Happy New Year everyone! While 2011 promises to be a big year for vehicles, it begins with some sad changes here with the HybridCenter Driving Change Network team. As you will see below, my partner in crime and the soul of the Hybrid Scorecard—Program Associate Leah Parker—is saying goodbye to UCS. She has meant a great deal to the whole Clean Vehicles team because of her talent, her ideas, and simply who she is as a person. I’ll let Leah tell you herself what’s next for her in our first piece, but all of us at UCS wish Leah nothing but joy and thank her for all she has done for our organization and our movement.
UCS National Field Organizer &
In this issue:
Without further ado, here's Leah.
It is with a heavy heart that I sit here and type out my goodbye to the hybrid enthusiasts of Driving Change Network. The past two-and-a-half years have been filled with excitement and success—words that still feel new to me. Before joining the Union of Concerned Scientists, my experience was in ocean policy. For several years I spent most of my time trying to convince people to care about protecting the ocean and to think about the consequences of inaction. Within a few weeks of being hired at UCS, gas prices shot up to more than $4 a gallon and the issues I was working on—fuel economy standards, oil savings, hybrid technology—were literally front page news (above the fold!). I quickly realized how much people already cared about reducing gas consumption, and for the first time I could focus on the positive: solutions.
Just as I was beginning to wrap my head around this new outlook, auto companies began flocking to Capitol Hill and pleading for a taxpayer-funded bailout. Once again, “my” issues were catapulted to the front page and everyone was again talking about the need for more fuel efficient cars, including hybrids. As the details of the bailout were being worked out, Barack Obama became president and in his first week, he called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review the denial of the waiver California needed to set state-level clean car standards that would be stronger than the federal standards. The EPA quickly granted California the waiver they needed, then President Obama announced in the Rose Garden the process for moving forward on new fuel economy standards and the first-ever global warming emission standards for light-duty vehicles. As soon as the new standards were finalized through model year 2016, everyone got to work on the next round of clean car standards. And the next thing we knew, it was back to the Rose Garden as Obama announced the plan for moving forward on the first-ever standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks.
It was a whirlwind and I loved it.
Of course, there were a few setbacks along the way. Many members of Congress continue to deny the threat of global warming and seek to block the EPA’s authority to regulate global warming emissions. The National Automobile Dealers Association continues to fight the clean car standards and there was the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This event brought together my environmental passions in a way that made me teeter between anger and grief. But I’d rather focus on the positive in my goodbye to you. After all, that’s been the overarching theme of my time with UCS.
My proudest accomplishment was the successful development and launch of the Hybrid Scorecard. The Scorecard was an enormous undertaking that needed someone dedicated to making it happen. During my first day at UCS, it became apparent that someone was me. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I happily agreed to do the leg work on this new project. After several months of researching all the available hybrids, making countless phone calls to dealers about trim packages and costs, and contemplating the methodology and how to most effectively communicate the Scorecard to the public, we released the Hybrid Scorecard last March to rave reviews. Since March we’ve added new hybrids to the Scorecard as automakers released them, and we’re on the verge of updating the Scorecard for the 2011 model year. The Scorecard truly represents my blood, sweat, and tears. Okay, no blood, but plenty of sweat and tears.
Back when I started, I knew hybrids were the best option for the environment, but I had no idea there were so many different types of hybrids and that they weren’t all as fuel efficient as the hybrid label implies. Because of my work on the Scorecard, I now know all too well how different each hybrid is. The pinnacle was last June when my husband and I were in the market for a new car. Armed with knowledge, I easily convinced him that our new car had to be a hybrid and I presented him with a list of hybrids that fit our budget and pointed him to the Scorecard. Just a few days later, we marched into the local Honda dealer and bought a Civic Hybrid. Six months later, we are still thrilled with our purchase.
The backseat has become a little cramped, however, with the addition of a car seat. The car seat is empty, but our little girl will be riding in fuel efficient style in about a week or so. If you’ve made it this far then you’ve probably figured out my big news—yes, I’m leaving UCS and the HybridCenter to stay home with my new daughter. I trust hybrid enthusiasts like you will continue to drive fuel efficient vehicles, brag to your friends and family about your high gas mileage, and speak up for clean car standards. Hopefully when my girl turns 16 and is asking for a new car (yeah, right), she’ll have much more efficient options than we do today.
Little post-script, Elise Rose Parker was born January 10 at 11:50 am. She is 20 inches long and weighs 8 pounds 5 ounces. Mommy and baby are doing wonderfully. Congrats to the whole Parker family!
As Leah waxed nostalgic, I’ve also been scrolling back through 2010 to see what we’ve done. If you care about vehicles, this was a pretty darned big year any way you size it up. Here are some of my personal highlights:
- The UCS Scorecard: The Hybrid Scorecard was a huge lift by the UCS analytical, communications, and outreach team. I really feel like we created something unique and useful in the vehicle world. Since we have launched this resource, countless people have said to me: “I had no idea there was such a difference in how automakers are making hybrids!” A major model year update for the Scorecard is now in the works, and I’m very curious to see how it all comes out with new entries like the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid pushing the envelope of cost-effective hybridization.
- Clean Car Standards Are Law: I still can’t believe it—strong, national standards on cars and light trucks are finally law—we really did it! Already, we’ve seen the turbo-charged four-cylinder engines start to flow from GM, Ford, and Hyundai, among others. VW and other German automakers are scrambling into the hybrid game. Plain and simple—standards mean more fuel-efficient, cleaner vehicle choices for everyone. And that’s a very good thing.
- Jim Kliesch’s Autotopia: Our Senior Engineer Jim Kliesch (recently made the UCS Clean Vehicles Program Research Director—congrats Jim!) gave us the lay of the auto show land on both coasts this year, New York in the Spring and Los Angeles this Fall. Jim fell in love with the Chevy Cruze Eco, rubbed elbows with not one, but two auto company CEOs, and gave us some great insights about where the automakers looked to be moving the market. Jim’s new Automaker Rankings report was definitely part of the buzz, showing once again that when UCS talks, automakers do indeed listen.
- Clean Car (and Truck!) Standards Aren’t Done: President Obama wasn’t done cleaning up our nation’s cars and trucks in April—he later announced that the EPA and Department of Transportation (DOT) were going to work on another round of national clean car standards AND develop first ever standards for medium-and heavy-duty trucks. UCS immediately joined up with partners to start pushing for a 60 miles-per-gallon target for the car standards, and, as you’ll see below, we are leading the charge on trucks as well.
- My Obsession With the Minivan Pays Off (Perhaps): I just know that both Toyota and Ford were listening to me yearn for a hybrid minivan all these years. In 2010, Ford announced that their small, fuel-efficient conventional C-Max minivan would be coming stateside in 2011, while Toyota finally said yes to a hybrid minivan in America (more on that unveiling in February!). All I have to say to the tens-of-thousands of people who have joined me over the years in calling for a fuel-efficient family vehicle is: ME FIRST!
I really do suggest taking a gander back yourself at 2010—what a momentous year it was!
- Hybrids about to get louder: On January 4, 2011, President Obama signed into a law a bill requiring automakers to add sounds to hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric vehicles. While slowing to a stop, many hybrid engines cut off and become significantly quieter than conventional vehicles. This lack of engine noise poses a safety risk for the blind and other pedestrians. This is the first auto safety bill Obama has signed since becoming president. According to the law, drivers won’t have to do anything to activate the new sounds as the vehicles will do it automatically. Drivers will not have the option to deactivate the sound. The Nissan Leaf already comes with an automatic noisemaker while the Chevy Volt has a chirping noise drivers can activate. More on all this noise in the Hybrid News Center.
- Start-stop technology not limited to hybrids: A common feature on hybrid vehicles, start-stop technology allows the engine to turn off while a vehicle is sitting in traffic or at a stop light (also known as idle-off). The technology isn’t limited to hybrids; it can also be implemented in conventional vehicles. In fact, many cars in Europe—where fuel economy and tailpipe emission laws are quite stringent—already use this technology to help improve fuel economy by 10 percent or more. To help meet the new fuel economy standards and consumer demand for more efficient vehicles, Ford recently announced they will start using this technology in 2012. Ford has not yet announced which vehicles will be the first to use start-stop technology. More on this in the Hybrid News Center.
- Federal tax credits for hybrids have expired: On December 31, 2010, the federal tax incentives on the purchase of new hybrid vehicles came to an end. The incentives were part of the comprehensive energy law signed by President Bush in 2005, and ranged from $250 to $3,400 depending on the vehicle’s improvement in fuel economy. The law placed a 60,000 unit cap on each automaker, and once an automaker sold 60,000 qualified hybrids, the tax credit for that automaker ended. Unfortunately, Toyota, Honda, and Ford, which have the most fuel efficient hybrids on the market, met their cap first. The much anticipated Hyundai Sonata Hybrid qualified for a $1,300 tax credit and was supposed to be release in mid-December. Alas, Hyundai had to delay the release date, and drivers will not be able to take advantage of the credit when they purchase their new Sonata Hybrid. For more hybrid news, visit the Hybrid News Center.
The master of the Hybrid Scorecard, Senior Vehicles Engineer Don Anair, is also the lead analyst on our truck work. He recently traveled from his temperate California home to the Windy City to give testimony on the new proposed rule to regulate fuel economy and emissions from medium-trucks and big-rigs—and lived to tell the tale. Here’s Don:
In late November, I traveled to Chicago to testify at a public hearing on the proposal for the first-ever fuel economy and global warming emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles. These standards, being proposed jointly by the EPA and the National Highway Transportation and Safety Board (NHTSA), will apply to vehicles from heavy-duty pick-ups and vans, trash trucks, school buses, and the long-haul tractor-trailers that are ubiquitous on our nation’s highways.
The hearing was well attended with a diverse group of stakeholders testifying in support of the regulations. These included former soldiers who testified about the dangers they have faced first hand because of our nation’s oil addictions, to technology providers and engine manufacturers who are ready to put technology to work to reduce fuel consumption from the nation’s trucks.
Many of the individuals testifying focused on the economic benefits of moving forward with the standards and the potential for even greater reductions in fuel savings. UCS analysis showing that stronger standards would create jobs was widely cited along with the technology improvements identified by the National Academy of Sciences and showcased in the UCS Convoy Tractor-Trailer design (.pdf).
My takeaway from the hearing is that there is strong support for moving forward with truck standards that will reduce America’s oil dependence, help tackle climate change, and save truckers money at the pump. Making sure these first-ever standards deliver on their promise of fuel savings and lay the groundwork for significant advances in truck fuel efficiency over the next decade is critical. As the standards are finalized over the next several months, UCS will continue our efforts to advocate for strong truck fuel economy and emissions standards.
Great job to all of you who helped Don and this effort by participating in our Ship it Green! campaign. Thousands of people downloaded our shipping labels and more than 10,000 people sent comments to the EPA urging them to pass strong truck standards. Thanks, and well done!
It’s another Prius edition of Who’s Got Hybrids Now? Prius owners are quite vocal about how much the love their cars, so let’s hear from some other hybrid owners out there! Please send in a photo and tell us your hybrid story. Also, please ask your hybrid-owning friends to join us.
Joel Goldberg of Los Angeles, CA bought his 2010 Prius strictly for its 51 mpg city EPA rating; the gap between the Prius and the second on the EPA list is a full 10 mpg. And now that he has it, he loves it. It's peppy and fun to drive and it is quite roomy. And yes, he does get more than 50 mpg in practice.
Ken Dolsky of Parsippany, NJ is also enjoying the efficiency of his 2010 Prius, with all the acceleration and power he needs from his hybrid. In traffic jams it runs on the battery, wasting not a drop of gas. He loves the cool display that shows the power flow among the gas engine, electric motor, battery, and wheels/brakes. He thinks it has plenty of room and people have commented how comfortable it is in the back seat. The best part? He’s getting more than 55 mpg!!
Suzan Avery of Placitas, NM loves her Prius! She finds it so easy to drive and really feels better about driving it in light of the energy crisis. After what happened in the Gulf she hopes alternative energy sources are in the forefront of everyone’s mind. She is proud to drive a Toyota Prius and looks forward to another one when this one is worn out.
Detroit Auto Show fallout will be up next month, so stay tuned for lots of news and what it means to you!