DC 2011: Green Car Summit tones it down, looks ahead

dc auto showThe 2011 Green Car Summit didn't have quite the fireworks that the event has had in the past, even with the addition of the Center for American Progress' Joe Romm, but that didn't make it any less enjoyable. One key quote from Romm, said in a set-up to his explanation why the price of oil and global warming will create a difficult-to-predict shift in the market: "The new Congress might be people who don't believe in science, but nature does." Getting politicians to come to a consensus on tobacco science took many decades, he said, and climate change is following that same road.

The panel featured:
  • Jim O'Donnell, President, BMW North America
  • Susan Cischke, Group Vice President of Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering, Ford Motor Company;
  • Michael O'Brien, Vice President of Product and Corporate Planning, Hyundai Motor America;
  • Donald G. Hillebrand, Director, Center for Transportation Research, Argonne National Laboratory;
  • D. Hunt Ramsbottom, CEO, President and Director of synthetic fuel producer Rentech;
  • Arun Banskota, Senior Vice President, President of EV Services, NRG Energy;
  • Dr. Joseph Romm, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress
Read more about the panel after the jump.

Unlike two years ago, when the debate got a bit fiery, most of what was said in the Cannon Building yesterday was measured, reasonable statements about where the alternative fuels and vehicles industry is today. You had Ford's Sue Cischke talking about reducing weight across the board, anywhere from 250-750 pounds per vehicle, which helps with efficiency no matter what the power train is. You had D. Hunt Ramsbottom, from synthetic fuel producer Rentech say that, even though the biggest move car buyers could make to reduce oil consumption for the last few years is to go hybrid, but hybrids still only make up 2-3 percent of the market. You had people saying that oil dependence is more than just relying on gasoline to move, it's also a dependence on fluctuating prices.

Cischke was asked about a fully-flex-fuel version of Ford's impressive EcoBoost engine. She said it "would do quite well on the higher-octane ethanol fuel," but wouldn't commit to any specific timeline when such an engine would be available.

In the end, it was left to Romm to make a few strong statement about the future. He said "biofuels are not a strategy for energy independence" because there is no possible way for current biofuels to work in a world with 7+ billion people, because demand for food will win every time. The future of liquid fuels is bioengineered organisms that make biogas or biofuels, he said, adding that $5 gallons of gas in the U.S. are "inevitable."

As it has in previous years, the Green Car Summit is a good gauge of where the industry is as a whole. The lack of fireworks isn't the fault of Green Car Journal for not inviting the right people. Instead, people are coming to a quiet consensus. The green road ahead will be promoted by plug-ins, sure, but there will be a lot of other, reasonable options for drivers in the marketplace, whether that's 40+ mpg, hybrids, diesels or other. The main reason people will shift to these alternatives is, as it has often been in the past, money. When the inevitable gets here, it looks like the industry will be ready.

Note: we had some audio problems this year, so we're not able to provide you with a clean audio version of the entire discussion. We do have a decent but not great audio clip of the second hour, which you can listen to below. We'll see what we can do to improve this next year.

The video meant to be presented here is no longer available. Sorry for the inconvenience.

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