Worldwide, de Northville, Michigan, dijo que los cambios pondrán por las nubes los precios de las camionetas tipo pickup, obligando a que sólo sean usadas para negocios.
Una opción para las familias que tienen camionetas deportivas sería la pequeña camioneta Mazda 5, que actualmente tiene una eficiencia de 45 kpg (28 mpg) en la autopista. «Obligará a usar el ingenio para aprovechar mejor el espacio interior», destacó Fedewa.
«Habrá que poner más hileras de asientos en el espacio que tradicionalmente se usaba para carga», agregó. El desarrollo de nuevas tecnologías costará mucho dinero y los fabricantes automotrices tendrán que transferirlo a los compradores.
El gobierno de Obama afirma que los cambios significan que el vehículo promedio costará unos 1.300 dólares más, aunque algunos analistas privados dicen que el costo será mucho mayor. El gobierno también dice que el gasto será compensado con el ahorro obtenido en gasolina durante unos tres años.
Los fabricantes automotrices afirman que se necesita que los precios de la gasolina se mantengan relativamente altos a fin de crear un mercado para los vehículos eléctricos. General Motors teme por la suerte en el mercado de su híbrido recargable Chevrolet Volt el próximo año mientras haya precios de dos dólares por galón.
El consumidor estadounidense ya ha demostrado que sus costumbres pueden cambiar súbitamente dependiendo de los precios de la gasolina. Cuando el combustible llegó a costar 4 dólares el galón en el verano de 2008, la gente se lanzó a comprar vehículos más pequeños. La gasolina ahora es más barata y las ventas de híbridos han caído.
El Volt ha sido diseñado para un funcionamiento de 64 kilómetros (40 millas) con la batería totalmente cargada. Después de eso, un pequeño motor de combustión interna genera electricidad y mantiene el vehículo en actividad.
Otras empresas automotrices trabajan bajo el mismo principio. No obstante, se prevé que el Volt costará en el mercado de 35.000 a 40.000 dólares y es probable que los compradores no deseen pagar esa cantidad por un sedán, aunque reciban reembolsos tributarios para sostener el costo, a menos que los precios de la gasolina se disparen de nuevo.
Los vehículos recargables de electricidad, que según cálculos del gobierno podrían llegar a tener un uso de 161 kilómetros por galón (100 mpg) o más, ayudarán a que los fabricantes cumplan con los estándares y para compensar la venta de modelos más grandes y menos eficientes.
Bajo el plan de Obama, la venta de vehículos eléctricos e híbridos recargables también podría generar «subvenciones cuantiosas» que equivaldrían a más de un vehículo cuando un fabricante automotriz determine el promedio de su reducción de combustible y de emisiones. Los nuevos estándares llevarían a los fabricantes a «acelerar sus planes tecnológicos, al parecer con mayor agresividad de lo que habían previsto inicialmente», dijo Tony Posawatz, que dirige el desarrollo tecnológico del Volt.
«En nuestro caso, nos sentimos cómodos de contar con opciones». Hace unos cuantos años, GM y otros ejecutivos del sector automotor tenían grandes dudas de poder cumplir con estándares aún de menor exigencia, pero como Posawatz señala, la tecnología ha cambiado desde entonces, especialmente con el perfeccionamiento de las nuevas baterías de litio.
General Motors también estudia la posibilidad de desarrollar camiones eléctricos, lo que podría acercarles a cumplir con los objetivos, agregó. A principios del 2009, Toyota anunció que lanzaría 10 nuevos modelos híbridos al mercado mundial para el año 2010, mientras que Honda ya vende su nuevo híbrido Insight.
Mazda, por su parte, proyecta perfeccionar más su sistema de combustión básica y dedicarse menos a los híbridos. Los periodistas especializados de The Associated Press Kimberly S. Johnson y Dan Strumpf en Nueva York, John Porretto en Houston y Ken Thomas en Washington contribuyeron a este reportaje.
White House to require 35.5 mpg by 2016
The Obama administration will unveil national tailpipe emissions standards and mileage requirements Tuesday, which will force automakers to dramatically boost the efficiency of vehicles by 2016 to a fleet-wide average of 35.5 miles per gallon, but also give them a single national standard.
The program will cost automakers $1,300 per vehicle, a senior administration official said — a move that could cost automakers $13 billion to $20 billion annually based on total auto sales. That’s $600 ahead of the prior planned fuel efficiency increases.
Under a compromise, California and 13 other states’ efforts to impose a 30 percent reduction in tailpipe emissions are to be essentially adopted by the Obama administration and extended to the rest of the country. The federal government will set mileage standards that are consistent with those emissions requirements — 39 mpg by 2016 for cars and 30 mpg for light trucks.
Administration officials said the new requirements would save 1.8 billion barrels of oil and eliminate 900 million metric tons of greenhouse gases — equivalent to taking 177 million cars and trucks off the roads.
The move will force automakers to average 35.5 mpg overall by 2016 — four years ahead of a congressional deadline and require the companies to boost efficiency by an average of 5 percent per year. It is the first-ever U.S. regulation of tailpipe emissions, rather than simply setting fuel efficiency standards.
But Congress is planning to offer automakers billions more to help them meet the requirements. A revised 942-page version of a climate change bill released late Monday doubles to $50 billion a program to offer low-cost retooling loans to automakers and parts producers to help produce more fuel-efficient models.
The announcement is a major victory for California, though the state won’t get to run the program it has fought to impose since 2002.
It will also allow manufacturers to apply for government assistance for producing plug-in hybrids, and seek money to buy the expensive batteries that would be the heart of such vehicles. The bill creates new programs to aid electric vehicle production.
GM President and CEO Fritz Henderson and UAW President Ron Gettelfinger are among the auto officials who will be on hand Tuesday, along with Ford Motor Co CEO Alan Mulally and Daimler AG CEO Dieter Zetsche, for President Barack Obama’s Rose Garden announcement.
"GM is fully committed to this new approach," Henderson said. "As the President has previously said, all stakeholders must come together and act with a common purpose and sense of urgency to address the nation’s energy and environmental priorities."
James Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc., said the Japanese automaker had long sought a coordinated standard for fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions. "The big winner is customers," Lentz said. "A unified national program ensures American consumers will have the choice of vehicles they want and need, as well as the fuel efficiency and low emissions they expect, without the potential confusion of multiple standards."
Ford also praised the announcement.
California and many other states have long sought to impose their own tailpipe emissions standards, but were stymied by the Bush administration, which refused to grant them a waiver to do so under the Clean Air Act. Automakers fought in court for years to block the standards and lobbied government officials to stop them. The administration won’t immediately act on California’s waiver request, so it is unclear what will happen to the state’s initiative.
The Obama regulation, which is backed by major automakers, will order the Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to work together to issue a joint regulation setting the new tailpipe emissions limits and mileage standards by next year
In addition to top officials from Detroit’s Big Three automakers, Gov. Jennifer Granholm and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, are expected to attend Tuesday’s announcement. Automakers will drop their lawsuits as part of the deal.
Officials said NHTSA and the EPA will work together to jointly issue regulations to ensure that the tailpipe emissions and fuel economy regulations are harmonized. Automakers will also be able to push for credits toward meeting tailpipe emissions requirements — as they currently have for fuel economy standards. The two agencies will also use NHTSA’s "footprint," or attribute-based system, which considers a vehicle’s size, to set emissions requirements — something California’s rules didn’t include.
California officials declared victory.
"The Obama administration has brought together the federal government, the state of California, and the auto industry behind new national automobile emissions standards that follow California’s lead," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee. "This is good news for all of us who have fought long and hard to reduce global warming pollution, create clean energy jobs, and reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil."
Automakers get more flexibility to meet the yearly numbers — and more leeway in the early years of compliance. Most importantly, this deal appears to prevent California and other states from setting higher state standards in the future.
The Obama administration has been reviewing California’s request for three months. But the administration has been sympathetic to the concerns raised by automakers that two sets of standards would cause problems.
The deal may finally end a long-running dispute between California and Michigan.
Automakers have said state-by-state regulations would cost them tens of billions of dollars and fought California’s efforts for years — losing in three federal courts.
The new regulations take effect with the 2012 model year. In April, the Obama administration hiked the 2011 model year fuel efficiency standards to a fleet-wide average of 27.3 mpg.
In April 2007, the Supreme Court granted the EPA sweeping authority to regulate tailpipe emissions as a danger to human health. The EPA has proposed declaring tailpipe emissions a threat to human health and held a public hearing Monday on the issue in Virginia.
Greenhouse gas emissions from cars, light trucks and other vehicles in 2006 accounted for nearly 24 percent of U.S. emissions, with 94 percent of those emissions carbon dioxide, according to the EPA. U.S. autos accounted for 4.3 percent of worldwide emissions.
New emissions rules seen driving "green" success
Chrysler is bankrupt, General Motors is on the verge of bankruptcy and the broader auto industry is in a financial mess. But there are winners emerging from the debris of the industry’s implosion. Thanks partly to new standards on emissions, those companies are of a familiar hue: green.
Start-up makers of electric car components, lithium batteries, smart technologies and other products designed to help the United States and other developed countries reduce dependence on gasoline are generating a lot of buzz these days.
Last week the Obama administration laid out national emissions standards, which are seen as the latest catalyst for the automotive industry to become more aggressive about exploring new technologies to meet compliance. The standards are seen breathing new life into some companies that had been teetering on the brink of survival due to a slowdown in venture funding.
"By forcing the regulatory part, the government is actually pushing (larger) companies toward more investment, which will hopefully trickle down to companies like ours," says Said Al-Hallaj, co-founder of Chicago-based All Cell Technologies, a maker of lithium-ion batteries with sophisticated temperature controls. The products are designed for use with electric-powered vehicles.
The new U.S. rules, which begin in 2012, impose a national standard calling for vehicles to average 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. Cars and trucks are expected to be nearly 40 percent cleaner and more fuel-efficient than they are today.
These regulations come on top of some $2 billion in federal economic stimulus grants the Department of Energy will award to battery companies, component providers and other developers of green technology for transportation.
"It does create some interesting opportunities," says David Cole, chairman of the nonprofit Center for Automotive Research, noting that the prospects for companies offering batteries and other parts for plug-in hybrids could likely see the most near-term interest. "The ingenuity of small companies is very important."
But Cole stresses that only those ventures able to fill a gap or provide a complement to products and technologies developed by the big carmakers and longstanding suppliers stand a reasonable chance at success.
"You’re in a competitive race with some really fast people," he says, cautioning that new market entrants should have their ideas vetted by an independent third party early on in development. "If you can provide a narrow niche — that’s great. It’s very tough to find that."
‘A GREAT OPPORTUNITY’
Competition is fierce. VentureBeat reported that as of late last year more than 30 companies had been founded just to sell electric cars. Good magazine, which covers altruistic trends, in April released a transportation issue entitled "Reinventing Our Wheels" showcasing more than 100 pages dedicated to alternative forms of transportation.
Investors say the new legislation may generate more participation from the venture capital community.
"Any time there is discontinuity or disruption, there’s an opportunity for newer companies or startups to enter the marketplace," says Promod Haque, managing partner of Norwest Venture Partners, an investment firm specializing in technology companies. "This is a great opportunity for money to roll in."
And despite the ever-crowded field, enthusiasm is rising among those start-ups that have already established some staying power, such as All Cell, the lithium-ion battery maker.
The company, which began in 2001 with $2.5 million from friends, family and angel investors, recently increased its staff to 14 and is hunting for manufacturing space. Its customers now include a French maker of electric bikes and two Tier One automotive suppliers that have contracted for early stage research and development.
"We’re getting tremendous inquiries," says Al-Hallaj. "The fact that this legislation is in place, if it works, means that now the venture investors and the car companies have to start coming up with strategies to be part of these markets."
Israel-based ETV Motors Ltd, a start-up that is developing alternative power-trains for hybrid-electric vehicles, is another with apparent market momentum. Last month the company raised about $12 million in venture funding and is planning for a second capital-raising round.
"Any regulations or laws that support lowered emissions work in our favor because of our focus on REEVs (range-extended electric vehicles)," says Arnold Roth, ETV’s chief operating officer, in an email exchange.
Companies focused on alternative transportation are likely to see some benefit from the new emissions standards, even if it’s just from increased public awareness on more environmentally friendly choices for getting around, says David Goldschmidt, chief operating officer for Boulder, Colorado-based Intrago Corp. The early-stage startup is developing logistics systems to manage pools of electric vehicles designed for short trips, such as around town or on corporate campuses.
"As gas prices continue to go back up and the fuel economy and emissions regulations move forward, we think it’s great for showing there’s still a need to address the economics," Goldschmidt says.