There’s nothing like a major boost in gasoline prices to motivate the American consumer. Automakers are hard at work producing green friendly, fuel-saving vehicles. This push for all things green is more than a trendy cause…it’s politically savvy, environmentally conscious and increasingly profitable.
Environmental issues have been on the public’s mind for quite some time, but a perfect storm of events has come together to give the green movement mass appeal. Concerns about rising gas prices, global warming and U.S. dependence on foreign oil have set in place the momentum for going green and will likely influence vehicle buying decisions for years. It’s into this realm that California’s political leaders were able to effectively push a green agenda.
Clearly, the heart of the nation’s green movement beats in California. Green politics have long been the lifeblood of the 31st state. Most observers consider California the birthplace of the environmental movement, but one could make the point that the nation’s most populated state’s green sensibility was born out of the need to clean up messes in their backyard. California found itself crippled by the oil crisis of the 1970s, an event that led to the corporate average fuel economy standards (CAFE) requiring automakers to improve fuel economy. In the 1990s the auto industry found itself under fire once again when California residents, faced with the worst air quality in the nation, passed a 1998 regulation forcing major automakers to produce a few vehicles that produced no carbon emissions. The programs were eliminated when the zero-emissions mandate was dropped after a few years, but 10 years later the heat is back on the auto industry, thanks to intense debate over the environment and gas prices pushing past $4 a gallon.
It’s no secret that, over the years, automotive lobbyists and environmental advocates haven’t always been in agreement. Several years ago, California’s Air Resources Board tried to set emissions standards for vehicles sold in their state that were much tougher than national rules. The result was predictable. Automakers opposed, saying meeting the standards would require expensive vehicle modifications. A costly legal battle ensued, and more than a dozen states joined the effort to enact the tougher rules. And although the Environmental Protection Agency ruled that states can’t set their own emission standards, California and other states are seeking to overturn the decision in court.
But the times, they are a changin’. Recently, major automakers supported legislation that will increase fuel economy standards by 40 percent by 2020. Buoyed by this development, California continues its bid to go even greener. And there’s evidence of the green scene everywhere. Recycling bins and trash cans sit side by side along city streets. Hybrid vehicles are becoming the popular choice among fleet buyers. It’s getting easier to find plug-in stations to recharge electric vehicles. The conversation over a non-fat mocha latte is just as likely to turn green as it is to talk about a young starlet’s latest indiscretion. Every day people are jumping on the green wave, as hybrid vehicles are about as common as traditional automobiles, which is helping to push this political hot potato into the mainstream.
Today, cutting carbon dioxide by way of mandates on the auto industry is a hot-button political issue and one of the toughest challenges that automakers have faced in decades. Automakers that sell cars and trucks in the United States have until 2020 to increase the average fuel economy of the national fleet to 35 miles per gallon, the first major increase to CAFE since the rules were created in 1975. Fortunately, technology is moving quickly from whiteboard to reality, thanks to the efforts of talented and aggressive automotive engineers and suppliers around the world.
We are already seeing full hybrid systems that can propel a vehicle without gasoline at low speeds. Mild hybrid systems are also on the road using start/stop technology like BAS (Belt Alternator Starter) technology. Parallel and series hybrids combine gasoline and electricity usage. Future hybrid technology will allow for plug-in battery recharging, making it possible for short trips without gas consumption. This is truly a global challenge and, if we’ve learned anything from history, automotive manufacturers are up to the task.