Subversive Additives to Save the “Cash-for-Clunkers” Bill

Bike parking in Freiburg Germany COPYRIGHT P FAIRLEYProspects for a “cash-for-clunkers” bill to stimulate new car sales in the U.S. are dimming amid dissatisfaction with the law’s slim environmental benefits. There are some creative options available to green the bill.

As Energywise reported, representatives in the House led by Michigan Democrat John Dingell converged on an automotive scrappage bill earlier this month that would provide cash vouchers worth up to $4,500 to buyers of new cars and trucks that get at least 22 miles to the gallon if they scrap an old one that gets no more than 18 mpg. Duke University researchers estimate that the reduced energy consumption from such a swap would make up for the energy required to manufacture the vehicle. But some senators were hoping for a more.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein is leading the charge. She initiated her own cash-for-clunkers legislation to accelerate the greening of the U.S. auto fleet, and says the concect was hijacked by Dingell and the automotive industry, according to reporting by The Manufacturer. Feinstein says, according to The Manufacturer, that fuel savings will be inadequate under the bill under debate in the House:

Essentially what it means is that perfectly good vehicles would be scrapped, so that vehicles with below average fuel economy could be purchased… American taxpayers have already pledged $33 billion in bailout funds to this flagging industry — without any special considerations for achieving greater fuel economy. This is unacceptable.

If Feinstein and others sharing her concerns are looking for compromises, there are a few out-of-the-box ideas circulating that could put a little more ‘greenage’ in the scrappage. One is from a nonprofit in Feinstein’s state, Palo Alto-based CalCars, which promotes plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. CalCars proposes that the government finance the conversion of clunkers into plug-in hybrids, thus avoiding the energy wasted in crushing older vehicles and simultaneously accelerating the auto fleet’s conversion to more energy-efficient electric drive.

CalCars estimates that it would take 40,000 miles of driving to overcome the energy penalty from manufacturing a new plug-in hybrid, compared to just 8,000 miles to payback the energy cost of a conversion.

A more subversive idea has proven wildly popular in Mannheim, just about an hour’s drive north of Stuttgart — the capitol of Germany’s automotive sector. The city government of Mannheim (inspired or repulsed by Germany’s scrappage law, depending on how you look at it) has offered a two-wheeled version of the program.

Mannheim residents bringing in old bikes in “more or less rideable condition” receive a €50 ($67) vouchure towards the purchase of a new one, according to coverage of the scheme by German newsweekly Der Spiegel. The old bikes, meanwhile, are refurbished and resold by a local youth employment group.

I’d like to see Duke’s crunch the energy balance for that swap!

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This post was created for Energywise, IEEE Spectrum’s blog on green power, cars and climate

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