EDTA Conference: kick off session is 99 percent unbelievably upbeat

EDTA president Brian Wynne officially opened this week's conference with a moment of silence for David Hermance, an engineer for Toyota who recently died while flying his plane off the coast of California. After that quiet moment, the message from Wynne and all of the other speakers at this morning's opening plenary session was up, up, upbeat.

Alexander Karsner, assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy (EERE) spoke on behalf of the Bush administration and told the attendees that, "You are in play," which he explained meant that clean cars are hot in Washington. He said that in all of his meetings in the White House and elsewhere today, electric drive topics are/were a part of the discussion. So, the electric drive industry is doing a good job of getting its message to the administration, but the reverse is not necessarily true. The administration doesn't get the message out well enough that President Bush is highly commitment to cleaner vehicles, Karsner said. To that end, the Department of Energy is sending a lot of representatives to the various sessions throughout the EDTA conference. Karsner said he remembered the long lines during the oil shortages of the '70s and said that this type of situation – not being able to fill up your car with gasoline – should never happen again. His point was that, as he said his veteran father used to mutter under his breath while waiting in line, "America can do better."

Next up was John Bryson, chairman, president and CEO of Edison International. EI is a long-time electric drive supporter, getting their first electric vehicle prototype in 1987. Southern California Edison currently has a fleet of about 300 EVs, including many RAV4 EVs and this year, the company took delivery of a plug-in hybrid van prototype. At the company's Rosemead, CA offices, construction workers are building a hydrogen refueling center and company officials support legislation for consumers who buy PHEVs, because of the vehicles' expected higher environmental benefits.

In the next few years, all 4.7 million SCE customers will get smart meters, Bryson said, which give more information than current home meters and will make charging an EV overnight the obvious choice. Electricity is the only alternative fuel with an existing and ubiquitous infrastructure in place, Bryson said and called on all power utilities to engage with automakers since their work is converging.

The last keynote speaker was James Press, president of Toyota North America. Press had gotten up early today and headed to the pool, where he happened to swim with Jimmy Carter, who Press said was "one of my heroes." It was a fitting chance meeting, since a lot of the reasons Press got involved in building cleaner cars were things that happened during Carter's presidency (the oil crisis and Carter's early promotion of clean energy). Press made the bold statement that the goal should be to, "Free the U.S. of the bonds of fossil fuel." The specific items Toyota is working on in this direction that Press mentioned are things we're familiar with here at AutoblogGreen, like the Lexus LS sedan's first full-hybrid V8 engine and that company engineers are aiming for a 50 percent reduction in the cost of hybrid technology by the middle of 2008, but we don't mind hearing them again. If there was ever a challenge the crossed all segments of society, this is it, Press said. And with that we moved on into the breakout sessions.

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