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Pay no attention to the cars behind the curtain

01/27/2010
Nissan Leaf charging

Nissan Leaf charging

The D.C. Auto Show public policy preview day was yesterday, and the message was clearly “change.” A cycle of press conferences highlighted some of the cool, innovative things that automakers will be bringing to the vehicle market – much of it will hit the streets later this year.

And while it was certainly easy to stand on the Advanced Technology Superhighway and see glimpses of the future of cars, it felt like a diversionary tactic. Look at the most advanced technology, but pay no attention to the rest of the auto show stretching behind you with cars, trucks and SUVs that all looked pretty much the same.

While it’s still unclear whether this is an indication of a lasting change for the industry, there was certainly a different feel to the presentations. Ford’s Alan Mulally focused on the Transit Connect – a cargo van option that the company intends to build in an electric version – and the Ford Fusion Hybrid, which he boasted gets 41 miles per gallon in the city, beating out the Toyota Camry Hybrid. It was disappointing to hear him follow this up with a reference to fossil fuel pools that were difficult to reach and extract.

While we wait for a final determination on the standards for fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards, due Mar. 30, 2010, the biggest unanswered questions are about how the agencies will treat these emerging electric cars. Nissan handed out flyers with stats about its all-electric car that boasted there were zero emissions. But the fine print said, “From the car,” reminding us that it’s still an open question how upstream emissions from electricity generation. Public Citizen urged that EPA count upstream emissions from electric vehicles, preferably on a regional basis to reflect different emissions from electric power across the country.

Lena Pons is a transportation policy analyst for Public Citizen.

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