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GM Asks Congress To Increase Alternative Fuel Research Fund

General Motors Corp. called on Congress to increase the fund allocated to support the automotive industry’s efforts to speed the implementation of advanced technologies. The call is anchored on discovering and promoting alternative fuel to wean the nation from dependence on foreign oil.

The call is also triggered by the need to improve efficiency of the vehicles. This need necessitates billions of dollars. This could also force the automaker to produce smaller and lighter cars or make hybrid counterparts of the production models. Eventually, GM is expected to drop some of its inefficient market segments and models.

Outside the Senate hearing room, GM showed them the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid concept. Inside the hearing room, Beth Lowery, GM's vice president for energy and environment, told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that the government should fund a major effort to increase research and development in battery technology and to support manufacturing of advanced batteries. "Government funding should continue and expand development and demonstration of hydrogen and fuel cells," she added.

Advances in technology are pretty much needed in producing state-of-the-art batteries, brakes, suspension, cooling system, and other auto parts accessories to help boost efficiency and performance of the vehicles. Said advances are also critical in producing plug-in hybrids like the Chevrolet Volt and the Ford Hy-series hybrid Edge a reality.

The Chevrolet Volt, which was officially unveiled at the North American International Auto Show, is basically a hybrid but the automaker prefers to call it an electric vehicle with a “range extender” because of its eccentric design. The concept car is engineered to run on electricity from on-board batteries for short trips up to 40 miles. It uses a small internal combustion engine hooked to a generator to supply to the batteries.

The Ford Hy-series hybrid Edge features the expediency of plugging in your car with a zero-emissions hydrogen fuel cell. Gerhard Schmidt, Ford’s vice president of research and advanced engineering said, “We could take the fuel cell power system out and replace it with a downsized diesel, gasoline engine or any other powertrain connected to a small electric generator to make electricity like the fuel cell does now.”

Some automakers were saddened by the fact that a proposed 0 million over five years to speed research into advanced batteries was not contained in President Bush's State of the Union address. However, it may still form part of the president’s budget proposal. Automakers also complained about Bush’s proposed 4 per cent increase in fuel efficiency. They said it is "very aggressive" and noted that it is twice the increase that the president has implemented last March, when the administration reformed and increased corporate average fuel economy rules for light trucks, which includes SUVs.

The first proposal to increase fuel economy requirements by 4 per cent was issued in December. Bush acknowledged that his proposal is similar to the previous proposal. "Their plan and my plan are very -- have got commonalities, and we're going to work together to get Congress to enact a comprehensive plan. I believe there's an appetite in the halls of Congress to become less dependent on oil," Bush said. Last year, the 4 per cent figure was also proposed by U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. The latter still wanted Congress to mandate such an annual increase.

Lowery also called on Congress to include "further incentives for advanced automotive technology so that these technologies may be adopted by consumers in large numbers. Consumer tax credits should be focused on technologies that have the greatest potential to actually reduce petroleum consumption." She also added the federal government should increase its purchase of advanced vehicles.

However, some federal representatives are not amenable to Lowery’s call. "There are many smart ways to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and curb the emissions of greenhouse gases. We don't have to kill auto jobs to save the polar bears or wean ourselves from Saudi oil," said Joe Knollenberg, U.S. Rep from R-Bloomfield Township.

About the Author: Anthony Fontanelle is a 35-year-old automotive buff who grew up in the Windy City. He does freelance work for an automotive magazine when he is not busy customizing cars in his shop.

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