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Tuesday night the PBS science program NOVA will feature an Earth Day look at "the Car of the Future." WGBH, the Boston PBS station that produces NOVA sent us an advance copy of the show to take a look at. Tom and Ray Magliozzi, who are perhaps better known to fans of the NPR show Car Talk as Click and Clack, travel the world from Iceland to China and back to their alma mater at MIT. The "Tappet Brothers" are definitely an acquired taste and not everyone is fan of their shtick on the radio show. However, those who have not acquired that taste need not worry as their presence in Car of the Future is actually fairly minimal. John Lithgow does most of the narration tying the various segments together.

For those that are regular readers of our little corner of the web, most of what is discussed in the show will be familiar territory. Nonetheless the show is still a good primer on all of the various technologies that are being worked on including cellulosic biofuels, batteries, plug-in hybrids, weight reduction and more. The guys visit with Amory Lovins at the Rocky Mountain Institute, Martin Eberhard at Tesla (while he was still there), Andrew Frank at UC Davis and plenty of others. During a segment filmed during the introduction of the Chevy Volt last year, Tom and Ray speak with GM VP Energy and Environment Beth Lowery about choice. Keep reading after the jump.

Update: Check your local listings for time, but NOVA typically runs at 8 or 9 pm on most PBS stations.

The "choice" subject is often raised when carmakers display highly efficient concepts like the Volt adjacent to 500hp Corvettes, GT-Rs and LF-As. Carmakers talk about needing to give consumers the choices they seem to demand, and offer a full range of vehicles. While there are those who feel that more efficient vehicles should be mandated by government and produced unilaterally by automakers, Amory Lovins gets it right: "Ultimately as citizens and as consumers we are responsible for the world we create. If we don't like the way it's turning out, let's change it." Car companies are businesses trying to make money. Many among us may not like it but that's the way it is. Only when the masses decide that they want and are willing to pay for different vehicles will the manufacturers follow. Looking at the car market today, it's starting to change. But the alternatives have to be affordable to the masses to really make a difference.

Don't forget that PBS has an Open Content section of the Car of the Future site where they have posted much of the raw footage used in the production of the show. Users can download the clips and re-mix it to produce their own version of the show. You can post it on YouTube or elsewhere and submit the link to the NOVA site and they may feature your version on the site.

[Source: WGBH]


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  • 13 Comments
      • 7 Years Ago
      How about producing a drivable car and then calling a press conference?
      • 7 Years Ago
      usually 8pm eastern
      • 3 Months Ago
      #6 Throwback: Yes, car companies are in business to make money, which is why Toyota set pricing on its hybrids to make a profit. It took only 6 years of sales for Toyota to pay off the development cost for the Prius, the huge sales after 2004 have been pure profit. Indeed, Toyota has introduced several additional hybrid models and plan to eventually offer hybrids on all models - something they would not have done if hybrids weren't profitable and required corporate subsidy.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Car companies want to make money. Perhaps the reason why there are so few hybrids is because companies are not making money selling them. I doubt Toyota is "intentionally" trying to not sell hybrids. My guess is they can only subsidize a certain number each year. Does anyone really think they are making a profit on a 22k Prius despite what they say? This car is as bespoke as a mainstream car can be. No surprise they are building the next generation on a subcompact platform.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I love how corporations/politicians/journo's etc say things like "Ultimately as citizens and as consumers we are responsible for the world we create. If we don't like the way it's turning out, let's change it."
      and "Car companies are businesses trying to make money. Many among us may not like it but that's the way it is. Only when the masses decide that they want and are willing to pay for different vehicles will the manufacturers follow."

      Thats all well and good, but when they aren't making enough cars to meet demand, are intentionally rolling things out slowly.
      In Australia, we have 3 Hybrids the Prius, the Honda Civic and an Audi (or something similarly expensive)...where is our Hybrid Toyota Camry, its only the best selling car in Australia...you think if you actually wanted to sell alternative vehicles you would sell the one that is most like one of the best selling cars around.

      Car companies are intentionally dragging their feet, the demand is there, the technology is there, a "plug in prius/camry/etc" shouldn't be 2 years away, it should have happened, and seeing as it hasn't it should be 6-12 months away at most.
      • 3 Months Ago
      Come on blackbird, you are not seriously suggesting that GM loses money because they haven't jumped into the miniscule hybrid market are you? GM has many problems, some the result of Ron Zarella's tenure (badge engineering) and some the result of too many dealerships selling too many competing models.
      Oldsmobile lost it's way years ago and has finally been put to rest. Buick or Pontiac will probably be next. GM has to get leaner and they know it. Buick sells more in China than the US, perhaps that's where they should concentrate.
      The changes necessary to make GM profitable are much larger than build a couple hundred thousand hybrids (shipping a couple grand with each one).
      • 7 Years Ago
      "Car companies want to make money. Perhaps the reason why there are so few hybrids is because companies are not making money selling them."

      Yeah, for years GM has avoided going big into hybrids in favor of higher profit models. The results? 2007 profit margin was -21%, revenue growth -7.6% last quarter, net income -43.3 billion dollars. So that plan is working out really well, isn't it?

      Yeah, I know, those losses were an accumulation over several years. Somehow the idea that they have been losing money for many years is supposed to make it better?
      • 3 Months Ago
      blackbird I don't disagree, however GM is not the only car company in the world. My point is hybrid tech is very expensive, and I don't think car companies are not making money on it yet. It's not a surprise that Toyota took the lead on hybrids. Who has more money than them?
      • 7 Years Ago
      It would be nice if you mentioned the time the program aired.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Actually, Mr. Mealer, what we really get tired of hearing about is self-promoting stock manipulators and investment spiels that make wild unsubstantiated promises.

      I much prefer legitimate speculation on possible futures.
      • 7 Years Ago
      It's good to hear BP & GM talk about alternative fuels, but 50 years to implement is too long.

      http://money.cnn.com/2008/03/05/news/companies/bigoil_hydrogen/index.htm


      Perhaps this link will spark more attention:

      http://www.chevrolet.com/electriccar/


      It is GM's electric concept car the Chevy Volt. If more people begin to demand alternative fuel cars, we should be able to speed the rate at which the technology is developed.

      We have started an Investor Forum where Investors can meet and discuss topics like this:

      http://investor-forum.thesubway.com/
      • 3 Months Ago
      chris, I highly doubt Toyota is turning a profit on the Prius despite what they say. They have huge reserves and are making money hand over fist in all of their operations. They can easily afford to subsidize the Prius. The Prius also helps off-set their hugely popular and profitable trucks and suvs. Think about it. The Prius is on a bespoke platform, shares very little with any other car in Toyota's lineup. Even the Camry Hybrid costs more than a Pruis. I do think they will turn a profit with the next generation car as it will allegedly (via Motor Trend) be built on a modified Carolla platform. I think hybrids are very good at generating high mileage, I just think most car companies can not afford to subsidize their initial cost. I have no doubt Lutz is telling the truth when he says GM will lose money on the first generation Volt. GM feels (apparently) that it is worth it. I think they are in a better financial position to absorb those losses now rather than a few years ago. While I used GM in my example the same could be said for Renault/Nissan, PSA, or VW. None of whom have gone after hybrids/electric cars in any meaningful way until recently.
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