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Our Man in Paris @ The 2006 Challenge Bibendum - Chapter 2


challengebibendum.com

By Thom Cannell
Detroit Bureau
The Auto Channel

Arriving “au Paris,” a jet-lag nap was immediately called

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for, followed by a walk down the quai de Grenelle to the Tour Eiffel and obligatory tourist photos. What’s a trip to Paris without photos of its most famous landmark. On the way I can see quite clearly why the “A” sized cars considered too small for Americans (for now) are necessary. I literally saw one parking place before 5:30 PM and one thereafter. Parking in Paris makes parking in Manhattan seem a trivial task.

Dinner on Bateaux Mouches, a four bottle dinner that is impressive for

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the congestion of similar boat of every age, description and design motif. Appetizers and aperitif are served along with Isle Notre Dame, dinner is punctuated by the original statue of Liberty. Parisian’s line the stone banks, viewing and being viewed and our conversation turns to who is in charge, or not, at Ford, whether GM gets it, and nobody really brings up DaimlerChrysler at all.

At breakfast I meet Jim Cannon (www.energy-futures.com,) an environmentalist who views the whole automotive industry from a different perspective. For him the fact hybrids claim 1% of the US market and are approaching 2% is remarkable. We talk about how, though predictable in the abstract, the increase in fuel price slammed American producers (and customers) dependent on heavy pickups and SUVs, and even Lexus with its decision to make Lexus SUVs and cars more powerful as hybrids, not more economical as it did with Toyota. As the saying goes, timing is everything.

We board busses for a journey to the test track CERAM (Montefontaine Automobile Test and Research Center) which is deeper in the woods than easily believed. If you think test tracks are as easy to find as Daytona or Charlotte Motor Speedway, think Pocono or Mid-Ohio. It is far off the beaten path.

Immediately on entry we spy some of the goofy (to Americans) vehicle that seem to make little sense.

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Making more sense is the fact that the French-speaking legislators who greet us and make the speeches have their remarks translated into English, Chinese, and Japanese. No German or Spanish… European Union countries are also vitally interested in the environment, clean air, and getting more miles per gallon with greater passenger and pedestrian safety.

The fun is on the track and the Learning Center where bio-fuels are a very hot topic. It seems the US is not the only country concerned about energy independence or at least lesser dependence on petroleum fuels. Producing liquid fuels from biomass Is The Next Big Thing. Whether Gas To Liquid or Biomass To Liquid, expect (soon) that 20% of your fuel will come from biomass. Even biogas from sewage and other “green” waste that can be decomposed and rotted. How cool is it that your local sewage treatment facility could become a local governmental profit center? Or that polluting dairy farms and other feed lots for cattle and chickens could change pollution into Pesetas, dollars or Euros.

Of course I drove some of the goofy cars, like the 1-liter car

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and fashion house Courrges EXE and Zooop (red tires, yellow dome) for great fun. And I spoke to those utilizing GTL fuels in Audis, others discovering ways to bring diesel engines into conformity with stringent US Tier 2 Bin 5 emissions laws. Diesels are coming, perhaps in five years, perhaps in as little as two, and not just in Mercedes or Jeep Grand Cherokee. I also got sunburnt, it is after all, Springtime in Paris.