Energy Policy

NRDC's Hwang discusses Oversight Committee's review of NHTSA investigation on Volt

With opposition in Congress and from the National Automobile Dealers Association, is the Obama administration being too aggressive with its latest round of fuel efficiency standards? During today's OnPoint, Roland Hwang, transportation program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, weighs in on the debate over the 54.5 mpg fuel efficiency proposal.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Roland Hwang, transportation program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Roland, thanks for coming on the show.

Roland Hwang: Thank you for having me on.

Monica Trauzzi: Roland, lawmakers are zeroing in on NHTSA's role in the Chevy Volt's safety investigation. Congressman Issa is questioning whether NHTSA withheld information to deflect criticism from the administration's more stringent 54.5 mile per gallon fuel efficiency proposal. What do you see the record showing in terms of NHTSA's role in this investigation?

Roland Hwang: Well, let's talk about the factual record about the Volt and the Volt's safety. Last Friday NHTSA, our top safety regulators, closed the investigation on the Volt and declared the Volt a safe vehicle, just as safe as gasoline cars. So let's look at some of the facts. Fact number one, there has been no real world fires associated with the Volt or any other lithium-ion vehicle, including the Nissan Leaf and other hybrids that have lithium-ion batteries on it. No real world fires. The fires that occurred, occurred under laboratory conditions, very hard to replicate and NHTSA, with an abundance of caution, decided to take a somewhat rare step of opening an investigation without having any real world incidents. So that's fact number one. Fact number two is that General Motors voluntarily has retrofitted, agreed to retrofit all 14,000 Volts that are either on the road or in production, strengthen the battery case, protect the integrity of the coolant system and to make a safe vehicle even safer. Fact number three is that there are about 200,000 gasoline vehicle fires every year. About 0.75 fires for every thousand vehicles. So currently, again, no reported fires for electric vehicles. So it bears out NHTSA's assertion that electric vehicles are just as safe as gasoline cars. The investigation currently, we think, should be wrapped up. We don't want to see collateral damage to the electric vehicle and the clean energy economy. There are jobs at stake. There are jobs at stake in Michigan, in Tennessee and California. We should be moving forward to get this country off of oil and move towards clean energy.

Monica Trauzzi: So, this brings us to the discussion on the improved or increased fuel efficiency standards that were proposed last year. There's a big question about whether the technology can stay up to speed to keep up with these standards. Do you think it can?

Roland Hwang: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. In fact, I'm here for the Washington Auto Show. When you go to the Washington Auto Show what you're going to see is some amazing new technology, but don't focus just on the hybrids and the battery electric vehicles. What's going on with the conventional gasoline vehicle engine is just simply amazing. Downsized, turbocharged, gasoline injected engine, what does that all mean? That means that we don't need to go to more expensive technologies like hybrids or battery electric vehicles. According to the agencies, EPA and NHTSA's estimates, 82 percent of the fleet, by 2025, to meet the new 54.5 mpg standard, will be relatively conventional, albeit sophisticated gasoline engine vehicles, just 3 percent battery electrics, 15 percent hybrids like the Toyota Prius type hybrid. We can do this. It's going to save consumers money and it's going to keep the American auto industry very competitive.

Monica Trauzzi: In his State of the Union address, the president called for increased domestic and oil and gas production and an all-of-the-above energy policy. Is that in line with this aggressive fuel economy proposal? I mean does it make sense?

Roland Hwang: Well, what I can tell you about the fuel economy proposal is that, when you combine it with the first phase, which he announced in May of 2009, when you combine the two phases, model year 2012 through 2025 bringing us the doubling of fuel economy of the new vehicle fleet, this is the single biggest step in a generation to get this country off of oil and reduce carbon pollution. This is a huge step and not only is it a huge step for our country, for our energy security, for our economy, for our environment, but it really shows how government can work together with industry, environmentalists and a variety of different stakeholders. Leadership, compromise, partnership could actually move this country forward. This really is government at its best. What it's going to do is reinvest hundreds of billions of dollars that we'd otherwise be sending overseas to import oil. We'll be investing over the next two decades $300 billion to the U.S. auto industry, $200 billion back into consumer's pockets, creating 500,000 new jobs by 2030.

Monica Trauzzi: There is opposition in Congress to these increased standards. There's also opposition from the national auto dealers. They're afraid that these cars won't sell.

Roland Hwang: It's very interesting with the National Automobile Dealers Association, they are really the last stakeholder group to be opposing these standards. There's no one else opposing it. A couple weeks ago a hearing in Detroit, and EPA hearing about the standards, who showed up to support the standard? Representative Dingle, Bob King, the president of UAW, General Motors, of course, environmental and consumer groups. So, what you have is NADA being the only opposition, only stakeholder group that still remains opposed. And, to be clear also, it's the NADA lobbyists who are opposed, because at the Detroit hearing, actually, we had an auto dealer testify in support of the standards. There are other auto dealers that have stood up against their association and said they support the standard, so not all auto dealers are created equal on this mind. We think the vehicles are very attractive, going to sell very well, fuel economy is hot. Go to the Washington DC Auto Show and you can see what it's all about.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it right there on that note. Thank you.

Roland Hwang: Good.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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