Date: June 15, 2000
Contacts: Bob Ludwig, Media Relations Associate
Kathi McMullin, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <>


Fuel Economy, Cost May Be Compromised
To Meet Tougher Emission Standards in Next-Generation Cars

WASHINGTON -- A public-private partnership to create a highly fuel-efficient car reached a major milestone earlier this year with the unveiling of concept vehicles, but the ability to meet both fuel-economy objectives and emission standards by a 2004 deadline remains a monumental challenge, says a new report from the National Academies' National Research Council.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's new emissions standards for vehicle exhaust, which will be phased in beginning in 2004, are significantly more stringent than those that were in place when the public-private program, called the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV), was initiated six years ago. All of the demonstrated concept vehicles -- DaimlerChrysler's ESX3, Ford's Prodigy, and GM's Precept -- use hybrid electric technology, which incorporates electric power from a battery with a small diesel engine. While the concept vehicles can achieve a fuel economy in the range of 70 to 80 miles per gallon, none meet the new emission standards.

"Though confronted with enormous technological problems, PNGV has made significant progress in meeting its objectives, and reaching the 2000 milestone represents an outstanding effort," said Trevor O. Jones, chair of the committee that wrote the report and chairman and chief executive officer of Biomec Inc., Cleveland. "As the program moves toward the 2004 deadline to introduce production prototype vehicles, major attention will need to be devoted to meeting the new emissions standards while simultaneously attaining cost and fuel economy objectives, which continue to elude PNGV engineers."

In the committee's judgment, EPA's "Tier 2" standards for nitrogen oxides and particulate matter will delay the use of the diesel engine -- and its significant fuel-economy benefit -- until systems can be developed that meet the new standards. PNGV also may have to shift its attention to other internal combustion engine designs with greater potential for extremely low emissions and high fuel efficiency.

The partnership should develop models that can predict the type and amount of emissions for a variety of engines and exhaust treatment systems in different versions of hybrid electric vehicles, the report says. These efforts will assist researchers in evaluating the feasibility of meeting the Tier 2 standards and provide data that could then be used to establish an appropriate plan for the next phase of the program.

Currently, fuel cells -- an alternative power source -- have the greatest potential to meet emissions standards and energy-efficiency requirements. All of the vehicle manufacturers are building concept vehicles powered by fuel cells that are estimated to get up to an equivalent of 100 mpg. Though notable progress has been made, the automotive fuel cell remains a long-range development facing significant hurdles, including the need to substantially reduce costs, which are running about five times higher than the program projected. The fuel cells are targeted for production automobiles sometime after 2004 by some vehicle builders.

New types of fuel and the infrastructure of refineries, distribution systems, and service stations are extremely important considerations in developing both internal combustion engines and fuel cells. The committee recommends that PNGV and the petroleum industry more fully address fuel issues and strengthen their cooperative programs.

As the program moves closer to commercially viable vehicles, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration should support major safety studies to determine how lightweight cars perform in collisions with heavier vehicles, the report says. These activities are critically important because PNGV vehicles, although similar in size to today's vehicles, will weigh much less with lighter bodies, frames, interior components, and window glass.

Although substantial accomplishments have been made, high cost is a serious problem in almost every area of the PNGV program, the committee said. The costs of most components of the concept vehicles are higher than their target values. For example, research continues to be conducted on aluminum and other composite materials for use in major vehicle components, but costs still are not competitive with steel. Battery costs are at least three times greater than the program's target. And DaimlerChrysler has estimated that its ESX3 concept vehicle would cost $7,500 more than a traditional vehicle in its class.

Given the complexity of the assignment and the tight timeline, the committee lauded PNGV's technical teams for their overall achievements and effectiveness in meeting project goals and their ability to develop solid industry-government-academia working relationships despite their competitive positions. And while the individual car manufacturers took different approaches in building their concept vehicles, all have made significant contributions and benefited by using technologies developed through the collaborative program. Further, many of the technologies -- such as lightweight body materials -- are being incorporated into vehicles that are in production today.

The Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles is an alliance of U.S. government agencies and the U.S. Council for Automotive Research (USCAR), whose members are the country's three major automakers – DaimlerChrysler, Ford, and General Motors. PNGV was formed in late 1993 to develop an affordable midsize vehicle by 2004 with a fuel economy of up to 80 mpg -- three times more efficient than today's vehicles -- while meeting or exceeding government safety and emission requirements. Since 1994, the Research Council has conducted annual reviews of the program's goals and progress at the request of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The study was sponsored by the U.S. departments of Commerce, Energy, and Transportation. The Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit 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 – Sixth 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

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

Craig Marks* (vice chair)
Creative Management Solutions
Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

William Agnew*
Programs and Plans
General Motors Research Laboratories (retired)
Washington, Mich.

Alexis T. Bell*
Department of Chemical Engineering
University of California

W. Robert Epperly
Epperly Associates Inc.
Mountain View, Calif.

David E. Foster
Department of Mechanical Engineering
University of Wisconsin

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

David F. Hagen
General Manager of Alpha Simultaneous Engineering
Ford Technical Affairs
Ford Motor Co. (retired)
Dearborn, Mich.

John B. Heywood*
Sun Jae Professor of Mechanical Engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Fritz Kalhammer
Strategic Science and Technology, and Transportation Groups, and
Former Vice President
Strategic Research and Development
Electric Power Research Institute
Palo Alto, Calif.

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

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

John Scott Newman*
Department of Chemical Engineering
University of California

Roberta Nichols*
Electric Vehicles External Strategy and Planning Department
Ford Motor Co. (retired)
Plymouth, Mich.

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


James Zucchetto
Director, Board on Energy and Environmental Systems

* Member, National Academy of Engineering