The War on the Internal Combustion Engine

Environmentalists have been waging a war on gasoline and diesel powered vehicles for decades.  The Clinton and Obama Administrations and the state of California have been in the forefront by increasing CAFÉ standards and imposing ever more stringent tailpipe standards as a way to drive up the cost of gasoline and diesel powered vehicles.  After the Kyoto Treaty in 1997, climate change became the major justification for pushing hybrids and electric vehicles and making climate change the justification for ever more stringent regulations and subsidies for hybrids and EVs.

So far, that strategy has not worked.  Gasoline prices peaked in July 2008 at $4.09 per gallon and have been lower since then providing the incentive to buy larger cars, SUVs, and pickups.  Last week, the national average was $2.57 a gallon.  The market for hybrids and EVs, which is not great, has been kept afloat by subsidies and tax credits, which were promoted by George W. Bush in 2007 to achieve energy security.  Even with that help, DOT data show only about 500,000 hybrids and EVs being sold from 2000-2015.

While advocates continue to promise a rosy future for electric vehicles, the challenge is daunting because subsidies will begin to phase out once a manufacturer has sold 200,000 vehicles.  As an example, EV sales were growing briskly in Georgia until the state cut its $5000 per vehicle tax credit, causing sales to drop from 1400 EVs per month to less than 100.

Subsidy phase-outs are not the only challenge. While battery costs per KHW have dropped, the cost of battery packs is still not commercially viable.  In spite of spending billions of dollars on battery research, the lithium ion battery remains the main source of EV electrical power.  And, its many limitations remain as well.  Those include range limits, charging times, and performance in hot and cold weather.  EVs may become viable when there is a technological breakthrough that solves these problem without the helping handout from government.

Although Obama EPA regulations were intended to further tilt the scales in favor of hybrids and EVs, the new philosophy at EPA is sending a different message.  So now, it is California that is the driving force with its zero emission requirements and Clean Air Act provisions that allow other states to opt-in to the California program.  So far 11 have.  Because California represents 10% of the domestic auto market, manufacturers continue to invest in battery powered vehicles.  But their main emphasis continues to be improvements in the performance and efficiency of the internal combustion engine.  Variable speed transmissions, turbocharged engines, improved engine oil lubricity, and direct injection.  Improvements in lubricants have been estimated potential efficiency gains of up to 15% while optimizing how internal combustion engines function could add another 25%. The bottom line is the engine efficiency has not reached its limits.

EPA would serve consumer interests by revising current tailpipe and emission standards so that they are based on real science, as opposed to ideological science, and on real environmental benefits.  Actual data show that air quality continues to improve.  Since 1980, carbon monoxide emissions are down84%, NOX 60%, and ozone 32% according to EPA data.  Those improvements will continue.  Analyses have demonstrated that any benefits from carbon dioxide reductions would be infinitesimal at best.

Revising the standards would force California to seek a new waiver, which should be denied.  Auto manufacturers should be freed from mandates that force them to make and sell cars at a loss so that technology, innovation, and market forces can determine what type of engine systems consumers want to buy.

Author: billo38@icloud.com

Founder and president of Solutions Consulting which focuses on public policy issues, strategic planning, and strategic communications.

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