Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Sierra Club and Ford
Hats off to the Sierra Club and Ford for finding a way to work together. While other environmentally-focused non-governmental organizations (NGOs) may feel that the Sierra Club has taken leave of its senses in helping Ford to promote a hybrid SUV, the Mercury Mariner, I think this represents a positive step towards addressing climate change and energy security in a context that will be palatable to most Americans.

It is certainly true, as a spokesperson from a more radical NGO--the Rainforest Action Network--implied, that even greater fuel economy and emissions reductions could be achieved if everyone just bought existing sub-compacts like the Ford Focus. However, the only way to make that happen would be by legislative edict. It hasn't even been possible to line up a majority of Congress to tighten the longstanding Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards for cars and light trucks, so don't expect a "mini-car mandate" any time soon.

As Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute indicated in an interview in the Wall Street Journal's special section on the Car of the Future on Monday, the answer must lie in using technology to improve the performance of the cars people actually want to buy and drive. His suggested approach relies not only on hybrid engines, but also extensive use of carbon fiber materials to reduce the weight of cars without sacrificing safety. He makes a good argument that these interim measures would actually lower the hurdles that fuel cells must overcome for commercialization, and hasten a production fuel cell car.

Whatever the ultimate technology solution, which should be accompanied by effective policies to encourage Americans to reduce the number of miles they drive, it is important to get more cars like the Mariner on the road. If an endorsement from the Sierra Club helps that along, that's great.

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