Photo from flickr user Photos8.comEnlarge Photo
Some Republicans aren't fans of plug-in cars.
That much was clear from the official hearing of the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform into the NHTSA’s conduct during its investigation into Chevrolet Volt battery safety.
Now Congressman Dan Lungren (R-CA) has introduced a bill that would offer $1 billion in Federal prize money to the first U.S. car company that sells 60,000 mid-sized sedans that achieve 100 mpg.
Capitol HillEnlarge Photo
If the concept of offering a prize for a car that can get more than 100 mpg sounds familiar, you’re right. It is.
Back in 2007, the X Prize Foundation announced the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize -- a $10 million prize fund dedicated to help bring mass-market fuel-efficient vehicles to market.
In order to win, entrants had to prove their vehicles could achieve 100 mpg or equivalent, travel safely at highway speeds, and emit less than 200 grams of carbon dioxide per mile travelled.
The original idea had its merits, but by the time the Automotive X Prize was judged in 2010, the event had become a showcase for small-sized, unusual -- and sometimes controversial -- vehicles that left us asking who would really want to drive them.
Eighteen months after the competition ended, not a single vehicle from the Automotive X Prize has entered production.
But unlike that contest, Lungren’s legislation would release funds to the winner only after it had produced 60,000 eligible vehicles in the U.S. and delivered them to U.S. customers.
Essentially, that rules out startup automakers using the funds to develop a winning car.
The bill also requires the winning company to be "incorporated in the U.S.," apparently offering $1 billion only to the Detroit Three (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler).
Automotive X PRIZE Aptera 2eEnlarge Photo
H.R. 3872, otherwise known as the Excellence In energy Efficiency Act of 2012, is carefully worded to ensure that the prize fund is only awarded to an automaker that produces a mid-size sedan that has a gas mileage of 100 mpg or better.
That rules out all the subcompact and compact cars we’ve seen come to market high-gas mileage, small-capacity, four-cylinder turbocharged engines in the past year.
It also rules out pure plug-in cars like the Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus Electric, and Mitsubishi i, because they do not run on gasoline.
Although the bill doesn't appear to preclude electrification, we think any vehicle that can produce that level of efficiency in a mid-sized sedan almost certainly requires hybrid technology and other energy-recapture mechanisms.
In other words, we think it would be hard to make a winning car without using at least some elements of plug-in hybrid technology.
Today, we can’t think of a single car that even comes close to the requirements set out in Lungren’s bill.
But since the legislation proposes no time limit to the prize fund, it could be several years -- even decades -- before an automaker achieves the required criteria.
As political news site The Hill points out, the prize fund is a little like the 18th-century British prize fund that promised £20,000 to the first person to find a way of determining longitude at sea.
Originally set out in 1714, that prize remained unclaimed for 51 years.
If passed, we hope the same doesn’t remain true for H.R. 3872.