Clean Cars Star at Executive Office Building

Enviros, Industry Share the Stage at White House Event on Advanced Vehicles

For clean car advocates and auto industry innovators, it was the hottest ticket in town: An invite-only event called “Advanced Vehicles: Driving Growth” at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, sponsored by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

Over 100 industry insiders and policy experts attended on June 27th, and the public was invited to participate via live web stream. Panelists included auto manufacturers, suppliers, environmental advocates, educators, and White House officials.

The event focused on the innovation, jobs growth, and environmental progress being driven by new and proposed requirements to raise U.S. fuel economy and vehicle emissions standards. The Obama Administration’s proposed rules, expected to become final later this summer will bring overall U.S. fuel economy up to 54.5 mpg by 2025.

“Our goal should be to have mobility while preserving the natural world; I think we can meet that goal,” said NRDC Senior Vehicles Analyst Luke Tonachel, who spoke on the opening panel. A number of speakers noted the wide range of fuel-efficient vehicles now available to consumers. “We’re living at a time when you can buy the best cars ever made,” said Tim Warman, Executive Director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Global Warming Program.

Several speakers pointed out that the ambitious 54.5 mpg goal can be met with currently existing technologies; more than 80% of vehicles on the road by 2025 are expected to still be powered by conventional – but much more efficient – internal combustion engines. Others also noted the wide array of research and development underway on hydrogen fuel cells, compressed natural gas vehicles, cellulosic ethanol and other low or no emission technologies.

While there’s no way of knowing which technology might come to market in a form that’s affordable to consumers, Atul Kapadia, CEO of battery materials-maker Envia, insisted that public investment in education, R&D, and cutting edge technology is an essential step towards private sector economic growth and job creation.

The Human Genome project, he pointed out, started with a few billion in government investment, and has now “created $796 billion in economic activity in the last 15 or 20 years, and 310,000 jobs just 2010.” Similar investments in energy will also pay off, he said. Next time we meet, he said, “we’ll be discussing how many electric cars are on the road and how much oil we’ve saved.” Kapadia’s firm is working to enhance the storage capacity of lithium ion batteries. With increased range and reduced cost, he predicts, electric vehicles will become a mass market product.

Mike Gammella, president of UAW Local 1250, pointed to the EcoBoost engine he and his co-workers produce at Ford Motor Company’s Cleveland, Ohio plant. “it’s 20 per cent more fuel efficient,” he said, “with 20 percent less emissions.” The EcoBoost, now available in a range of Ford products, is a key element in the company’s strategy to meet rising fuel efficiency requirements.

Several speakers talked about industry, government and academic partnerships to train workers to be prepared for jobs in a rapidly changing industry. Training is only part of the equation, Gammella said. “When we train people, we have to have a job for them; otherwise, we’ve just wasted our money.”

“There’s a whole lot of people who don’t have hope in this country,” said Gammella. “We have to bring it back, we have to manufacture and produce here. We have to be a leader, not just here, but in the entire world.”

The U.S. auto industry, nearly left for dead a few years ago, is doing exactly that, with the push towards fuel efficiency leading a renewal that is bringing product, paychecks – and hope – back into American factories and showrooms. Overall, the industry has added over 200,000 jobs in the past three years.

A study released this week by the BlueGreen Alliance, confirming earlier research by CERES, estimates that more than half a million new auto jobs will be created by 2030 as a result of higher fuel economy standards. Jobs will be created due to research, design and production of more fuel-efficient vehicles and their components, and also because consumers will have extra spending power due to enormous savings at the pump – as much as $8,000 over the life of a typical vehicle compared to today.

Note: It’s a happy coincidence that the White House used the same name for the June 27th event ‚Äì Driving Growth ‚Äì as we are using for this website, which has been in the planning stages for months. NRDC, the Center for American Progress and the United Auto Workers also used the phrase in a March, 2010 report called Driving Growth: How Clean Cars and Climate Policy Can Create Jobs.

We’re happy to share the name ‚Äì so long as people keep getting hired, and cars keep getting cleaner.

Roger Kerson is a Michigan-based media consultant for labor unions and environmental organizations. He was formerly the director of public relations at the United Auto Workers.


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