Read Full Report

Date: April 29, 1999
Contacts: Bob Ludwig, Media Relations Associate
Dumi Ndlovu, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <>


Tougher Emissions Standards Proposed by Government
May Hinder Research to Develop Fuel-Efficient Cars

WASHINGTON -- Increasingly tougher environmental standards being proposed by state and federal governments could jeopardize research efforts of the public-private program to create a highly fuel-efficient, affordable car, says a new report from a committee of the National Research Council. The program has made considerable progress in developing new automotive technologies and is only one year away from introducing its first concept vehicles. The report calls on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be directly involved in assessing advanced engines and new fuels in conjunction with emissions based on the newly proposed standards.

"It is important that EPA start to consider automotive emissions and fuel economy as a total systems problem," said committee chair Trevor O. Jones, chairman and chief executive officer of Biomec Inc., Cleveland, "particularly in light of the potential impact of non-regulated emissions on global warming."

The Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) is an alliance of U.S. government agencies and the United States Council for Automotive Research (USCAR), whose members are the country's three major automakers -- DaimlerChrysler, Ford, and General Motors. PNGV was formed in 1994 to develop a midsize vehicle by 2004 with a fuel economy of up to 80 miles per gallon -- three times more efficient than today's vehicles -- while meeting or exceeding government safety and emission requirements.

More-stringent clean air standards for engine emissions in California -- and those expected to be proposed by EPA for nitrogen oxides and particulate matter -- have placed significant burdens on PNGV's work toward technological breakthroughs. Changing standards within such a short time frame disrupts ongoing research, the report says. The federal government should review how future emission requirements will affect automotive technologies, and develop a plan that responds to its findings.
These activities come at a time when the program is making the most progress in its history, the report notes. The USCAR partners have increased their individual work toward building concept vehicles and each has formed impressive vehicle development teams. These separate efforts have taken place since PNGV reached its first major milestone in 1997 when it targeted certain advanced technologies for a hybrid-electric vehicle -- an electric car that also has a small power plant such as a diesel or gasoline engine, or fuel cell. This type of vehicle requires complex and costly energy conversion systems, batteries, and structural materials. The committee cautioned that the cost of producing a hybrid vehicle should be constantly evaluated.

Accomplishments in the most promising energy conversion technology -- the compression-ignition direct-injection engine, commonly known as the diesel engine -- include the development of an advanced fuel-injection system that controls a wide range of performance factors while reducing particulate emissions and exhaust gases. Meeting emissions standards is the most difficult challenge for the diesel engine and may require further advancements in the technology.

Although major obstacles still exist in developing a practical automotive fuel-cell system to power an automobile, the committee reported significant progress. In the past year, a carbon monoxide cleanup system has demonstrated good results for fuel processors that convert gasoline to hydrogen for use by the fuel cell. Jones added, "The fuel cell will become a major automotive energy converter because it has high fuel economy and emits substantially lower emissions. To obtain the benefits of fuel cells at the earliest practical time, it is essential that government invest considerably more funds in the program."

Electrochemical battery technology remains the most promising for energy storage, the committee said. Energy and power goals appear to be obtainable with lithium-ion batteries, but meeting performance and product life-expectancy targets is questionable. PNGV also needs to determine which technology offers the best prospects for meeting cost targets.

While aluminum continues to be the preferred body material, the report says, a combination of carbon fiber-reinforced plastic and aluminum is substantially lighter than a steel structure. This reinforced plastic has impressive possibilities, but its high cost and lengthy production time are barriers to its adoption.

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 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: Fifth Report for 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 site or 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).

Commission on Engineering and Technical Systems
Board on Energy and Environmental Systems
Transportation Research Board

Standing Committee to Review the Research Program of the
Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (Phase 5)

Trevor O. Jones* (chair)
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Biomec Inc.

Alexis T. Bell*
Professor of Chemical Engineering, and
Dean, College of Chemistry
University of California

Harry E. Cook*
C.J. Gauthier Professor of Mechanical
and Industrial Engineering
University of Illinois

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

Norman A. Gjostein*
Clinical Professor of Engineering
University of Michigan

David F. Hagen
Engineering Society of Detroit
Dearborn, Mich.

John Heywood*
Sun Jae Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and
Director, Sloan Automotive Laboratory
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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

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

Harold H. Kung
Professor of Chemical Engineering, and
Director, Center for Catalysis and Surface Science
Northwestern University
Evanston, Ill.

Craig Marks*
Adjunct Professor
College of Engineering and School of Business Administration, and
Co-Director, Joel D. Tauber Manufacturing Institute
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor

John Newman*
Professor of Chemical Engineering
University of California

Jerome G. Rivard*
Global Technology and Business Development
Harrison Township, Mich.

Vernon P. Roan
Center for Advanced Studies in Engineering
University of Florida
Palm Beach Gardens


James Zucchetto
Study Director and Board Director

*Member, National Academy of Engineering