Ancient history

I admit it, I’ve been at this for a while.

It’s strange, but the US auto industry has taken eighteen years to get to a point I foresaw in 1992 (actually earlier, but I don’t have records of it.) From the ancient archives of Usenet News, I bring you words of another time (pardon the formatting, WordPress’s columns are too narrow and I can’t adjust it):

In article <1992May29.182304.14…> dwe… (David Wells) writes:
>What I can’t figure is that hybrid cars haven’t taken off. You get
>about 50% efficiency and low emmisions coupled with 300 mile range!
>Switching fuels (gas, alcohol, propane) is often easy, too!

Hybrids have a problem, in that they don’t fit ZEV specifications, and it is possible to meet ULEV specs without battery storage.   Because having a superior ULEV (or being able to operate as a ZEV over limited distances and speeds) doesn’t give any regulatory credits against the ZEV requirements, nobody has any incentive to make hybrids.

The inflexibility of the regulations is to blame here.   A hybrid would probably be much more marketable than a pure electric, but there is no partial credit and no benefit from lifting limitations which are a big barrier to customer acceptance.  Thus, a class of vehicles which could potentially do more to substitute electricity for gasoline than pure electrics in the near future will likely be ignored.

Ignored they were, until the announcement of the Chevy Volt in 2007. (There are rumors that the Volt was preceded by a Saab concept car which had a plug, but it was covered over by orders of GM management.) Sometimes I hate being right.

Finally, the world is changing. The plug is moving from “green” accessory to high-end convenience. Last year there was the Converj concept car, and this year there is another Cadillac PHEV concept car at the Detroit Auto Show: the XTS Platinum. It’s grossly over-powered for any practical use, but as a luxury vehicle it is probably aimed squarely at its market. Plugging in means more practicality; instead of stopping at the gas station all the time, most “fuel” can come while the car is parked at home. And the list of features doesn’t stop there; pre-heating the seats and defrosting the windows on cold days, or cooling the cabin on hot ones, are the things people buy remote starters for today. Having them as factory options, activated by alarm clock or cell phone, and safely operable inside one’s closed garage will raise the bar on what “luxury” means for a car.


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