The Automotive Marketplace Can't "Choose the Alt Power Winner" When There Are No Choices


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How great will it be for tomorrow's car buyer to be able to match the technology of their new vehicle with their needs and desires: Short distance commuters might choose an all electric mid speed sedan; a California long distance commuter might choose a fuel cell hybrid; a rancher in Wyoming might choose a clean diesel powered hybrid; T.Boone might pick a CNG powered limo…

We Need A SUPER SHOOTOUT - To Help Choose Which Alt Fuel Will Be The Winner

Originally Published December 4, 2008

By Bob Gordon
President and Co-publisher
The Auto Channel

Washington DC - December 4, 2008: As I sit reflecting on my past two days attending the EDTA (Electric Drive Transportation Association) annual meeting here in Washington DC, two things stand out:

First: Lithium Ion Batteries are ready for prime time.
Every presentation concerning the technology of the Li battery was very matter of fact about its long life (over 10 years) and its tested equivalent of 150,000 miles. Many manufacturers said that they have already solved the heat problem and that they are ready to go.

The pioneers of modern electric powered vehicles have done their jobs well and are now ready to hand the future of clean, sustainable, politically correct and logical personal transportation over to production and marketing...but two problems were stated over and over again… price in volume, and that there is nowhere in the North America that can produce the massive number of batteries that the auto manufacturers will need to meet the demand of the car buyers. In short, our future is all dressed up and has nowhere to go.

Second: Congress Fiddles While Our Home Burns
Government could and should be the catalyst to make sustainable Electric Cars and other meaningful sustainable technologies happen quickly. Instead, they seem to be too concerned with being accused of “picking the winning technology;” a technology that will eliminate our need for foreign oil (and all that that entails), clean up the air we breathe and help eliminate global warming, and energize the economy. But from what I was told, Congress is convinced that only the "marketplace" can or should pick our future's winning sustainable automobile technology.

Huh?

Hey boys and girls in our government…THE MARKETPLACE HAS NO CHOICE NOW!, and choice is what we need, you (us) can help the U.S. auto industry provide consumers choice, good choices, and if you do, you can change the dynamics of our economy forever…talk about your name in history books, wow!

How can this happen, you might ask? Well first let’s go back to the happy days of the auto industry here in North America… when a consumer needed to buy a new car they went into their local friendly dealer, you know him… he‘s the guy you see at church or at the supermarket, yeah the guy who sponsored the little league team your kid played on and who opened his showroom at night so the Red Cross could use it to teach basic first aid… you know the guy...sorry back to cars.

Back then kiddies, when you bought a new car you would first need to spec out your CHOICES: which engine, tire size, rear axle ratio; you decided if you really needed a heater or an air conditioner or a radio or carpeting or two tone paint or an automatic transmission instead of the standard three speed. You and a knowledgeable salesperson, together, designed the car that you wanted to buy, agreed on a price and then ORDERED IT. Yes, that's right, you ORDERED the car. Before JIT production, computers on the assembly line, robots, and robot robots, before all this high tech stuff ever happened, back then you bought a car that was MADE FOR YOU!, and made the way that met your driving needs and pocketbook. Although it might take 6 or 8 weeks to get, it was your car.

So what happened to change this here in the U.S., two words: Japan and stupid big three management (five words actually). The Japanese took a cue from a famous American auto pioneer and built cars the way they wanted and needed to ("You can have any color as long as its black," said Mr. Ford). Toyoda, Datsun and Honda shipped little white cars over by the boatload, put them on the dealers lot, gave the buyers no choice (because they were just too far away from our market and very few buyers would or could wait 6 months for their new car) and then sold the heck out of them… and changed the way they sell and we buy cars.

The American manufacturers had a built-in home team advantage that they stupidly gave up, instead of marketing their cars as “built for the buyer”. With many false justifications the smart guys in Detroit emulated the Japanese, even though they didn’t or shouldn't have too… and the rest is history.

But that was then and this is now. Where is this all going? What does one thing have to do with another? Can we kill many birds with one stone? You bettcha, here’s how:

A SUPER SHOOTOUT - Just like they do when buying and committing to new military gear
The U.S. Government should mandate that all of the bureaucrats who manage automobile and truck fleets get together and then have each CHOOSE which advanced sustainable technology that their department will utilize in their fleets. They can choose from a laundry list of technologies that are ready or almost ready to go. (These new technologies may need an added push of dollars to get there more quickly, but hey our country’s future and our planet’s health depends on it)

Each agency commits to their chosen technology for a period of time and number of purchase cycles, thereby allowing manufacturers to manufacture the new choices in a sensible volume. This would bring prices down and provide real-time, real world data that will help consumers make their own choices.

How great will it be for tomorrow's car buyer to be able to match the technology of their new vehicle with their needs and desires: Short distance commuters might choose an all electric mid speed sedan; a California long distance commuter might choose a fuel cell hybrid; a rancher in Wyoming might choose a clean diesel powered hybrid; T.Boone might pick a CNG powered limo… I hope you see where this is going.

Today‘s high tech flexible manufacturing systems will allow car makers here in North America to custom build cars right here in the good ol’ USA and deliver them faster and cheaper than a builder 6000 miles away from the market. All car makers will see the benefits of producing here and employ Americans, benefiting us on many levels from our simple solution.

Yes, let the market choose, but first give it real choices.

January 2010 Video from Argonne National Lab.

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