Save America: Hybrids and natural gas now

According to a new study hybrid cars and natural gas offer excellent paths to reduce CO2 emissions today.

Time to take action?

Hybrids and natural gas today, plug-ins tomorrow

A new study on behalf of the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment demonstrates that hybrid cars and natural gas vehicles offer significant potential to reduce CO2 emissions that “can be put to use immediately”.

So, why are we putting off until tomorrow what can already be accomplished today?

For urban drivers, hybrid vehicles offer the cleanest solution, while natural gas vehicles offer the best solution for rural and highway driving according to the study. In mixed driving conditions, both natural gas and hybrid vehicles offer 25 percent improvements compared to gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Why then, have plug-ins become the only solution deserving of the majority of media and government focus?

Certainly plug-ins are extremely important, but essentially every study suggests that converting to a majority of plug-in vehicles is almost assuredly going to take a few decades, minimally. Consequently, why not use a mixture of hybrids and natural gas vehicles as interim solutions to plug-ins and fuel cell vehicles? Besides, it might make more sense to eventually switch from coal to natural gas backed renewables anyway.

Even more compelling, since most plug-in studies suggest that over the next few decades plug-in hybrids will dominate pure electric vehicles in sales, why not take advantage of hybrid technology as quickly as possible?

For instance, any full hybrids sold today could eventually be converted into plug-in hybrids tomorrow if a breakthrough in battery technology becomes mainstream viable. And since the legacy effect of older technologies can rear its ugly head on emissions and US fleet fuel economy for decades, shouldn't we be thinking long term immediately? Essentially, the actions we take today – the vehicles built and bought – could still have a significant impact on the US well over a decade from now even if nothing but EVs were built and sold starting tomorrow.

That reality  – that legacy effect – should be our main driver today because it is very real and very quantifiable, and going hybrid is a legacy effect killer.

Recently, the President was excited about the stimulus-funded opening of a new lithium-ion battery plant, as he should be. Certainly, the President's actions on plug-in vehicles have already dwarfed the actions of the previous President. Still, has much yet been accomplished? Even worse, many experts in the battery space claim much of this investment could easily go to waste as the possibility that production will far exceed demand looms very real.

Ultimately, nothing might be gained, but a lot of tax payer money could be lost, as new debt is added to our exploding deficit.

Not, however, if conventional hybrids were embraced as much as possible starting today.

Why not, for example, a $1500 tax credit for something like a Toyota Prius, as long as the battery is assembled in America? Even better why not stop giving out unlimited small business tax credits to buy the biggest gas guzzlers made – since most are made by the Big 3 – and offer those tax credits only for hybrid and natural gas versions? Make it profitable, for instance, for GM to convert 30 percent of its pickup truck sales into hybrid pickup truck sales.

Already GM builds a hybrid version of its top pickup trucks for crying-out-loud, and converting 30 percent of GM's pickup truck sales into hybrid pickup truck sales might make GM a CAFE leader in the US, while offering hugely positive legacy potential. Why not invest in that change right now?

Without any doubt we can do far better today. The science on that issue is clear. For what are we waiting?

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