The conversation about fuel economy, emissions and new technologies keeps circling back to cost. Now a major federal report puts a price tag on the measures automakers might take to make vehicles greener.
The conclusion: Fuel economy won't come cheap, but improving the gasoline internal combustion engine is by far the cheapest option.
The book-length report, "Assessment of Fuel Economy Technologies for Light Duty Vehicles," was done by the National Research Council. It was begun in 2007 and uses vehicle data from that year as its comparison base -- which probably isn't real-world at this point. But it's a painstaking effort by the research organization designated by federal law to study automotive technologies.
The report is available from the National Academies Press, nap.edu. It was the subject of a briefing by the Center for Automotive Research last week.
Essentially, it shows a big cost gap between the funky old gasoline engine and electric power. Even diesel faces a significant cost disadvantage compared with gasoline.
Consider the numbers for mid-sized and large cars:
-- The retail cost of fuel economy measures that might be applied to a gasoline internal combustion engine totals approximately $2,200 per vehicle, producing a 29 percent decrease in fuel consumption compared with a 2007 vehicle.
-- Diesel improvements would total about $5,900, cutting fuel consumption by 38 percent.
-- Hybrid technologies -- for a power-split hybrid, a la Prius -- add up to about $6,000, with 44 percent less fuel used.
Trevor Jones, chair of the committee that wrote the report, said the technology is available to cut fuel consumption sharply. "We are not technologically limited," said Jones, who is CEO of ElectroSonics Medical Inc. in Cleveland. "It really is cost constraint."
-- Think, the Norwegian electric-car maker, is providing its City EV to the British Broadcasting Corp. for BBC Electric Ride, a documentary following an EV around Europe for four weeks. BBC producer Kevin Dawson plans to investigate "the technology, infrastructure and political will behind the growth of EV culture."