US Government praises new fuel-efficient car

US Energy Secretary Bill Richardson has congratulated DaimlerChrysler on the launch of its latest, ultra fuel-efficient hybrid car.

DaimlerChrysler’s Dodge ESX3 concept car is the third car to be produced by the company under the US Government’s Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) programme. The Partnership enables participating carmakers to work with the US Government’s National Laboratories to develop new environmentally-friendly vehicles.

DaimlerChrysler’s ESX3 uses a hybrid diesel/electric engine, efficient gearbox and lightweight materials to provide high mileage and low emissions.

“We have made great progress during the six years of the PNGV partnership. I look forward to continuing our work with auto manufacturers to get higher mileage vehicles in the showrooms and on the roads,” said Richardson.

Although the ESX3 is cheaper than its predecessors, the Dodge Intrepid ESX and the ESX2, the new car is still $7,500 more expensive than a comparable petrol-fueled car. 1998’s ESX2 cost $15,000 more and the ESX (1996) was $60,000 more.

The cost of fuel-efficient technology remains a hurdle in bringing hybrid propulsion systems to the US market in significant numbers, especially while US petrol prices remain low. Meanwhile minivans, pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles (SUVs)- all ‘gas guzzlers’ – continue to gain popularity among US consumers.

“Our challenge is to continue to find innovative ways to improve the fuel efficiency of all our vehicles and pass the fuel savings on to our customers at little or no additional cost,” Tom Gale, DaimlerChrysler’s Executive Vice President of Product Development and Design said in a statement. “We’re excited about our joint efforts to meet these goals through PNGV.”

The progress in fuel efficiency and cost stem from several improvements in technology: the ESX3’s is a mild hybrid electric car (known by its developers as a ‘mybrid’) and combines a diesel engine with an electric motor and a lithium-ion battery. The car also includes an extra-efficient gearbox and a lightweight body.

These features allow the car to achieve an average fuel efficiency of 72 miles per gallon (3.3 l/100 km) gasoline equivalent. This is two miles per gallon better than the fuel efficiency of the ESX2 in 1998, and close to the PNGV goal of 80 mpg (2.9 l/100 km). The vehicle is more than 80 percent recyclable.

If proposed tax incentives are implemented, DaimlerChrysler says it could offer an affordable hybrid to consumers within three years.

  • Taxicab companies are turning to alternative fuel vehicles in increasing numbers as environmental regulations and new state and federal incentives increase, according to Ford.

    For example, a taxicab company in California has switched its entire 104 vehicle fleet to natural gas vehicles (NGVs). Because natural gas reduces vehicle emissions by about 90 percent compared to gasoline vehicles, the replacement of American Livery’s fleet with 104 natural gas taxis will reduce air pollution by more than 73 tons a year in the Orange County/Los Angeles area, Ford say.

    “More and more of our customers are telling us they are switching to alternative fuel vehicles because they want to be seen as part of the solution to addressing tough environmental problems,” said Ron Robbins, Executive Director of Ford’s North American Fleet, Lease and Remarketing Operations. “In addition, incentives and lower fuel costs can make natural gas vehicles less expensive to operate than gasoline vehicles.”

    Natural gas can also save on maintenance costs because it burns cleaner than gasoline. A DoE study of the Washington, DC area Barwood Cab Company, found a reduction in annual maintenance cost per vehicle of over $1,300.

    Ford says taxicab companies and local authorities in Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, New Jersey and Toronto, Canada have switched to natural gas cars.

    A driving factor in this expanision is the increasing availability of incentives, rebates and tax credits. Ford lists around a dozen state, federal and even fuel organisations providing such incentives for the purchase of environmentally friendly vehicles.

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