Supercar rocked before it rolled

Supercar rocked before it rolled

By Jeff Havens, Staff Writer

From 1993 to 2002, the federal government and American car makers Ford, General Motors and Chrysler worked to develop an affordable, family-sized “Supercar” that could achieve 80 miles per gallon—which they did.

However, Supercar will never see the headlights of night. About $1.5 billion of taxpayer money was spent in the effort to build Supercar. The Big Three spent about an equal amount on the project.

The project was “supposed to be a model of cooperation, but it wasn’t,” said the special report in the Dec. 8, 9 and 10 editions of the Chicago Tribune. Ultimately, Supercar’s funding was cut and resources diverted to the Bush administration’s new government-industry joint research and development venture—building a more practical hydrogen fuel cell car.

Meanwhile, after asking to be part of the Supercar project but rejected, Japanese automakers Honda and Toyota have beat the U.S. in advancements in both fuel cell vehicles and putting a gas-electric hybrid, high-mileage vehicle on the showroom floor.

The Toyota Prius gets 52 miles per gallon. The Prius is powered through a combination of a gas and electric motors. The Honda FCX hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is described in the article above, “Fuel cell cars hit the road.”

Critics of Supercar, which included liberals and conservatives, such as Ralph Nader and John Sununu (R-N.H.), called the project corporate welfare. Former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore wanted the U.S. to be less dependent on foreign oil and were concerned about the emerging issue of global warming in 1992.

As a result of this concern, Clinton and Gore made a 1992 campaign promise to raise the average fuel economy of vehicles from 27.5 to 40 miles per gallon by 2000. Automakers were outraged.

They were outraged because they didn’t want to spend the money, energy or time on such a massive research and development project without assistance from the government. They also wanted to continue to manufacture gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles because of their popularity.

In 1993, meetings were held between the Clinton-Gore White House and the Big Three. John Dingell, the Democratic congressman from where automakers call home—Michigan, put pressure on the White House to soften its campaign promise. A compromise was made, which favored the automakers, which ultimately meant that Supercar would never be available to the public.

The compromise was that the Clinton-Gore administration would back off its campaign promise and kill any legislation, through the president’s veto power, that tried to mandate the 80 mile per gallon vehicle. In return, the Big Three would try to just build a vehicle that got “up to” 80 miles per gallon by 2004, with financial and research assistance from the federal government. In the end, GM’s car achieved 80 mpg while Ford and Chrysler’s got 72 miles per gallon.

Also, there was no raising of the average fuel economy of vehicles and no mandate to actually bring the Supercar to market. The Bush administration, for all intents and purposes, finished off the project earlier this year by announcing the hydrogen fuel cell project called FreedomCAR.

Had Gore won the presidency in 2000, Supercar would have likely remained a high profile project, said the Tribune. However, the Tribune series did not examine how oil industry executives and lobbyists may have played a role in killing Supercar.

Supercar’s demise means the United States will be unnecessarily dependent on fossil fuels and foreign sources of oil for longer than we should until we evolve into a hydrogen-based economy within the next 20 to 50 years.

Supercar’s fate also means the value of oil will be at an even higher premium for the United Sates in the coming years. Such a premium exerts even greater pressure on our leaders to cooperate or force oil-rich nations such as Iraq to sell their petroleum. The premium also exerts pressure on drilling for oil in Alaska and other environmentally sensitive areas.

These developments are no surprise considering President Bush’s and Vice President Cheney’s oil industry backgrounds.

Supercar is based on the science of hydraulics. Hydraulic is a term used to describe the act of applying or releasing pressure on a fluid that is contained within a solid. As a result of compressing a fluid, energy is stored. Releasing the stored energy in a hydraulic can be used to power a vehicle.

When a driver hits the brakes in today’s vehicles, the energy is not stored. In Supercar, when a driver hits the brakes, about 80 percent of the energy is stored in a container that has nitrogen gas, through a system of hydraulic pumps.

Hitting the gas pedal in Supercar releases the energy that is stored in the container and is used to power the vehicle.

Through the efforts and cooperation of a truly joint private-public venture, engineers, scientists and public officials could have produced one Supercar for the public. Instead, there were four—all of which are headed for museums rather than the road.

In 1964 Russian astronomer Nikolai Kardashev described Type I, Type II, and Type III civilizations, based upon energy consumption. The civilizations may also be characterized by their level of cooperation and social sophistication.

Type I civilizations have achieved a level of cooperation and social sophistication that has enabled them to enjoy political stability and minimize environmental threats. They also mine the atmosphere, oceans and earth to meet their energy needs

Based upon these descriptions, author and scientist Michio Kaku said the inhabitants of earth are a Type 0 civilization. In Kaku’s book Visions, he wrote, “A Type 0 civilization is like a spoiled child.” The civilization derives its energy from dead plants. “Its immature history is still haunted by brutal sectarian, fundamentalist, nationalist and racial hatreds of the past millennia.”

The lack of cooperation, trust and sense for the common good are hallmarks of the ill-fated Supercar project. The project serves as a reminder of our Type O status.

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