Sustainable Mobility Seminar Provides Insight, Fosters Questions

What choice will consumers make? After attending the 2011 Toyota Sustainable Mobility Seminar in La Jolla, California (April 4-7, 2011), this is what I walked away thinking. In all respects, Americans are already asking themselves questions like this about the life they live. With regard to the cars we drive it is time to think hard about the way we drive and what we drive.

Presenters at the seminar addressed, and in many cases provided the current findings about fuel cells, hydrogen, electricity, the electric grid and electric cars. Economic forces, geopolitical forces and the DOE directed Future Transportation Fuels Study were explored in detail. The choices for a greener driving future are proliferating and each has its advantage and disadvantage.

The economic costs to our society in moving toward a greener driving future were reviewed in exploring the many mobility choices we must make as a society and as consumers. Again this year I loved being behind the wheel of the almost to market (Spring 2012?) Plug-in Hybrid Prius and with the announcement during the Seminar of the sale of the one-millionth Prius in the U.S., it’s easy to see that Toyota understands what the hybrid consumer is looking for.

Now a more focused approach to the spending of scarcer infrastructure/development dollars is warranted and the key to that approach will be all of us discussing what type of car we as consumers will pay a bit more for and how much it matters to us to be free to ”put the pedal to the metal’. It’s like turning out the lights when you leave the room, we all know we should do it but don’t always stop to think.

On Monday I drove the prototype test vehicle RAV4 EV as part of the launch of the demonstration program. The RAV4 EV I drove was converted from the V-6 model with Tesla power train system including motor, battery and additional Tesla parts. The specifications for this all-electric vehicle are 3,942 pounds, 37 kWh battery size, maximum V at 100 mph, acceleration 0-60 of 9.0 seconds, range of 80-120 miles and charge time of about 28 hours at 110V and 12 hours at 240V.

The vehicle will go to market sometime in 2010 as a collaboration of Toyota Motor Corporation and Tesla. It drove like any other SUV, I didn’t notice the sound, I didn’t get the sensation of anything different in acceleration or driving than an internal combustion engine, but at slow speed, coming to a stop I could detect a slight drag in the braking.

Standing around with the technicians I heard the vehicle will likely be built at the NUMMI Fremont, California location. There are sure to be many changes to the vehicle, not least of which was the novelty of the prototype-only, large, red “High Voltage Disconnect Switch” and caution with regard to letting us test drive it here in La Jolla while a gentle rain was falling.

There is always talk of range anxiety, and like most folks I can’t seem to walk too far away from the Prius Plug-in equivalent, but indeed for those looking for the feel of a regular SUV and the good green credentials, the RAV4 EV is their car. Getting out there and driving a VOLT in order to make the comparison is next.

I took a few snap-shot photos at the Seminar of both the prototype vehicles available for test driving and presentations by experts at the Hydrogen Panel and the Electricity Panel. To mention a few of the presenters, we heard from and asked questions of Dr. Peter Wells, Dr. Steven Kay, and Dr. Dawn Manley. Dr. Wells is an International Oil/Gas expert running his own firm. Dr. Kay is at University of California San Diego (Dean of Division of Biological Sciences) running a microbiology genetics lab on non-fossil based fuels and founding director of San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology. Dr. Manley is at Livermore Sandia National Laboratory working on transportation energy analysis. During the Hydrogen Panel portion of the seminar we heard from Dr. C.E. Thomas, H2Gen Innovations, Dr. Scott Samuelsen, University of California Irvine, who also directs the National Fuel Cell Research Center for the Department of Energy and California Energy Commission, and Dr. Alan Weimer of University of Colorado Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. In the Electricity Panel portion of the seminar Dr. Linda Capuano, Vice President of Emerging Technology for Marathon Oil Corporation spoke. She is the Chair of the Coordinating Subcommittee of the National Petroleum Council (NPC) Future Transportation Fuels Study (at the direction of Secretary Chu). The origin of the NPC is a continuation of World War II government/industry cooperation to advise the United States Secretary of Energy. The Fuel Study group is composed of 25% oil/gas industry, 23% transportation industry, 12% consultants/financial companies and the rest is government plus NGO, end users and academia.

Thanks again to Toyota for the Sustainable Mobility Seminar that afforded us the opportunity to listen and ask questions of these and other experts in an informal and open atmosphere.

Article by Kathleen Neil, appearing courtesy Environmental News Network.

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