I was a full-time Alt Fuel technology consultant/researcher back in the 1990s. Among my fellow wizards, the PNGV was a big deal. We attended conferences every year or so and watched the Big 3, with federal funding, develop hybrid cars that could meet an 80 MPG target number. They were getting close. The Japanese firms were worried and started their own hybrid projects "just in case." And then the US project ended and the Big 3 put their hybrids under wraps and went about selling more SUVs. As I recall, the DOE even closed down the PNGV portion of their website, so all that data and knowledge was taken out of electronic circulation! I am still angry about that.

There is a story to be told here and the November 5 issue of the New Yorker tells it in "Running on Fumes," a book review by Elizabeth Kolbert. As this post is a review of a review, it would be improper to go into too many details but details there are in the review and the book written by Iain Carson and Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran, authors of "Zoom: The Global Race to Fuel the Car of the Future."

I was excited by those US PNGV hybrids and disappointed when they went nowhere. I wonder if any of that ~$7 billion taxpayer funded effort's technology went into the slowly arriving US hybrids now available. This was around the same time when GM was also trying and then killing the all electric EV1 car. For a few years, the new buzz was fuel cell vehicles and a new Big 3 project began. Now that that has cooled, GM is promising the Volt - a range extender hybrid based on lithium ion technology that wasn't feasible back in the 1990s.

I am glad Mssrs. Carson and Vaitheeswaren chose to write this book and that the New Yorker/Ms. Kolbert chose to review it. Detroit has to live with and learn from its decisions. So do the rest of us.


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