Forcing Detroit to build plug-in hybrids

Earth2Tech‘s Kevin Kelleher, in discussing the notion of a “‘Manhattan Project’ for Detroit” of open source, cross-company R&D, wrote this amusing, taut lede:

“If we are lucky, we will come out with a bill next week that nobody likes.”

With those words, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chair of the House Financial Services Committee, wrapped up two days of testimony from auto executives intended to be something like a truth commission for the incompetent but ending up more like sado-masochism in bespoke suits. It leaves one wondering what happens if we aren’t lucky – and generally not looking forward to this week.

Obama indicated in his Meet the Press appearance Sunday that any bailout for Detroit would include strict requirements about what sort of vehicles they should be producing. I hope that’s the case. I would have no problem giving the Big Three $25 billion dollars just to jump-start the entire country into driving plug-in hybrids. We’re already spending cash we don’t have — we might as well just switch our transit infrastructure over to electric now and figure out how to pay for it later. (It’s better than giving them billions and then watching them make more SUVs.)

What About a “Manhattan Project” for Detroit? [Earth2Tech]

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10 Responses to Forcing Detroit to build plug-in hybrids

  1. kpkpkp says:

    Step 1:
    General Electric takes over General Motors: The result, General Electric Motors, or GEM

    Step 2:
    Mandatory plug-in hybrids production as part of the bailout / takeover terms.

    Step 3:
    Install Hyperion small modular power reactors (or similar) on a massive scale.

    Result: U.S. off of foreign oil by 2020.

  2. zuzu says:

    It’s relatively straight-forward to convert gasoline combusting vehicles into natural gas (i.e. methane) combusting ones — which is both less expensive and less polluting.

    (We also need to save the oil for other petrochemical products such as plastics.)

    Furthermore, there’s plenty of energy available from wind, solar thermal, and hot dry rock geothermal, except that the transmission lines infrastructure (i.e. power grid) is as decrepit or worse than the telecommunications infrastructure. It’s mostly a spoke-and-hub centrally managed mess, totally unequipped for either distributed generation or for getting windpower from the midwest and solar thermal from the southwest to the coastal cities where it’s most consumed.

  3. g.park says:

    A noble idea, to be sure, but I have two concerns:
    1.) One often does not rise to the highest levels of American economic power (like being, say, the CEO of Ford) only on the strength of good ideas and hard work. One gets there by exploiting the rules of the game. These men will find away to turn this bailout into a personal profit. No amount of oversight can prevent this, because these men are masters of beating systems. They have entire staffs (often called “Accounting”) to help them do this.
    2.) Plug-in hybrids would be fantastic, but that electricity has to come from somewhere- increased usage of electricity results in an increase in whatever pollutants the generation of that electricity produces. Unless it’s coming from clean fuel sources, we’re just shifting the carbon burden around- robbing Peter to pay Paul. Any large-scale investment into electric cars needs to be matched by a large-scale investment in a clean electricity infrastructure.

  4. aandnota says:

    joel, is ruby a hybird? she looks, from the few pictures you’ve posted, to be a rather ordinary fossil fuel burning beamer.

  5. zuzu says:

    Tom Brokaw is a coward for not asking Obama the obvious question of whether the President-elect was supporting the bailout, at least in part, to patronize the UAW (which presumably supports the Democratic Party, of which Obama is a member).

    Bankruptcy for Ford, GM, and Chrysler are the most logical solutions, in part because it frees them from crushing UAW obligations.

    It’s not like Toyota and Honda wouldn’t just buy up most of their factories and workers if the “big 3″ were to dissolve as corporate entities.

  6. Garr says:

    I’m not a U.S. citizen, so strictly this is non of my concern, but I’d like to quickly add 2 cents worth of a comment:

    It’s better than giving them billions and then watching them make more SUVs.

    The problem is not what the carmakers build, but what the American customer demands. This is not an issue that can completely be laid at the car manufacturers feet.

  7. Secret_Life_of_Plants says:

    Why is there a flash Zune ad for this article’s picture?

  8. acb says:

    There seems to be no talk of investment in subways or passenger rail, which would be an obvious way of reducing oil dependency. America had a comprehensive passenger rail network half a century ago, but it has since run down, while tramway and commuter rail systems were torn up. Building subways or tramways connecting car-dependent suburbs to facilities would take cars off the road more cheaply than giving everyone an electric car and the charging points to run it. Meanwhile, long-distance rail projects would replace some flights, as already happens in the Acela corridor and will happen in California in a decade or two. Replacing flights would be a big win, because, unlike cars, no-one has designed efficient load-carrying aircraft that run on electricity. (Batteries are too heavy, and onboard nuclear reactors are just a bad idea.) Has the government forgotten about rail?

  9. dculberson says:

    G.Park, “that electricity has to come from somewhere.”

    You’re absolutely right, and most of the electricity in my area is generated with coal. However, I believe that emissions by even a coal plant are cleaner than the average car, on a per-watt basis. (Even a gasoline engine can be rated in watts.)

    But more important is that it would allow cars to begin the transition to being powered by, say, wind rather than gasoline. If the cars being made are still all gasoline powered, then there’s no way to make the switch to wind power. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem. Hopefully we will see a big boost to the amount of “clean” electricity available, but I believe that even without that, electric cars are a cleaner solution than gasoline cars.

  10. dculberson says:

    Hopefully it will result in them building cars that people will buy. (Plug in hybrids would be great, as long as they sell.) Otherwise they won’t be building cars for long.

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