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Tilting at Windmills

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June 30, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

PRIZES....For some reason, many conservative bloggers seem to be captivated by the idea of offering prizes for scientific progress. This is mentioned most often in the context of space exploration, but how about something more down to earth? Republican congressman Dan Lungren has an idea:

What would happen if the United States were to offer a $1-billion prize for the first American automaker to sell 60,000 midsized sedans that could travel 100 miles on one gallon of gasoline?

It wouldn't be a panacea for our energy problems, but it would stimulate the development of viable technologies to reduce oil consumption while we develop alternatives to petroleum.

My problem with this is the same as my problem with most other prize ideas: it's chump change. A billion dollars for a car company? Ford's R&D budget is already somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 billion a year, and just yesterday they abandoned their pledge to sell 250,000 hybrid cars a year by 2010 because they figured it was too expensive a proposition. And that's for a technology that's already pretty well understood.

I can't imagine that any car company would seriously change its behavior for a lousy billion dollars. Better make it a hundred billion, Dan.

Kevin Drum 12:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (69)

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Comments

Not to mention that this manufacturer would probably lose close to a billion dollars on the sale of 60,000 of these cars.

Posted by: Homer on June 30, 2006 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

I beleive Burt Rutan spent $20 million dollars to win the $10 million X prize for space travel. And the various DARPA challenges I've heard about all offer little money for the research they are asking for. Maybe there's something to the idea of challenges stimulating people to work on a given project but, yes, the rewards need to better match the costs involved.

Posted by: beb on June 30, 2006 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know Lungren's background, but he seems to have the idea, based on his historical examples, that high-powered engineering can go forward on a shoestring budget, perhaps in someone's garage, until it results in a breakthrough. Then come fame and fortune. For an area as well-studied as engine efficiency, I don't see it happening.

Posted by: RSA on June 30, 2006 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

I thought capitalism was its own reward

Posted by: Martin on June 30, 2006 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin quotes Lungren: "What would happen if the United States were to offer a $1-billion prize for the first American automaker to sell 60,000 midsized sedans that could travel 100 miles on one gallon of gasoline?"

What would happen if the United States were to offer a $1-billion fine to any American automaker that sells any vehicle that gets less than 50 miles per gallon of gasoline?

Posted by: SecularAnimist on June 30, 2006 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I think part of the point would be to encourage new startups. It is true that designing a modern automobile takes huge resources (in part to design, in part to get it through the regulatory bureaucracy) but looking at, e.g. Robinson Helicopters, there is no fundamental reason a new company could not be formed with a corporate culture and cost structure that would allow it to make and sell fuel-efficient vehicles profitably. A $1 billion juice to the cash flow would be a help in that situation.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on June 30, 2006 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

Is there a fluid dynamics expert here who knows the minimum amount of gasoline required per mile of travel at 60 mph in a mid-sized sedan?

An approximate estimate of this number should be easy to make.

Posted by: nut on June 30, 2006 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

Considering how well this has worked so far for space travel, don't knock it. The part I don't like is that it involves not only making the car but selling 60K of them, which is unreasonable. Design it first, and if it wins the prize, 60K will be sold. You can't walk a block around here without tripping over a Prius (or two, or three). Other hybrids, no, because somehow the Prius became the Cool Green Vehicle. The Next Cool Green Vehicle would sell, and an official prize would be a hell of an incentive to make one.

Posted by: waterfowl on June 30, 2006 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

nut - Why should "theories" like "fluid dynamics" affect a proposal like this?

Posted by: K on June 30, 2006 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

Why should "theories" like "fluid dynamics" affect a proposal like this?

Sorry, I forgot about the existence of intelligent designers.

Posted by: nut on June 30, 2006 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

> Design it first, and if it wins the prize,
> 60K will be sold.

Uh, no. Part of the problem here is coming up with a business plan that succeeds in persuading Americans to buy something that has long been available to them but which they steadfastly refuse to buy in any significant numbers.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on June 30, 2006 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

there is a site dedicated to the offer of 'prizes' for solutions to problems in biology and chemistry. the prizes are small, but the problems are rather small too... at least when compared to fuel economy

http://www.innocentive.com/

they seem to be doing rather well according to a write up in a recent issue of the trade rag Chemical & Engineering News. I don't know how much money people actually take home for winning the prizes, but the "seekers" seem to convince scientists to work on their problems for them

Posted by: cjdquest on June 30, 2006 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

You have to make energy efficiency attractive to the billionaire tycoons.

Maybe get Shatner and Nemoy to come back for a futuristic TV show "to stealthily go where no man has gone before." This time they'll explore the universe in a solar sail space ship to avoid detection by the evil Khan. They'll meet civilization after civilization of lesbians (spray painted different colors of course), who are strangely excited by energy efficiency discussions between two arthritic old white men.

Posted by: B on June 30, 2006 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

I suspect that if one were to remove the financial accounting kimono from Ford, one would find that $7 billion per year on "R&D" turns out to exist more in the form of artful arrangement for tax purposes.

$7 billion is a lot of money. Where are the results? Most likely in the form of mirrors with embedded turn signals and a myriad of other trivial rearranged bits of tin and plastic.

Posted by: dbostrom on June 30, 2006 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

"What would happen if the United States were to offer a $1-billion fine to any American automaker that sells any vehicle that gets less than 50 miles per gallon of gasoline?"

American automakers would leave America. Of course, the chances of the United States being so supremely stupid as to actually implement your absurd proposal are so astronomically low that we need not worry about this at all.

Posted by: Jason on June 30, 2006 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

What a novel idea!! Having the government invest in basic science!! Oh, wait... We used to do that when Democratic administrations ran things. Never mind.

Posted by: CN on June 30, 2006 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

Waterfowl -

You make me giggle.

GM designed a car (the EV-1) that could go 120 miles without *any* gasoline, and ended up deciding to crush them all.

(There's a movie coming out called "Who Killed the Electric Car?" on this topic).

As Kevin hinted at, automakers (OK, mostly Detroit automakers) have had to be dragged kicking and screaming into mass producing hybrids.

The only way to bring transportation into the 21st century will be for the government to forget about carrots and start getting downright punitive. Junk CAFE standards and require each auto sold get 40 or 50 miles to the gallon. Sure, as Kevin suggested a few weeks ago, tradable permits would be nice. But the basic idea is punishing people not in compliance, rather than rewarding people in compliance.

Of course, I predict to hear massive whining about meddling with the free market, statist oppression (really, how long do you think it would take me to be called an OMG FASCIST if I suggested banning any make that gets less than 20 miles per gallon?), etc. That's fine. What's not fine is the intellectual dishonest of people who believe we can bribe Detroit into doing the right thing with contests and tax credits.

It's one thing to defend human liberty, it's quite another to pretend that half measures and handouts are going to save the planet. One is admirable, the other is dishonest (or strikingly naive).

Posted by: Jim D on June 30, 2006 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

I agree it's a stupid idea. The money would be better spent promoting bio-butanol.

Posted by: TruthPolitik on June 30, 2006 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

Jason: American automakers would leave America.

That's a laugh. American automakers would have a tough time selling the crappy junk that they foist on Americans in Japan or Europe.

American automobile companies are the poster children of corporate welfare. They have had to be dragged kicking and screaming (while whining for Mommy government to bail them out) to adopt every single technological advancement in automobile design in history, whether for safety or efficiency. They are government-propped-up market failures. They cannot remotely compete in the world market.


Posted by: SecularAnimist on June 30, 2006 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

> one would find that $7 billion per year
> on "R&D" turns out to exist more in the
> form of artful arrangement for tax purposes.

I am not going to claim that every dollar booked under R&D gets spent on true technology advancement. And the US auto companies don't do anywhere near the amount of fundamental research today that they did in the 1960s and 1970s. But I do know people who work or have worked at the Big 3's R&D labs, and I can tell you that they do actually perform a large amount of very deep technical and scientific work.

Ford for example was heavily involved in the 1975-1985 time frame in the research to finally understand what goes on inside the cylinder of an IC engine. At one point they were growing a ruby large enough to be milled into a cylinder and piston so that they could watch the combusion process directly. That kind of thing takes time and money.

Of course, in the end Honda (and then Toyota) made far better use of all that combustion research than the Big 3, but that is another question.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on June 30, 2006 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

Sorta shoots MAJOR holes in the whole "market is omniscient" meme, though, doesn't it.

Posted by: CN on June 30, 2006 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

"Sorta shoots MAJOR holes in the whole "market is omniscient" meme, though, doesn't it."

That's OK. They never actually BELIEVED that, anyway. It was just propaganda, designed to hoax the yokels.

Posted by: CN on June 30, 2006 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

Provide the incentive to the buyers instead.

Provide a graduated tax break based on fuel rating of vehicle purchased... turn the break negative (a penalty) for the lowest-economy vehicles in each class.

Posted by: Buford on June 30, 2006 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

How about a million dollar prize to the first congressman that independently digs up a WMD in Iraq?

Posted by: Alf on June 30, 2006 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

How about a million dollar prize to the first congressman that independently digs up a WMD in Iraq?
Posted by: Alf

more likely he'll run accross an unexploded mine ... we can give the money to his widow as consolation for marrying a Darwin award contestant.

Posted by: Nads on June 30, 2006 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

All the conditions on Lungren's contest might not be clear to everyone: "But prize money is paid out only when the goal is achieved." How long do you suppose that hardcore R&D (with an estimated value of, oh, let's say $1 billion) can go on venture capital funding? Any examples of this in the past?

On the other hand, if I were a tiny auto company, I'd consider gaming the system. If Lungren's rules don't specify performance criteria for the cars, then I make 60,000 moped-based vehicles and buy them all myself; every dollar of my manufacturing cost below $16,666 per car is profit, once I get the $1 billion.

Posted by: RSA on June 30, 2006 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

Doesn't an increased($1-2 per gallon) gas tax have the same net effect?

Posted by: pod on June 30, 2006 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

Pod -

Not really. People are still going to drive to work tomorrow, regardless of what the cost of gas is (up to a point anyway).

The problem, in short, is that automakers keep building inefficient vehicles and people keep buying them (more legroom! in-dash CD player!).

It's probably all logical... in a vacuum.

Posted by: Jim D on June 30, 2006 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

Why don't we just give them a mult-billion dollar tax break so they can buy back their own stock. What works for energy companies ought to work elsewhere.

Posted by: toast on June 30, 2006 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

The govt. should pledge to buy 60,000 sedans that get 100 mpg. What's wrong with these people?

Posted by: brent on June 30, 2006 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

it's been a long time since college, but one of my projects then was testing a 1 seat streamlined vehicle (prototype)

it took about 2 or 3 horsepower for it to go 35 mph. it looked like a big tear drop.

it wasn't exactly the safest thing. i wouldnt put a family of four in it if it were scaled up to have four seats

think of it more as a motorcycle with a shell covering the bike and rider

on Fords R&D budget, i'm not sure how much of that goes into new manufacturing techniques as well. people don't "see" it, but things like laser welding take time and money to develop too

Posted by: anon on June 30, 2006 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

The billion dollars should be paid to the developer of any method which jars Americans into reality. Then everything else would fall into place.

I'm thinking some sort of pendulum with maybe a swinging candied ham that strikes the forehead of the subject at slightly below lethal velocity.

Or maybe forced viewings of Brokeback Nascar?

Posted by: reason, t on June 30, 2006 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

How about a national traffic circle project?

1) Stop signs are the bane of fuel efficiency

2) You'll initially have a lot of accidents -- the net effect of which will be to remove older cars from the road and replace them with newer more fuel efficient vehicles.

Posted by: B on June 30, 2006 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

Is there a fluid dynamics expert here who knows the minimum amount of gasoline required per mile of travel at 60 mph in a mid-sized sedan?
An approximate estimate of this number should be easy to make.
Posted by: nut on June 30, 2006 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

Don't know about that, but Professor Ferdinand Porsche figured out in the 1930's that you can go 60mph with just 26 horsepower, using an aircooled flat-four-cylinder engine, as long as the car's reasonably aerodynamic.

That car turned out to be pretty popular.

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on June 30, 2006 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

Brent has a pretty good idea, actually.

Posted by: Jim D on June 30, 2006 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK
The problem, in short, is that automakers keep building inefficient vehicles and people keep buying them (more legroom! in-dash CD player!).

As someone whose rather large, I'm pretty sensitive to legroom in vehicles; often as not, IME, the vehicles with better legroom (and headroom) are inexpensive, compact, more fuel efficient vehicles, and plenty of big (on the outside), inefficient vehicles have crappy leg and headroom.

So I don't think efficiency trends have much to do with that.

Posted by: cmdicely on June 30, 2006 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

The solution to this problem is simple.

Thermal Depolymerization.

If you take all the fat lazy union factory workers at American Automotive plants, and put them in a big vat, and cook them at 5000 degrees for 24 hours, it produces a substance that is similar to crude oil, and can be refined into gasoline.

Then we can run our SUV's on that.

The auto companies can run just on executive staff and robots. They don't need the factory workers at all. With the amazing income they will make, they can afford to compensate the executives what they're worth (fifty to a hundred billion a piece) - and then they'll be able to attract some really talented execs who can figure out how to solve this problem.

I am a conservative, and if you think like a conservative, and ignore all the Liberal bullshit, you can be smart like me and come up with ideas like this, and maybe, you can get a job as a CEO and make $500 million a year.

Posted by: American Fuck on June 30, 2006 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

The Clinton administration gave US carmakers $1.5 billion over eight years in the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles to develop high-mileage gasoline engines. GM, Ford and Chrysler, after taking the money (and spending about a billion a year of their own money on related technologies) all unveiled prototypes that got at least 70 mpg. But none of the models went into commercial production as the Bush administration scrapped the program when it took over.

By the way, Toyota and Honda were excluded from the US subsidies, so on their own they developed the hybrid technologies that produce 50-plus mpg. They are now licensing those technologies to US carmakers.

See http://www.crest.org/discussion/gasification/200201/msg00015.html.

Posted by: Jim Cullen on June 30, 2006 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

Why not, instead of a one-time, one-winner, winner-take-all project, just create escalating rewards for beating the minimum CAFE requirements by specified percentages, combined with aggressive annual increases in CAFE requirementsmake it an ongoing carrot-and-stick approach.

Posted by: cmdicely on June 30, 2006 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't this a mild criticism? If I read you right, your problem with the legislation is that - at worst - it will do precisely nothing (for good, but certainly not for bad either).

At best, you are wrong, and the federal government will save $99 billion as compared to your proposal. I take it from what you wrote, you like the general idea, but you just like it even more than the authors. You and "the conservative bloggers" should form a coalition to advance the idea.

Posted by: x-man on June 30, 2006 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

60,000 midsized sedans that could travel 100 miles on one gallon of gasoline?

So that's 60k cars going 100 miles, or 6,000,000 miles, all on one gallon of gasoline?

If anyone can do that, they surely deserve a billion dollars.

Posted by: craigie on June 30, 2006 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

Why not give a billion dollars each to the first 60,000 people who buy a car that gets 100 miles per gallon?

Posted by: cld on June 30, 2006 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

If you give me a billion dollars, I will personally see to it that 60,000 people stop driving so much.

Posted by: craigie on June 30, 2006 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

We should just outlaw cars, and send everyone to work on collective farms instead, so they won't need to drive to their cushy office jobs.

Posted by: Liberal Strawman on June 30, 2006 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

craigie nails it. again.

Posted by: nut on June 30, 2006 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

If you want to get better cars, don't offer a billion dollars; offer a 50% cut in social security taxes...

AND a $4 a gallon tax on gas

Posted by: neil wilson on June 30, 2006 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

You can't walk a block around here without tripping over a Prius (or two, or three). Other hybrids, no, because somehow the Prius became the Cool Green Vehicle.

You may be tripping over more hybrid Civics than you think. The styling is the same as conventionally powered ones, so you can only tell the difference by a small addition to the model plate. Unless you're really looking for it (in the NoVA HOV lanes) it's easy to miss.

Part of the problem here is coming up with a business plan that succeeds in persuading Americans to buy something that has long been available to them but which they steadfastly refuse to buy in any significant numbers.

100 mpg cars have long been available? Where? Even the 45-50 mpg hybrids have only been available in the US for about 5 years or so, and Toyota at least is selling them as fast as they can ship them to the dealers. There have been times, at least on the East Coast, when the waiting list has been more than a year. And FYI, the folks I knew on those lists were not stereotypical Birkenstock wearing greenies or trendy Hollywood types, just people who wanted to have to buy less $2-3/gal gas.

GM designed a car (the EV-1) that could go 120 miles without *any* gasoline, and ended up deciding to crush them all.

The EV-1 was a plug-in car that in terms of range, power and speed was nowhere near an even exchange for a convential vehicle. The Honda and Toyota hybrids that provide conventional performance at a relatively modest additional cost have done very well in the marketplace.

In contrast with the Ford hybrids, which have been SUVs with mileage slightly closer to reasonable levels, are either of the US companies (no, DaimlerChrysler doesn't count) planning on marketing high mileage hybrids anytime soon?

Posted by: VAMark on June 30, 2006 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

Plug-in hybrids can already get 100 mpg. Maybe the challenge should be upped to something like, say, 300 mpg.

Posted by: Pocket Rocket on June 30, 2006 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

> Even the 45-50 mpg hybrids have only
> been available in the US for about
> 5 years or so,

100 mpg? No. 40-60 mpg? Yes. 1985-generation Hondas got 40-50 mpg (my Civic got 42 in mixed city/highway and it was not the HF version) and that was without any computerized engine management. In the 1990s Honda bulked up their designs, and only now are they returning to the high efficiency direction they had going in the 80s. Very sad.

Note too that the discussion is about "midsized" cars. In the US the Ford Contour was considered as the small end of midsized (some rental companies classified it as compact). In Europe the same car was considered a large full-size suitable for 5 adults.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on June 30, 2006 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

VAMark wrote: Even the 45-50 mpg hybrids have only been available in the US for about 5 years or so, and Toyota at least is selling them as fast as they can ship them to the dealers.

I drive a fifteen-year old 1991 Ford Festiva (designed by Mazda, built by Kia, imported and sold in the USA by Ford) that has 118,000 miles on it and still gets 35-40mpg in city/suburban driving and 48-50mpg on the highway. That gas mileage is comparable to what a Prius or Civic hybrid gets, and it was achieved with technology that was readily available fifteen years ago.

This car cost me $5000 when I bought it used (it was two years old then). It has required very little maintenance over the 13 years that I've had it, it still runs great, seats four adults comfortably, has carried a half ton of cargo on occasion, will cruise all day at 80mph, and will go about 400 highway miles on one tank of gas. It passes the bi-annual Maryland exhaust emissions test every time with flying colors. The only drawback is that Ford has stopped carrying some of the parts, e.g. the catalytic converter, but fortunately Mazda still makes them (Mazda manufactured the same car but sold it only in Asia) so I can get them as imports if necessary.

No American car company makes or sells a car today that gets as good gas mileage as my 15 year old Festiva. It's not because they can't, it's because they won't.


Posted by: SecularAnimist on June 30, 2006 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

Actually Secular Animist, the Festiva is no longer available because in the mid 1990's crude oil was selling for less than $20 a barrell. I remember paying $0.68 a gallon as recently as 1998. At those prices, gas simply wasn't a factor in anyone's budget.

Give $4 a gallon gas a few years on the market and everyone and their sister is going to be driving a 2000 lb car with a 1.5 liter engine. (Like the Euros, who've never seen $0.68 per gallon gas in their lives.)

Posted by: Zac on June 30, 2006 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

Lets do the math:

60,000 cars * 15,000 annual miles = 900 million miles.

If you get 15 miles per gallon that's 45 million gallons of gas.

If you get 100 miles per gallon that's 9 million gallons of gas.

You've saved 51,000,000 gallons of gas annually.

At $5 a gallon that's 255 million dollars saved annually.

Now, what if we increase the total mileage fleet just 5 miles per gallon?

Total miles driven per year: 1,793 billion

Fuel at 15 miles per gallon = 119.5 billion gallons.

Fuel at 20 miles per gallon = 89.6 billion gallons.

Fuel saved = 29.9 billion gallons

At $5 a gallon, no, lets say $3 a gallon = 89.6 billion dollars a year.

Lungren is an idiot.

Posted by: peBird on June 30, 2006 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

How about a billion dollars to give people incentives to give up any form of internal combustion used for personal transport? We need fewer vehicles on the road, regardless of mileage.

Posted by: lou on June 30, 2006 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, let's do the math...

peBird makes an excellent point: we get more bang for the buck in moving from, say, 15 to 25 mpg than from 20 to 40 mpg. Moving from 40 to 100 mpg has even lower benefits.

How is that possible?

What matters is how much gas is required to go a given distance -- or gallons per mile. That's the reciprocal of miles per gallon, for you math wizzes.

Put another way: A car traveling 100 miles will require 6.67 gallons at 15mpg but only 4 gallons at 25mpg - a difference of 2.67 gallons.

Increasing the fuel economy from 25mpg to 50mpg -an apparently bigger jump- will give a relatively modest gain of 2 gallons.

Diminishing returns still hold. Removing the gas guzzlers from the road would have far greater effects than creating new fleets of 100mpg cars.

Posted by: Measure for Measure on June 30, 2006 at 6:06 PM | PERMALINK

What are the effects of creating new technologies, so that fuel economy increases from 50mpg to 100mpg?

For 100 miles driven the gain would be a puny 1 gallon of gas, compared to 2.67 and 2 gallons detailed above.

Lungren, alas, misses the point.

Posted by: Measure for Measure on June 30, 2006 at 6:11 PM | PERMALINK

If you have to spend an additional $3,000 to get from 20 mpg to 100 mpg car, at 15,000 miles and $5 a gallon, you can recover the costs in a year.

But if it costs $100 to save 5% in mileage, you can recover the cost in less than 7 months.

And if it takes 10 years to get a 100 mpg car (assuming there is gas in 10 years), that's a lot of $ to Exxon and friends.

Posted by: pebird on June 30, 2006 at 6:43 PM | PERMALINK

Well, if anyone really wanted to build a 100-mpg car, the process would be simple (kind of)- you build an armature and on the armature you wind fibers (strange to say, hemp is ideal for these processes) dipped in resin. This builds a superstrong superlight shell, but it's a little pricey for a one-off, so seldom used. I've mainly heard about it with racing sailboats where, let's face it, the owners are just plain nuts and spend too much money.

However, it is an existing technology that could reduce the weight of the car into the 100-mpg range. If you can live with a little extra weight you can gun a hemp fiber-resin mix onto an armature.

Of course, a few minutes watching traffic will convince you the automobile world is the Terry Schiavo of transportation. Plan your life around NOT having a car and you'll be healthy, wealthy and wise.

Posted by: serial catowner on June 30, 2006 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

So, given that aftermarket modifications of current hybrids can get that kind of mileage, and given that 60,000 of those will probably cost the manufacturer less than $1 billion to build (heck, at the current Prius MSRP plus the announced target prices of the kits in development—$3,000–$10,000 or so—you could your looking at something like, ballpark, 1.3 to 1.9 billion at retail for 60,000 of them.)

So, the first American car company to make plug-in hybrids with current technology, and form a subsidiary to buy 60,000 of them will, with Lungren's idea, get the whole operation subsidized, and pocket probably a couple hundred million dollars after paying all their costs?

Posted by: cmdicely on June 30, 2006 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

OK, oo lazy to read the whole thread.

To really jumpstart super efficient car technologies, we need a league comparable to NASCAR but where they race hybrids. So rather than a one time prize, it'd be an ongoing battle with only temporary winners amongst the racers, but continual winners in terms of technology growth.

Posted by: Red State Mike on June 30, 2006 at 9:02 PM | PERMALINK

Making better mileage cars accomplishes nothing. People will use the money they save to move further from work, build a bigger house, or have another kid. It all takes energy.
Raise the fuel excise tax if you're serious, and let people have the freedom to spend their money how they want to.

Posted by: cdm on June 30, 2006 at 9:29 PM | PERMALINK

VAMark:
From the BusinessWeek toward the end of last year.
The Toyota Prius accounted for the greatest amount of cumulative yearly sales: 99,050 units--more than double Honda's combined sales of 39,976 for its three hybrids.

Prius definitely is more noticeable than all the other vehicles and is identified as the 'Green Vehicle'...and accounts for about 99K of the 187k sold through november last year. So he/she may likely be passing a lot of other hybrids as well...not just the Civic hybrids!

Posted by: Sam jackson on June 30, 2006 at 11:11 PM | PERMALINK

Wittman may be right, but who cares. I'm sick of worrying which side of the debate is more advantageous for Democrats. Why don't we just stand up for what is right and let the chips fall where they may? Keeping people imprisoned indefintely without producing evidence of guilt or even allowing evidence of innocence is un-American. Who gives a rats ass if it might be used by Republicans as fodder in an election. Frankly, it's an easy argument to counter and its the better argument. Give up on Whitman and his ilk.

Posted by: William Jensen on June 30, 2006 at 11:21 PM | PERMALINK

More math:

Incidentally $1,000,000,000 split 60,000 ways works out to $16,667 per car.

Posted by: Measure for Measure on July 1, 2006 at 12:09 AM | PERMALINK

The attraction of this sort of idea is the Myth of the Solitary Genius. They aren't aiming at Ford. They are looking for Burt Rutan, someone who will come out of nowhere to solve all the problems in one fell swoop. It is bullshit and Rutan's effort cost far more than the value of the X Prize he won. If it weren't for Paul Allen, he would have gone nowhere. Where this whole idea falls down, of course, is that money on the back end doesn't help since you can't pay the bills with it. If you don't find a sugar daddy, all the solitary geniuses in the world are still sunk.

Posted by: pjcamp on July 1, 2006 at 12:24 AM | PERMALINK

A $1 billion prize just might capture the public's imagination. Wouldn't that be the biggest prize ever? The publicity would be worth something. But I think investment in all areas of alternative energy and energy efficiency are in order and that means tens of billions if not hundreds. If Iraq is the trillion dollar war like some say, just a third of that would have gone far towards solving some of our longterm energy problems. What a waste of time that war has been!

Dan Lungren, by the way, is very conservative and yet I don't put him in the same category as some of the more classic right wingers. For one thing, as far as I can tell, he's honest. He ran as exactly who he is for governor in California. The voters didn't like what they heard and the right wingers elsewhere took that as proof that being deceptive was a more profitable way to go.

Posted by: Craig on July 1, 2006 at 12:26 AM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: 44ff on July 1, 2006 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

I find it funny that, when the much-vaunted and all-powerful free market isn't producing something that conservatives think it should, their response is always the same: welfare for the producers.

God forbid you should ever do anything on the demand side, because consumers, well fuck them. They are scum who exist only to make producers rich.

And don't pass any regulations that might encourage the behaviour you want (or restrict what you don't want). Nope, just give away more corporate welfare. That's what makes capitalism really sing. Though apparently, Adam Smith left that chapter out of his book.

Posted by: craigie on July 2, 2006 at 12:23 AM | PERMALINK

According to The Birth of the Prius, in Fortune,

Toyota unveiled the Prius in Japan in October 1997, two months ahead of schedule, and it went on sale that December. The total cost of development was an estimated $1 billion -- after all the anguish, about average for a new car.
Also, it's typical with contests like the X-Prize and the DARPA Grand Challenge for the prize money to be less than the cost of development.

Posted by: TomB on July 2, 2006 at 3:24 AM | PERMALINK

The Founding Fathers had a prize "...to promote the progress of science and the useful arts." It was called a "patent," but the system has been corrupted like the copyright system to benefit corporations rather than inventors.

Between corruption of the patent system and massive immigration of third world technical people, innovation has died in the US.

Posted by: Myron on July 3, 2006 at 3:21 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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