Thursday, November 20, 2008

Did Al Gore Almost Save the Automobile Industry?

The automobile industry is on the ropes, dying a death of 1000 cuts, most of them self-inflicted. Virtually everybody knows about the stubborn reliance on SUVs and other gas hogs, as well as the foray into non-automobile finance. I heard an interview with Dan Becker, the director of the Safe Climate Campaign, described another angle that in my ignorance I had not heard before.

I contacted Dan for some more information. What follows are my rough notes from my phone conversation regarding The Partnership for New Generation of Vehicles:

Vice President Al Gore told the Big Three that he wanted them to develop a sedan-size car that could get 80 miles a gallon. What is surprising is that they complied. Each one produced a prototype -- a single prototype and then left the project to die. What was striking about Dan's presentation was that the prototypes seem to have been relatively solid.

Word of Detroit's success helped to spark Japanese interest in developing something similar. Coming from an island far from its oil supplies, MITI was interested in transportation alternatives. Of course, California's requirement for zero emission vehicles (which my neighbor was instrumental in squashing) also played a role in interesting the Japanese, but the Gore angle and the successful prototypes were new to me.

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