It may seem like an odd choice to pitch fuel efficiency and energy independence in Texas, but General Motors Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson took that message to the Lone Star State today, telling participants in an energy conference that America is on the right track as it curbs consumption and develops domestic resources while curbing fuel imports.
The former Naval Academy graduate also used his speech to a conference hosted by global consulting firm IHS to outline GM’s plans for sharply improving the fuel economy of its products over the coming years.
Quoting widely read Texas author Larry L. King, GM’s chief executive said the state one was the roll model for America as a was a place where “all things are possible.” The payoff of cutting energy consumption – and especially the U.S. dependence upon foreign oil, Akerson emphasized, “suggests to me that ‘all things may be possible’ once again – if we play our cards right.”
But the executive also stressed that the nation needs to move away from a reactive approach to its energy policy, “lurching from crisis to crisis,” and form a more effective, well-thought-out, proactive approach.
There are positive signs as America’s domestic production of oil and natural gas surge, according to Akerson. He quoted reports from the U.S. Energy Information Agency that we could become a indicating the nation could become a net exporter of natural gas by 2020, “and net imports of energy could be cut roughly in half on a percentage basis by 2035. The impact on our trade deficit could be enormous. According to Citigroup, achieving energy self-sufficiency could reduce the current account deficit by up to 2.4 percent of GDP.”
From an environmental standpoint, said Akerson, CO2 emissions are already on the decline from their peak of 6 billion metric tons, “and may never again reach that level according to the EIA.”
In terms of the auto industry, today’s typical vehicle delivers an average 23 miles per gallon in real world use, up from 13 mpg in 1975, when the first Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standard was enacted. The auto industry recently reached terms with the White House on an increase to 54.5 mpg by 2025 – though with the credits available through the revised mandate, and due to the quirks of testing procedures, something in the low to mid-40 mpg range will be closer to reality for American motorists.
Despite signing on, auto industry insiders have sounded alarms about the challenges – and costs – of meeting the new CAFE rules. How go get there? Akerson used his speech to outline a variety of steps GM will take:
- Mass reduction will be critical, Akerson suggesting a 10% reduction in curb weight will yield a 6.5% decrease in fuel consumption. The actual GM goal is closer to 15%;
- To get there, the maker will take steps like switching to lighter materials like aluminum, nano steels and carbon fiber;
- It is improving the thermodynamic efficiency of the notoriously energy-inefficient internal combustion engine with technologies like turbochargers, direct injection, variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation.
The latter approach disables some of an engine’s cylinders when demands for power are low. That was one step that allowed GM to stick with a next-generation V-8 for the all-new “C7” Chevrolet Corvette, rather than switching to a smaller powertrain, sharply improving mileage without sacrificing performance.
GM also will adopt alternative powertrain technologies “where they make business sense,” declared Akerson. The new Chevrolet Cruze diesel is one example. The maker also is increasing the number of models that will be able to run on cheap compressed natural gas.
Electrification, from conventional hybrids to pure battery-electric vehicles, or BEVs, will also become essential. The maker is looking to ramp up production of its plug-in Chevrolet Volt this year while preparing to add a new version, the Cadillac ELR. It is also launching its first BEV since the mid-1990s, the Chevy Spark EV.
“In fact, we expect to have an estimated 500,000 vehicles on the road with some form of electrification by 2017.”
All told, Akerson claimed that the new technologies GM is adopting will save a combined 675 million barrels of oil between 2011 and 2017, “a figure nearly equal to (all U.S.) oil imports from the Persian Gulf in 2011.”
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