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Date: April 15, 1998
Contacts: Molly Galvin, Media Relations Associate
David Schneier, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <>


Publication Announcement

Affordability and Emission Controls Are Key
in Developing Fuel-Saving Vehicles

The federal government has long recognized the need for more fuel-efficient vehicles. To that end, the government and domestic automakers -- Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors -- formed a partnership four years ago to develop an affordable, mid-size vehicle that could get up to 80 miles a gallon while meeting prevailing emission standards. The goal of this alliance is for each of the automakers to be able to use technologies developed in the program to build their own concept vehicles by the year 2000, and production prototypes by 2004.

After evaluating hundreds of technologies, the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) reached its first major milestone last year by selecting the technologies that show the most promise for meeting the program's goals and deadlines. The hybrid-electric vehicle -- an electric car that also has a small diesel engine -- is a front-runner because it has the potential to achieve up to 80 miles a gallon.

But a major stumbling block may lie in the vehicle's affordability and its ability to meet emissions standards, said a committee of the National Research Council in a new report, the latest in a series of annual reviews of the program. Although the hybrid-electric vehicle is technologically advanced and could meet many of the program's goals, these types of cars might be too expensive to compete in the U.S. market. In addition, major technological advances will be needed to control engine emissions.

Hybrid-electric vehicles would require complex and costly battery, power-conversion, and electronic-control systems. Because they would make the vehicle more expensive, money saved on fuel could fall far short of offsetting the higher purchase prices, the report says. Owners also might spend more on maintenance because the systems are more complex.

PNGV should continue to analyze costs and, if warranted, the program should be expanded to include the development of lightweight, conventional vehicles, the committee said. Built with advanced diesel engines and many other technologies developed in the program, these vehicles could reach up to 60 miles a gallon and would cost about the same to manufacture and maintain as today's automobiles. Improved engine-emission control systems also would be needed to meet program goals.

Concept Vehicles

The initial concept vehicles, scheduled for development by 2000, will most likely include a compression-ignition, direct-injection diesel engine, along with a lightweight body, an advanced electro-chemical energy storage system, and an electric drive. Although the diesel engine is the most advanced of the primary power-source technologies considered, the committee said, significant technological developments still are needed to reduce emissions. More funds should be devoted to developing advanced engine emission-control systems to meet strict emissions standards, and suppliers of these systems should be more involved in the program. In addition, PNGV should continue to evaluate other types of internal-combustion engines, such as the gasoline direct-injection engine, to determine whether they could meet the emission requirements while being fuel-efficient and affordable.

The partnership also should continue to examine the types of fuels that will be needed and whether they can be readily supplied and distributed, the report says. To meet emissions standards, any type of engine developed through the program could require fuels that are lower in sulfur content. If the chosen fuels are significantly different from those already in use, the projected costs for fuel production and distribution should be determined early in the development process. The oil industry should cooperate more closely with the program in analyzing and developing new fuels, the committee said. Fuels that are not widely available could greatly delay the introduction of the PNGV vehicles on the market.

PNGV should evaluate whether technologies under development can be transferred to sport utility vehicles, minivans, and light trucks, which make up almost 50 percent of sales in the U.S. automotive market today, the committee said. Whenever possible, the program should begin strategies for transferring technological advances to these types of vehicles, which need to be included to make an impact on U.S. fuel consumption.

Long-Term Research

Funding for research on fuel cells -- which have the best potential for being highly energy efficient with near zero emissions -- should continue at present levels or be increased, the committee said. Fuel cells already are being developed in Japan and Europe and could become critical for maintaining U.S. competitiveness. Research is needed on reducing the substantially higher projected costs of fuel cells. In addition, the federal government should take the lead in identifying and developing other longer range, higher risk, potentially useful technologies that may not be ready for use in the initial PNGV concept cars and production prototypes.

The study was funded by the U.S. departments of Commerce, Energy, and Transportation. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, non-profit institution that provides independent advice on science and technology issues under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.

Read the full text of Review of the Research Program of the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles: Fourth Reportfor free on the Web, as well as more than 1,800 other publications from the National Academies. Printed copies are available for purchase from the National Academy Press Web siteor at the mailing address in the letterhead; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information at the letterhead address (contacts listed above).

National Research Council
Commission on Engineering and Technical Systems
Board on Energy and Environmental Systems

Standing Committee to Review the Research Program of the
Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles

Trevor O. Jones (1) (chair)
Vice Chairman of the Board
Echlin Inc.

Harry E. Cook(1)
C.J. Gauthier Professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, and
Director, Manufacturing Research Center
University of Illinois

R. Gary Diaz
Group Vice President and Chief Technical Officer
Navistar International Transportation Corporation
Fort Wayne, Ind.

David E. Foster
Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Director, Engine Research Center
University of Wisconsin

David F. Hagen
Engineering Society of Detroit

Harold H.C. Kung
Professor of Chemical Engineering
Northwestern University
Evanston, Ill.

Simone Hochgreb
Associate Professor
Department of Mechanical Engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Fritz Kalhammer
Part-time Coordinator
Strategic Science and Technology Group
Electric Power Research Institute
Palo Alto, Calif.

John G. Kassakian(1)
Professor of Electrical Engineering, and Director, Laboratory for Electromagnetic and Electronic Systems
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Craig Marks(1)
Creative Management Solutions, and
Adjunct Professor
College of Engineering and School of Business Administration
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor

John S. Newman
Professor of Chemical Engineering
University of California

Jerome G. Rivard(1)
Global Technology and Business Development
Harrison Township, Mich.

Vernon P. Roan
Director, Center for Advanced Studies in Engineering, and Professor of Mechanical Engineering
University of Florida
Palm Beach Gardens

Supramaniam Srinivasan
Visiting Scientist
Center for Environmental Studies
Princeton University
Princeton, N.J.

F. Blake Wallace
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (retired)
Allison Engine Co.


James Zucchetto, Board Director

(1) Member, National Academy of Engineering