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Careful what you read while in uncharted territory

It's hard enough to get used to the government's power over the auto industry. But a lot of people want to believe the worst.

The following is an e-mail that has been getting some circulation around the Internet. (A problem with the Internet: Anybody can say anything, and people who agree with the message will help distribute it, true or not.)

This e-mail feeds on the fears that young, inexperienced, power-mad rum-dums from the Obama administration are doing crazy things to our industry. The problem is, it's completely false. Here's the item:

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Subject: Another sad car story

Car story

To all my engineering and technical minded friends: This would be funny if it weren't so alarming. (And even so, it's still a little bit funny.)

(From a Senior Level Chrysler person)

Monday morning I attended a breakfast meeting where the speaker and guest was David E. Cole, Chairman, Center for Automotive Research (CAR) and Professor at the University of Michigan. You have all likely heard CAR quoted, or referred to in the auto industry news lately.

Mr. Cole, who is an engineer by training, told many stories of the difficulty of working with the folks that the Obama administration has sent to save the auto industry. There have been many meetings where a 30+ year experience automotive expert has to listen to a newcomer to the industry, someone with zero manufacturing experience, zero auto industry experience, zero business experience, zero finance experience, and zero engineering experience, tell them how to run their business.

Mr. Cole's favorite story is as follows:

There was a team of Obama people speaking to Mr. Cole (Engineer, automotive experience 40+ years, and Chairman of CAR). They were explaining to Mr. Cole that the auto companies needed to make a car that was electric and/or run on liquid natural gas (LNG) with enough combined fuel to go 500 miles so we wouldn't 'need' so many gas stations. (A whole other topic). They were quoting BTU's of LNG and battery life that they had looked up on some internet website.

Mr. Cole explained that to do this you would need a trunk FULL of batteries and a LNG tank at big as a car to make that happen and that there were problems related to the laws of physics that prevented them from...

The Obama person interrupted and said (and I am quoting here) "These laws of physics? Who's rules are those, we need to change that. (Some of the others wrote down the name of the laws so they could look it up later.) We have the Congress and the Administration. We can repeal that law, amend it, or use an executive order to get rid of that problem. That's why we are here, to fix these sort of issues."

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Actually, it would be a pretty funny joke -- if it were presented as a joke. But it's a lie.

I asked Dave Cole about it. His response:

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The story circulating on the Internet is not true on several points, and its genesis is also unclear.

To begin with I have not met with any of the Obama Task Force, but I speak with government officials and journalists quite often.

The story regarding the law of physics is related to a discussion I had many years ago with several congressmen, and is partially accurate, though it related directly to the congressmen's suggestion that we should pass a new second law of thermodynamics.

The comments regarding natural gas were related to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) rather than Liquid Natural Gas (LNG). I indicated that it is very difficult to liquefy natural gas (a very low temperature is required) and maintain as a liquid. Natural gas is an excellent spark-ignition engine fuel and the only real problem is the low energy density of the CNG. This means that a very large fuel tank is required to provide reasonable driving range. Even the very best batteries have low energy density as well, compared to a liquid fuel. This is the basis for plug-in hybrids, which provide short range driving (about 30-40 miles) but extend the range to a few hundred miles by using a liquid fuel (gasoline, diesel, ethanol, ...) together with an engine and generator to charge the battery.

I am very supportive of creating a greater understanding of the industry throughout Washington, and the country, with regards to the importance of manufacturing and its impact on the national economy. Unfortunately, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation with a minimum understanding of manufacturing (including the auto industry and its critical role in our economy).

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It's going to be tough enough dealing with the awkward new public-private nature of this industry. It'll be much harder if people make up stories to conform with their prejudices.

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