Issue: Dec 2002


The Fast Lane



Home Thoughts From Abroad At Noodle Central

by Rob Wilson

Here am I bombing around the Japanese country side during the last gasps of 2002. Like they say about Lubbock, Texas, its going to look great in a rear view mirror. Not Japan but 2002. Today I am on the northwest coast of the Sea of Japan and the cuisine is an admixture of Chinese, Korean and Taiwanese here at a roadside McNoodles. As Irish Americans go, I am pretty much a chop stick wizard, but I am struggling with some of this authentic local fare. Swallow, chase it with ice water and smile. That is my modus operandi.

Back into the car and the driver punches in the phone number of our next destination and the navigation system displays our route and our progress in great detail, anticipating and prompting every twist and turn. Kilometers to destination, estimated time of arrival - it is all there.

All week we move from bullet trains to mild hybrid cars to CNG taxis and this is all in production hardware, not prototypes. It has nothing to do with my visit other than routine transportation.

Back in the states we get to drive some of this stuff as a member of the automotive press. One of our staff members is attending a roll out of the GM Hy-Wire fuel cell car this week. But the alternate fuel vehicles are not an integral part of our lives.

Other than the full size diesel pickup trucks, VWs TDI diesel and the Japanese hybrids, there is nothing available. Fords program for a 4.5L V-6 diesel for light trucks and SUVs has been pushed off at least till late 2006.

California is again delaying requirements for zero-emission vehicles, first mandated for the 1998 model year. The California Air Resources Board has been pushing for ZEVs for over a decade and has gotten absolutely nowhere. But CARB still comes off as the champion of all things green and breathing.

At least last month we saw Chrysler announce plans to make available Jeep Liberty models in 2004 equipped with a 2.8L VM diesel. Still, it's a pretty modest program involving only 5,000 vehicles in first year. But perhaps that will help relight a fire under Fords small diesel program. I really doubt it and that's because there is no one out there with the career staking conviction to push one of these alternative fuel vehicles through to the marketplace. The lack of infrastructure is an obstacle for some technologies, but it isn't for diesel anymore with availability at approximately one out of every six fuel stations. And hundreds of thousands of fleet vehicles could be burning CNG today - but no one is pushing for that either. People, lets exploit some of this proven technology. Make it available. Get it in place.

Lets drop the fluff and techno-babble. All weve got so far is the triumph of public relations over forward thinking energy planning and the defeat of adaptable technology by the status quo.

We have talked ourselves into the situation of squandering our current energy resources while waiting for that magic morning when the hydrogen economy kicks in and ZEVs flood the LA freeways. I'm just not convinced it will play out that way. Pretty naive, eh?

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