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Vocapedia > Transport > Roads > Cars, carmakers




More fun for the whole family everywhere

with that magic Hertz Rent-A-Car service

Collection: Ad*Access

Company: Hertz Rent-A-Car System


Product: Hertz


Publication: Life


Publication Type: Magazine


Year: 1954


Number of Pages: 1


Transcription: © 1999 Hertz Systems, Inc.

Subject: Transportation--Rental Cars



Item Number: T2654

Duke University

























Department for Transport    DfT        UK










transport secretary        UK










mass transit        USA


















car prices        USA
























Bill Schorr

comment cartoon

Cagle cartoons

16 August 2011

















Tab (Thomas Boldt)

comment cartoon

The Calgary Sun, Alberta, Canada


25 August 2005


















Milt Priggee

comment cartoon

Seattle (WA)


20 June 2008


character: Uncle Sam

















Illustration: Lewis Scott


Getting There, Without Going Broke


July 6, 2008
































Fuel nears £1 a litre after duty rise        UK










gasoline / gas        USA


















pump gas        USA










cheap gas        USA










cartoons > Cagle > Super high gas        USA        2012










cartoons > Cagle > Creeping gas prices        USA        March 2012










cartoons > Cagle > Growing gas prices        USA        February 2011










diesel cars > air pollution        USA












diesel cars        UK










diesel cars > particulates > air pollution        UK












diesel fumes > cancer        USA










petrol and diesel vehicles > toxic car fumes        UK










Transportation is the largest contributor

of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States,

just over 28%,

the Environmental Protection Agency reported.        USA

















auto sales        USA        2008


























auto companies        USA










automakers        USA





















carmakers > cybersecurity > hackers >

breach of a car, or fleet         USA










carmakers > car navigation

augmented reality and directions in the windshield        USA




















The 1968 Camaro Rally Super Sport.


Photograph: General Motors


End of the Gas-Engine Camaro Opens a New Door for Muscle Cars

G.M. is ending production of the classic American sports car,

but executives say an electric version is likely.

Corvette is already planning one.


April 5, 2023    Updated 11:26 a.m. ET
























General Motors    G.M. / GM        USA
































Chevy Bolt - GM's popular electric vehicle










General Motors > classic American sports car > Camaro

















Chrysler        USA

















Chevrolet        USA

















gsoline / gas










gas prices        USA        2022










gas prices > $5 a gallon        USA        2022










gas prices        USA        2006-2011














1 US gallon


3.78541178 liters












tank of gas        USA























Tom Wilson & Tom II


August 07, 2022









fill up        USA





















$4 a gallon        USA











miles per gallon    mpg








mileage rules > 65 miles per gallon by 2031        USA










at the pump







increase in petrol duty








fuel > petrol prices >

supermarkets in petrol price war        July 2008        UK














black gold



















Tab (Thomas Boldt)


The Calgary Sun

Alberta, Canada

















Driven    NYT    Playlist






The New York Times        Playlist        YouTube















Car Review: 2014 Cadillac ELR

Driven    NYT    14 May 2014





Car Review: 2014 Cadillac ELR

Video        Driven        The New York Times        14 May 2014


Cadillac makes good on the promise of Art & Science.


Produced by: Tom Voelk/Driven

Watch more videos at: http://nytimes.com/video


















car        UK




















































podcasts > before 2024



























car        USA

















































gas cars        USA


























cars > homeless people        USA


















going car-free        UK




















sedan        USA










roadster        USA










defective cars        USA










set of wheels / wheels = car        UK










TV and film detectives' iconic cars - in pictures        UK         18 January 2014


From James Bond's Aston Martin

to Inspector Morse's Jag,

fictional spies and detectives

have always had the coolest cars.


Now, with hit Scandi noir TV series

The Bridge featuring a beautiful Porsche 911S,

it's the perfect opportunity to look back

at the classic cars that have graced our screens


tv-film-detectives-iconic-cars-in-pictures - Guardian pictures gallery








car worship        UK










cars / automobiles        USA










used car / second-hand car        UK










used car        USA



















personal rapid transit    PRT        USA


nonstop travel in personal pods

























flying cars        UK / USA
















flying taxi        USA

















license plate        USA






car insurance        UK






car pools        USA






car-pool        USA












auto-centric cities        USA






toy car        USA
















van        UK










van        USA





























minivan        USA










1995 GMC camper van        USA










VW campervan        UK










caravanning        UK










Airstream - US caravan-maker        UK










people who live in homes-on-wheels        USA

















General Motors Corporation    GM        USA













G.M.’s Road From Prosperity to Crisis        2009        USA










G.M. > Cadillac        USA






General Motors > Cadillac Eldorado        USA






General Motors > Pontiac        USA








General Motors > 1967 Cadillac        USA






General Motors > The 1941 Oldsmobile four-door sedan        USA
















1949 > Davis Divan        USA

















Aston Martin


The Aston Martin DB5,

driven by Sean Connery

in Goldfinger and Thunderball        UK








Jaguar E-Type        UK






Rolls Royce        UK










sedan > The Tucker ’48 sedan        USA






saloon car





electric saloon





small car        USA









USA > Detroit > Detroit motor show        UK        2014










USA > Detroit’s bankruptcy        USA        2013






















car customizer > Edward Dean Jeffries    USA    1933-2013


car customizer,

designer and painter

who was considered

one of the pre-eminent artists

of American racecar

and hot-rod culture










car designer >

Roy Abbott Brown Jr.    USA    1916-2013


car designer for Ford Motor

whose signature creation,

the supposedly futuristic

but ultimately ill-fated Edsel,

became a synonym for bold, bad ideas

not long after it was introduced in 1957










car designer > USA >

Carroll Shelby, designer of Cobra sports car    USA    1923-2012


Legendary car designer

built the fabled Shelby Cobra

and injected testosterone

into Ford's Mustang

and Chrysler's Viper


carroll-shelby-dies-cobra-car - broken link










car designer > USA >

Charles Morrell Jordan    1927-2010


General Motors designer

who dreamed up

automotive confections

dripping with tailfins,

chrome and postwar exuberance,

then helped reshape

the look of G.M. cars

as the company grappled

with foreign competition

and steeper fuel costs



Mr. Jordan’s classic designs

included the 1963 Buick Riviera,

the 1967 Cadillac Eldorado

and the 1973 Chevrolet

Monte Carlo.


His vision was as streamlined

as the jet aircraft that inspired it:

longer, lower, wider

— and intended to excite.










streamlined        USA










UK > Charles Spencer King    1925-2010        UK / USA


Range Rover designer












car > metal > aluminum        USA

















hitchhike        USA









hitchhiking        USA





















Gary Varvel

political cartoon

The Indianapolis Star-News



15 April 2011


President Barack Obama















4x4 vehicles / "Chelsea tractors"        UK













gas-guzzler        UK






gas-guzzler        USA






gas-guzzler drivers        UK






gas-guzzling BMWs










pollute        UK
















shared car








car share commuters        UK











the national car-sharing company        USA










car-sharing services        USA

















car > internet > privacy        USA






car / auto industry        USA






automotive giant        USA





car users










car culture        UK






London is world's most expensive parking spot: survey






brand new car





















sports utility vehicles        SUVs        UK










Surface Utility Vehicle / Sport Utility Vehicle    SUV        USA

































Recreation vehicle    RV        USA






































jeep        USA
































clunker program        USA































in the front





at the back
































carjacking        USA





















Andy Singer




6 November 2009
























park        USA










car park








parking        USA










parking lot








parking space








parking laws








enforcement of parking laws








illegal parking








parking offences








parking signs








parking warden








parking ticket        UK










issue tickets

























auto safety        USA










car safety        USA

Markup of H.R. 5381,

Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010,

Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection

(May 20, 2010)










road safety > Brake        UK










defective cars        USA

















motoring organisation

































commuting        USA






overtake / pass










pull up





pull out





pull in at N





pull over





get pulled over    (passive)





be pulled over by police    (passive)





head to N





give way





keep clear





break down





breakdown        UK
























convertible        USA




















Bercy Martinez drops off groceries for David, her brother,

in the trailer he calls the “tin can.”


Photograph: Adria Malcolm,

special to ProPublica



The Federal Government Accidentally Burned Down Their Houses,

Then Made It Hard to Come Home

FEMA told survivors of the largest wildfire in New Mexico history

that it aimed to put temporary housing on their land.

But because of its strict, slow-moving bureaucracy,

that has happened only twice.


April 24, 5:55 a.m. EDT

















trailer        UK










trailer        USA


new-mexico-hermits-peak-calf-canyon-fema-housing - April 24, 2023
















pickup truck        USA





















local dealer








3-year warranty































three-way automotive catalytic converter        USA







hydrogen powered Fuel Cell vehicles





tire        USA


inflation-tires-rubber-imports-high-prices - May 3, 2023












brake pedal        USA






shock absorber










oil change





intermediate shaft        USA







right front driveshaft        USA












steering wheel        USA






behind the wheel










6-speed gearbox










ignition switch        USA










seat belt        USA






front seat belts > buckle        USA






latch        USA











engine oil level





engine coolant level





power-assisted steering





windscreen washer reservoir





windscreen washer level





wiper blade










brake fluid reservoir





hydraulic brake fluid










parking break





excessive wear










headlights        USA











tyre pressures





tread depth





direction indicator





cockpit-like interior




















electric sunroof





driver's airbag





driver, passenger and front side airbags





remote central door locking





traffic alert system





air conditioning





electric front windows and door mirrors





electric front and rear windows





de-mist door mirrors





'Quickclear' heated windscreen















aircraft throttle-style handbrake





leather upholstery





power adjustable front seats





two fold-away integrated rear child seats





front fog lights





roof rails





storage area





power assisted steering





engine immobiliser





private mileage





electronic tags for cars





fuel consumption





CD player







































car racing        USA










street racing        USA


















pollution        USA






urban air pollution        UK






air pollution > London        UK








air quality        UK





carbon emissions        UK






transport pollution        UK



























emit zero, or very little, carbon        UK







zero carbon cars        UK






1970 > Clean Air Act        USA

42 U.S.C. §7401 et seq. (1970)


The Clean Air Act (CAA)

is the comprehensive federal law

that regulates air emissions

from stationary and mobile sources.


Among other things,

this law authorizes EPA to establish

National Ambient Air Quality Standards


to protect public health and public welfare

and to regulate emissions

of hazardous air pollutants.




One of the goals of the Act

was to set and achieve NAAQS

in every state by 1975

in order to address

the public health and welfare risks

posed by certain widespread air pollutants.


The setting of these pollutant standards

was coupled with directing the states

to develop state implementation plans (SIPs),

applicable to appropriate industrial sources

in the state,


in order to achieve these standards.

The Act was amended in 1977 and 1990

primarily to set new goals (dates)

for achieving attainment of NAAQS

since many areas of the country

had failed to meet the deadlines.

- added June 30, 2022






































hail a taxi        UK










taxi-hailing app        USA










taxi driver        USA










cab company        USA










cabby / cab driver        USA












London's cabbies

mourn demise of classic black taxi - video        UK        2012










black cab        UK










classic black cab        UK










mini cab
















Uber        UK


























ride-hailing industry > Uber        USA
















ride-hailing industry > Lyft        USA



















Global Positioning System    GPS        USA



or the Global Positioning System,

is a satellite-based navigation system

developed by the United States

Department of Defense.


The system is made up

of 24 main satellites that orbit the Earth,

transmitting radiowave signals

to the ground which can be used

by GPS receivers to calculate

a precise location.

Updated July 10, 2009




















GPS tracking        USA







satellite navigation





SatNAV system





















car boot sales        UK


























horse-drawn carriage        USA












carriage horses        USA










carriage horse industry        USA










horseless carriages        USA












Corpus of news articles


Transport > Cars


Carmakers, air pollution, cybersecurity,


gas prices, navigation




Carmakers Strive

to Stay Ahead of Hackers

The effects of a breach of a car, or fleet,
could be devastating.

Auto manufacturers and suppliers
have aggressive plans, and a lot of firewalls.


March 18, 2021

The New York Times


In your garage or driveway sits a machine with more lines of code than a modern passenger jet. Today’s cars and trucks, with an internet link, can report the weather, pay for gas, find a parking spot, route around traffic jams and tune in to radio stations from around the world. Soon they’ll speak to one another, alert you to sales as you pass your favorite stores, and one day they’ll even drive themselves.

While consumers may love the features, hackers may love them even more. And that’s keeping many in the auto industry awake at night, worried about how they can stay one step (or two or three) ahead of those who could eventually play havoc with the world’s private transport systems.

Hackers seemingly can’t wait for the opportunity to commandeer vehicles. In 2019, the automotive cybersecurity company Karamba Security posted a fake vehicle electronic control unit online. In under three days, 25,000 breach attempts were made, and one succeeded.

The best-known vehicle takeover occurred in 2015 when security researchers on a laptop 10 miles away caused a Jeep Cherokee to lose power, change its radio station, turn on the windshield wipers and blast cold air. Jeep’s parent company, FCA, recalled 1.4 million vehicles to fix the vulnerability.

Today, the effects of a breach could range from mildly annoying to catastrophic. A hacker could steal a driver’s personal data or eavesdrop on phone conversations. Nefarious code inserted into one of a vehicle’s electronic control units could cause it to suddenly speed up, shut down or lose braking power.

A fleet of cars could be commandeered and made to steer erratically, potentially causing a major accident. A hacked electric vehicle could shut down the power grid once the car was charging. Even altering a street sign in ways imperceptible to the eye can trick a car into misperceiving a stop sign as a speed limit sign.

And last year, Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit group in Santa Monica, Calif., sent a “!Hacked!” message to the screen of a Tesla.

The problem goes beyond demonstration intrusions. Karamba has been working with a South American trucking company whose fleet was hacked to hide it from its tracking system, allowing thieves to steal its cargo unnoticed. And a quick internet search will reveal scores of successful but so far benign hacks against many of the world’s major automotive brands.

“To take control of a vehicle’s direction and speed: This is what everyone in the industry is worried about,” said Ami Dotan, Karamba’s chief executive. “And everyone is aware this could happen.”

The challenge may be even greater than securing the world’s airlines. According to a McKinsey & Company report on automotive cybersecurity, modern vehicles employ around 150 electronic control units and about 100 million lines of code; by 2030, with the advent of autonomous driving features and so-called vehicle-to-vehicle communication, the number of lines of code may triple.

Compare that with a modern passenger jet with just 15 million lines of code, or a mass-market PC operating system with around 40 million lines of code, and the complexities become clear.

Vehicle manufacturers understand that a successful hack that caused death or destruction could be a major blow. “The incentive to prevent a giant malicious attack is huge,” said Gundbert Scherf, a McKinsey partner and an author of the report.

And with drivers believing that their vehicles are the ultimate private cocoon, even a benign attack, such as an unexpected message on a car’s infotainment screen, could easily cause a major public relations problem.

Cybersecurity companies must protect a vehicle in multiple ways. Threats include SIM cards carrying malicious code, faked over-the-air software updates, code sent from a smartphone to the vehicle, and vehicle sensors and cameras being tricked with wrong information.

In addition, malicious code can be introduced through dongles connected to a vehicle’s computer port, commonly called the OBD-II port, typically under the steering wheel and used for vehicle diagnostics and tracking.

Trucking fleets are even more at risk, said Moshe Shlisel, chief executive of GuardKnox Cyber Technologies. An entire fleet could be shut down or otherwise compromised for a ransom, he said.

“Our biggest worry is the hacking of a fleet,” said Ronen Smoly, chief of Argus Cyber Security, a division of the auto supplier Continental. “Most serious hackers come from well-funded groups working for long periods of time.”

Mr. Shlisel said: “It’s just a matter of time before a major hack happens. The most secure vehicle is a Model T Ford, because it’s not connected to anything.”

Over-the-air updates can patch software vulnerabilities in modern cars, but the industry aims to protect electronic systems before that happens — including systems most exposed to the outside world, such as audio, navigation and phone systems. To protect them and more sensitive systems, safety measures are being taken along every step of the manufacturing chain, from software to hardware design.

Major software and hardware suppliers to the world’s manufacturers build in firewalls to ensure that such elements as infotainment systems are prevented from passing code to systems that regulate speed, steering and other critical functions.

Vehicle electronic control units are being designed to send an alert if one system that normally never communicates with another suddenly tries to do so. And they’re also locked down, so that an attempt to inject new code will be thwarted.

“Human life is involved, so cybersecurity is our top priority,” said Kevin Tierney, General Motors’ vice president for global cybersecurity. The company, which has 90 engineers working full time on cybersecurity, practices what it calls “defense in depth,” removing unneeded software and creating rules that allow vehicle systems to communicate with one another only when necessary.

It’s a practice also followed by Volkswagen, said Maj-Britt Peters, a spokeswoman for the company’s software and technology group. She noted that Volkswagen’s sensitive vehicle control systems are kept in separate domains.

Continental, a major supplier of electronic parts to automakers, employs an intrusion detection and prevention system to thwart attacks. “If the throttle position sensor is talking to the airbag, that is not planned,” Mr. Smoly said. “We can stop this, but we wouldn’t do so while the vehicle was moving.”

Still, determined hackers will eventually find a way in. To date, vehicle cybersecurity has been a patchwork effort, with no international standards or regulations. But that is about to change.

This year, a United Nations regulation on vehicle cybersecurity came into force, obligating manufacturers to perform various risk assessments and report on intrusion attempts to certify cybersecurity readiness. The regulation will take effect for all vehicles sold in Europe from July 2024 and in Japan and South Korea in 2022.

While the United States is not among the 54 signatories, vehicles sold in America aren’t likely to be built to meet different cybersecurity standards from those in cars sold elsewhere, and vice versa.

“The U.N. regulation is a global standard, and we have to meet global standards,” Mr. Tierney of G.M. said.

And last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a request for comment on a proposed new draft of a cybersecurity best-practices recommendation, an update of a 2016 report.

It’s even possible that future window stickers on new cars may point out that a vehicle meets cybersecurity standards. “We should rate vehicles for cybersecurity, the same way we rate them for crash protection,” said Jason K. Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.

All of which raises a question: If the U.S. government could not prevent Russia from hacking into its computers, can vehicle manufacturers do a better job?

“I’m very used to the doom-and-gloom narrative, and I would caution against it,” Mr. Scherf of McKinsey said. “We still have enough time to shape the narrative.”

Carmakers Strive to Stay Ahead of Hackers,
March 18, 2021






W.H.O. Declares Diesel Fumes

Cause Lung Cancer


June 12, 2012

The New York Times



Diesel fumes cause lung cancer, the World Health Organization declared Tuesday, and experts said they were more carcinogenic than secondhand cigarette smoke.

The W.H.O. decision, the first to elevate diesel to the “known carcinogen” level, may eventually affect some American workers who are heavily exposed to exhaust. It is particularly relevant to poor countries, where trucks, generators, and farm and factory machinery routinely belch clouds of sooty smoke and fill the air with sulfurous particulates.

The United States and other wealthy nations have less of a problem because they require modern diesel engines to burn much cleaner than they did even a decade ago. Most industries, like mining, already have limits on the amount of diesel fumes to which workers may be exposed.

The medical director of the American Cancer Society praised the ruling by the W.H.O.’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, saying his group “has for a long time had concerns about diesel.”

The cancer society is likely to come to the same conclusion the next time its scientific committee meets, said the director, Dr. Otis W. Brawley.

“I don’t think it’s bad to have a diesel car,” Dr. Brawley added. “I don’t think it’s good to breathe its exhaust. I’m not concerned about people who walk past a diesel vehicle, I’m a little concerned about people like toll collectors, and I’m very concerned about people like miners, who work where exhaust is concentrated.”

Debra T. Silverman, a cancer researcher for the United States government who headed an influential study published in March that led to Tuesday’s decision, said she was “totally in support” of the W.H.O. ruling and expected that the government would soon follow suit in declaring diesel exhaust a carcinogen.

Three separate federal agencies already classify diesel exhaust as a “likely carcinogen,” a “potential occupational carcinogen” or “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

Dr. Silverman, chief of environmental epidemiology for the National Cancer Institute, said her study of 50 years of exposure to diesel fumes by 12,000 miners showed that nonsmoking miners who were heavily exposed to diesel fumes for years had seven times the normal lung cancer risk of nonsmokers.

The W.H.O. decision was announced Tuesday in Lyon, France, after a weeklong scientific meeting. It also said diesel exhaust was a possible cause of bladder cancer. Diesel exhaust now shares the W.H.O.’s Group 1 carcinogen status with smoking, asbestos, ultraviolet radiation, alcohol and other elements that pose cancer risks.

Dr. Silverman said her research indicated that occupational diesel exposure was a far greater lung cancer risk than passive cigarette smoking, but a much smaller risk than smoking two packs a day. For years, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the National Toxicology Program of the National Institutes of Health have rated diesel as a potential, not proven, carcinogen.

The Diesel Technology Forum, which represents car and truck companies and others that make diesel engines, reacted cautiously to the W.H.O. ruling, noting that modern diesel engines used in the United States and other wealthy countries burn low sulfur fuel, so new trucks and buses emit 98 percent less particulates than old ones did and 99 percent less nitrogen oxide, which adds to ozone buildup.

Allen Schaeffer, the forum’s executive director, said the studies considered by the W.H.O. “gave more weight to studies of exposure from technology from the 1950s, when there was no regulation.”

Ultra-low-sulfur fuel was introduced in 2000 and became mandatory in 2006, he said, and about a quarter of the American truck fleet was built after that mandate was passed. The government estimates that the entire truck fleet is replaced every 12 to 15 years, he added.

Many studies have suggested links between diesel and lung cancer, but Dr. Silverman said hers was the first to measure with precision how much diesel exhaust each group of mineworkers was exposed to. Her study clearly established that the more a miner was exposed to diesel, the greater his cancer risk, she said.

“Now we need to focus on managing exposures to diesel exhaust,” Dr. Brawley said.

W.H.O. Declares Diesel Fumes Cause Lung Cancer,






Police Arrest Man

in Carjacking of WWII Vet


March 2, 2012

The New York Times



DETROIT (AP) — A man suspected in connection with the daylight attack and carjacking of an 86-year-old World War II veteran at a busy Detroit gas station was arrested Friday, police said.

Detroit police spokesman Sgt. Eren Stephens said the unidentified 21-year-old was apprehended about 1:30 a.m. Wayne County prosecutors said they haven't yet received a warrant request.

A message was left Friday for the victim, Aaron Brantley. Brantley told The Associated Press last Saturday that nobody helped him right after he was knocked down and his car was stolen Feb. 22 at the station on the city's west side. A surveillance video shows Brantley crawling and seeking help, and several people walking or driving by him.

"People were passing me just like I wasn't there. ... I was crawling and they just walk by me like I'm not there," he said.

Brantley said as he approached the building, he asked a woman to open the door for him. He said at first it appeared she wasn't going to but she did and then kept walking. He found it distressing that nobody helped him.

"Any time a person is crawling on the ground, you know something happened to them," he said.

Police also released video showing Brantley paying the cashier before the carjacking. A man who authorities say is the suspect looked at Brantley and left.

Brantley, who retired after a 31-year career as a welder at Chrysler, said he was coming home from a morning Bible study. His said he recently bought the car, a Chrysler 200, to replace another car that had been stolen.

Gas station manager Haissam Jaber said he was glad the surveillance videos were helpful in the investigation. He hopes the arrest — along with the cameras inside and outside the station — will make people think "more than once" about committing crime.

    Police Arrest Man in Carjacking of WWII Vet, NYT, 2.3.2012,






Tensions Raise Specter of Gas

at $5 a Gallon


February 29, 2012
The New York Times


HOUSTON — Gasoline for $5 a gallon? The possibility is hardly far-fetched.

With no clear end to tensions with Iran and Syria and rising demand from countries like China, gas prices are already at record highs for the winter months — averaging $4.32 in California and $3.73 a gallon nationally on Wednesday, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report. As summer approaches, demand for gasoline rises, typically pushing prices up around 20 cents a gallon.

And gas prices could rise another 50 cents a gallon or more, analysts say, if the diplomatic and economic standoff over Iran’s nuclear ambitions escalates into military conflict or there is some other major supply disruption.

“If we get some kind of explosion — like an Israeli attack or some local Iranian revolutionary guard decides to take matters in his own hands and attacks a tanker — than we’d see oil prices push up 20 to 25 percent higher and another 50 cents a gallon at the pump,” said Michael C. Lynch, president of Strategic Energy and Economic Research.

For the typical driver who pumps 60 gallons a month of regular unleaded gasoline, a 50-cent increase in price means an extra expense of $30 a month.

The prospect of such a price increase underscores the political and economic risks that Western political leaders must contend with as they decide how to address the Iran situation. A sharp rise in the prices of oil and gas would crimp the nation’s budding economic recovery. It would also cause big political problems at home for President Obama, who is already being attacked by Republican presidential candidates over gas prices and his overall energy policies, and for European nations struggling to deal with the Continent’s debt crisis.

The Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, told a House committee on Wednesday that rising global oil prices were “likely to push up inflation temporarily while reducing consumers’ purchasing power.” He maintained the Fed’s forecast that the nation’s economy would grow 2.2 to 2.7 percent this year.

The Iran situation has already raised the price of crude oil as much as 20 percent, according to oil experts. On Wednesday, the price of the benchmark American crude settled at $107.07 a barrel. That is about four dollars higher than on the same day in 2008. Later that year, oil and gasoline prices surged to new records, including a record nominal high of $145.29 a barrel for oil and $4.11 a gallon for gasoline in July. (In today’s dollars, that would be $150.87 for oil and $4.27 for gasoline.)

Although prices plunged late in 2008 as the financial crisis took its toll and the recession deepened, that kind of sharp increase could happen again as summer approaches.

“That’s what frightens people,” said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service.

That fear is tempered by optimism — if tensions ease in the Middle East, experts predict that energy prices will fall, with gasoline at the pump potentially dropping 50 cents a gallon or more because supplies are relatively strong in many parts of the country. Some analysts say the world price of oil could fall to $80 a barrel if tensions eased.

And there have been signs in recent days that Iran is feeling the pain of sanctions on its critical oil exports, perhaps increasing its willingness to negotiate with the West.

On Wednesday, Tehran offered Pakistan, which has been suffering power shortages, 80,000 barrels of oil a day on an easy payment plan. It also offered to accept gold rather than dollars for payment from any dealers hoping to get around the Western restrictions on the usual financial channels for buying oil.

And this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a Congressional committee that the administration was working hard to persuade India, China and Turkey, which represent more than a third of Iran’s oil export market, to reduce their purchases.

While all three countries have said publicly that they will continue to buy from Iran, Mrs. Clinton said, “in a number of cases, both on their government side and on their business side, they are taking actions that go further and deeper than perhaps their public statements might lead you to believe.”

Neal Soss, chief economist of Credit Suisse, said sustained high gasoline prices would definitely have an impact on the American economy. “As a rule of thumb, a penny a gallon is worth a bit over $1 billion in consumer purchasing power if it is maintained a whole year. A dollar more would be something in excess of $100 billion, which is about the size of the Social Security tax cut.”

Despite a fall in gasoline demand in the United States and Europe, global oil markets are tightening because demand for energy from Asian countries, particularly China and India, is rising at surprisingly strong rates even as output is declining from several important producing countries.

Gasoline futures are surging, spurred in part by recent refinery closings that may produce a shortage of motor fuel in the Northeast states by summer.

Oil prices have surged about 8 percent since Iran threatened to cut off oil imports to France, Spain, Italy and other European countries three weeks ago as a pre-emptive move against Western moves to tighten sanctions. The European Union has decided to place an embargo on Iranian oil and ban shipping and insurance on its cargoes. Washington has decided on banking sanctions to curtail Iran’s ability to earn money from its oil exports.

Middle East experts express doubts that Iran will follow through on its threats to stop supplying European customers or close the vital oil sea lanes of the Strait of Hormuz. But the saber-rattling from both sides is encouraging investors to buy oil futures contracts at higher and higher prices. Rising conjecture that Israel could launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities has heightened market jitters.

“The bankers are speculating, protecting themselves from higher prices by committing obligations to buy now, and that starts the ball rolling toward higher prices,” said Sadad Ibrahim al-Husseini, former head of exploration and production at Saudi Aramco, the state oil company.

He added that the escalating civil turmoil in Syria, a crucial ally of Iran, “is bound to increase price volatility and that will drive future speculation.”

The Japanese Foreign Ministry signaled on Wednesday that it was close to an agreement with Washington to further reduce shipments of oil from Iran, which have already declined about 20 percent since the beginning of the year.

But any success in tightening sanctions on Iran could squeeze global oil supplies, pushing up prices and causing serious economic repercussions at home and abroad.

“It’s a bind for Obama,” said Mr. Kloza at the Oil Price Information Service. “How do you get tough on Iran without getting tough on American wallets?”

    Tensions Raise Specter of Gas at $5 a Gallon, NYT, 29.2.2012,






The Downsizing in Detroit


January 6, 2011
The New York Times


WAYNE, Mich. — Ten years ago, the Ford Motor plant here churned out giant Expedition and Navigator sport utility vehicles that got 12 miles to the gallon — and it was one of the most profitable auto factories in the world.

Today, after a $550 million renovation, the 140-acre plant is a symbol of a very different Detroit: a greener, leaner industry focused on smaller, energy-efficient cars. The factory will now build Ford’s newest compact car, the Focus, in four different and progressively more fuel-efficient versions, including an all-electric one that will be unveiled on Friday and go on sale this year.

Although the transformation has been a long time coming, Ford and the rest of the domestic auto industry appear to be finally giving up their addiction to gas-guzzling trucks and sport utility vehicles. Prodded first by rising federal fuel economy standards, then shocked in 2008 by $145-a-barrel oil and a global credit crisis that forced General Motors and Chrysler to seek federal bailouts, Detroit is making a fundamental shift toward lighter, more fuel-conscious cars — and turning a profit doing so.

Japanese automakers still hold a lead in overall fuel economy, and Toyota, despite its recall troubles, remains the top seller of hybrids with its Prius.

But Detroit has closed the gap significantly. Last year, passenger cars made by Ford and G.M. averaged more than 30 miles per gallon, according to federal rankings, compared with 27 m.p.g. a decade ago.

G.M. began delivering a plug-in electric hybrid, the Chevrolet Volt, in December, and the company will show off a new compact Buick sedan next week at the Detroit auto show. It is expected to get 31 m.p.g. in highway driving, a far cry from the lumbering Buick Roadmaster of the past.

Of course, many American consumers have yet to give up their affection for larger vehicles, and the domestic automakers still rely on light trucks and S.U.V.’s for a large share of their profits. But the huge, 8,000-pound land yachts of yore have given way to slimmer so-called crossover vehicles that have less powerful engines but can still hold seven people.

With oil prices once again trading around $90 a barrel and gasoline topping $3 a gallon, the American auto companies are pushing hard to accelerate their green transition. G.M.’s new chief executive, Daniel F. Akerson, has told his product executives to plan for oil at $120 a barrel and gasoline at more than $4 a gallon, according to company insiders.

The Obama administration is also nudging the industry along with money for cutting-edge auto technology. The Energy Department has made nearly 50 grants worth $2.4 billion for research and manufacturing. G.M. alone received $241 million, most of it related to the Volt.

Ford, which avoided the disruptions of bankruptcy that befell G.M. and Chrysler in 2009, is further ahead than its hometown rivals in overhauling its fleet, and it is eager to get that message out.

On Friday, it will unveil the all-electric version of its Ford Focus — its answer to the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt — at an event in New York with its chairman, William Clay Ford Jr., and another in Las Vegas with its chief executive, Alan R. Mulally.

“All of us know energy is going to be more expensive going forward,” Mr. Mulally said in an interview. “Consumers are coming together around the world on quality as a reason to purchase and fuel efficiency as a reason to purchase.”

By 2012, the Focus compact will be available to buyers in four versions: gasoline-powered, conventional hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric. All will be built in the Wayne plant, which can easily change the mix of vehicles produced.

While the American automakers still make more truck-based models than their foreign rivals, they have radically scaled back their production. Since 2004, G.M., Ford and Chrysler have closed 17 assembly plants in the United States and Canada that built pickup trucks, S.U.V.’s and vans. It was an unprecedented overhaul that removed about 3.5 million low-mileage vehicles from their annual manufacturing capacity.

The government-sponsored bankruptcies of G.M. and Chrysler, and significant reorganization at Ford on its own, have restored fiscal health to the industry, which had been reeling from overcapacity, huge health care costs and a collapse in consumer credit.

Now Ford can make money building the Focus in its former S.U.V. plant. Health care costs for retirees, which used to add about $1,500 to every vehicle made in a union plant, have been offloaded to a trust administered by the United Automobile Workers. The union has also trimmed staff levels and agreed to lower starting wage scales to bring down manufacturing costs.

“We’ve always had a great market for small vehicles in the United States,” Mr. Mulally said. “We didn’t have small vehicles because we couldn’t make them here profitably.”

Both G.M. and Ford are expected to report impressive profits for 2010, despite annual United States sales well below the 17 million that the industry sold a few years ago. Chrysler, which is still losing money, is lagging in the switchover from trucks to smaller cars as it awaits new products from its Italian partner, Fiat.

Skeptics concede that the domestic companies have narrowed the gap in fuel economy with Japanese automakers, but say that the American automakers need to extend their advanced gas-saving technology to all of their models.

“It’s clear that the Detroit manufacturers are aware of the right decisions and are selectively applying them,” said Jim Kliesch, a senior engineer in the clean-vehicle program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “What we want to see them do is apply them across the board.”

Ford still sold nearly twice as many light trucks as cars in 2010 in the United States. But the vehicle size and mileage of its overall fleet of products have changed substantially.

Its best-selling S.U.V. last year was the smallest in the lineup, the compact Ford Escape, which gets 23 miles to the gallon and is available as a gas-electric hybrid that gets 32 miles a gallon. A decade ago, the iconic Ford Explorer was the industry’s top-selling S.U.V. at 15 m.p.g. (Ford just revamped the Explorer and improved its gas mileage by 25 percent.)

The company is also offering its first full-size pickup with a smaller, turbocharged engine instead of a traditional V-8. And once its big sedans like the Crown Victoria are discontinued, Ford’s largest passenger car will be the medium-size Taurus.

Analysts say that the auto industry’s big investments in electric and plug-in models will not pay off for some time in the marketplace but represent an attempt to gain an important foothold with environmentally conscious consumers.

“There are significant questions about the economic viability of battery-electric vehicles, yet all of the major auto companies are engaged in it,” said Jay Baron, the chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Last year, hybrid sales fell 8 percent, and accounted for just 2 percent of the overall domestic sales, of 11.6 million vehicles.

Far more important to reducing the nation’s fuel consumption are the industry’s efforts to make gasoline-powered cars and trucks more efficient.

“The domestic automakers have done a terrific job of catching up to some of the technology that’s been available, such as direct fuel injection,” Mr. Baron said. “Those technologies can get 30 percent improvements in fuel economy, but there is a limit.”

Even if consumers are not necessarily ready to buy hybrid and electric cars in big numbers, the carmakers say there is no turning back on their efficiency drive. New federal standards will require a fleet average of 36 miles per gallon by 2016. That is a 30 percent improvement from the 27 m.p.g. required for the 2011 model year.

“Are we going to stick with improving fuel economy? You don’t have a choice,” Mr. Akerson of G.M. said. “The government has told us what we have to do, and we will meet those goals.”


Nick Bunkley contributed reporting.

    The Downsizing in Detroit, NYT, 6.1.2011,






Chuck Jordan,

Innovative G.M. Designer,

Dies at 83


December 13, 2010
The New York Times


Chuck Jordan, a General Motors designer who dreamed up automotive confections dripping with tailfins, chrome and postwar exuberance, then helped reshape the look of G.M. cars as the company grappled with foreign competition and steeper fuel costs, died Thursday at his home in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. He was 83.

The cause was lymphoma, his wife, Sally, said.

Alfred P. Sloan Jr., the G.M. patriarch, hired the first design director of a major automaker in 1927 as part of his plan to introduce new models each year. He chose the flamboyant Harley Earl, a confidant of movie stars, who, like his close friend, Cecil B. DeMille, favored jodhpurs.

Mr. Jordan was the third successor to Mr. Earl as G.M.’s vice president of design, and his boldness echoed Mr. Earl’s. When Mr. Jordan took tailfins to their surreal peak with his 1959 Cadillac Eldorado, he said he was “letting a tiger out of the cage.”

The products of his designs included tractors and pickup trucks, Corvettes and Opels, and he contributed to the “wide-track” Pontiac, the baby boomers’ cherished muscle cars. His Aerotrain, G.M.’s 1950s train of the future, elicited wows from design buffs, but did not work well.

Mr. Jordan’s classic designs included the 1963 Buick Riviera, the 1967 Cadillac Eldorado and the 1973 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. His vision was as streamlined as the jet aircraft that inspired it: longer, lower, wider — and intended to excite.

“We deal with design — an intangible and emotional subject,” he said in an interview with Automotive News at the time of his retirement in 1992. “There are no rules or steps to success. It’s a matter of opinion. This isn’t research or engineering with computer programs and hard data.

“Words may not communicate it exactly. You gotta see it and feel it. We deal with an emotion.”

Mr. Jordan fought to retain the pre-eminence of designers in Detroit decision-making, against engineers, brand managers and market researchers. He loathed focus groups.

“A good designer doesn’t need Mr. and Mrs. Zilch from Kansas telling him what to do,” he told Motor Trend in 2006.

That Mr. Jordan, once called “the last of the Great Design Dinosaurs,” could sense trends was suggested by the 1959 Eldorado. Jack Telnack, who was Mr. Jordan’s design counterpart at Ford, told Automotive News in 1992 that that car showed a pitch-perfect feel for the self-confident America of the 1950s.

“We had the resources and the wherewithal in this country to do anything we wanted,” Mr. Telnack said. “We dressed that way, we ate that way, we drove cars that way, we just lived that way, and I think that car was a real statement of where we were in our culture at that time.”

Charles Morrell Jordan was born in Whittier, Calif., on Oct. 21, 1927, and began sketching cars at 6. He went to M.I.T. to study engineering and design, and in his sophomore year won the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild model-car competition. The prize was a $4,000 scholarship, and a nudge to give G.M. a call after graduation.

He did, and Mr. Earl hired him. He stayed four decades, interrupted only by Air Force service in the early 1950s. One of his first jobs was designing a G.M. truck for the 1955 model year, for which he got the design patent.

He loved the creativity of the design studio. “You were free to make mistakes, spill paint, didn’t matter,” he told Motor Trend.

One day, he and some colleagues made a scale model of a car with wheels moved all the way out to the sides, inaugurating Pontiac’s wide-track era.

At 30, Mr. Jordan was named to one of G.M.’s most prestigious posts, chief designer for Cadillac. Five years later, in 1962, Life magazine called him one of the “100 most important young men and women in the United States.”

His jobs included three years in Germany as chief designer for Opel, chief of exterior design and director of the entire design staff. In 1986 he became vice president of design, Mr. Earl’s old job.

In that position he helped restore separate identities to G.M.’s various makes, leading the design team for the Chevrolet Camaros and Pontiac Firebirds of the 1990s, as well as the Buick Reatta. But he was criticized for his 1991 Chevrolet Caprice, which was derided as “Shamu the Whale.”

Mr. Jordan, who taught auto design at a high school after retiring from G.M., is survived by his wife, the former Sally Irene Mericle; his son, Mark, a noted car designer; his daughters, Debra Bryan and Melissa Hall; four grandsons; two brothers; and a sister.

One of his passions was Ferraris, and he owned many over the years, usually the latest model. Enzo Ferrari, the race driver and company founder, once took him for a very fast spin through the mountains.

Mr. Jordan was petrified, but later had a second thought: “Man, that may have been the best day of my life.”

    Chuck Jordan, Innovative G.M. Designer, Dies at 83,
    NYT, 13.12.2010,






In Los Angeles,

Big Step Ahead for Mass Transit


November 25, 2010
The New York Times


LOS ANGELES — This auto-obsessed city — a place where people love their cars almost as much as they hate the traffic — has embarked on the biggest expansion of its mass transit system in decades, an effort to change the way people navigate its sprawling and clogged streets and freeways.

Los Angeles transit officials, after years of debate, have approved an 8.6-mile extension of the Purple Line subway, from Koreatown through a crowded corridor of offices, homes, museums, schools and shopping centers in Beverly Hills, Century City and Westwood.

What once seemed a quixotic vision — the “Subway to the Sea,” connecting Union Station in downtown to the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica — no longer seems quite so quixotic.

At the same time, Los Angeles received $546 million from the federal government to build, over the next 10 years, an 8.5-mile above-ground light-rail line from the Crenshaw district to Los Angeles International Airport.

An 11-mile extension of the Metro Gold Line, which starts in East Los Angeles and will eventually go out to Montclair, began in June, and construction is set to begin this year extending the Exposition Light Rail Line from Culver City to Santa Monica.

Taken together, these developments have emboldened mass transit enthusiasts here and lent credibility to what has become something of a legacy project for Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, who ran for office pledging to build a transit system that would upend long-established commuting habits and ease what has long been a bane of life in Los Angeles.

“This put to rest all this talk of, ‘Will we ever build a subway?’ ” Mr. Villaraigosa said, somewhat triumphantly, in an interview. “This is a big deal. People have been talking about it for years. And they were making fun of me: ‘Where is the subway?!’ ”

Los Angeles once had a large, intricate and thriving public transportation system, with so-called Yellow Car trolleys that ran on downtown streets and a vast network of Red Cars, operated by the Pacific Electric Railroad, that ran throughout the region. This was dismantled amid the city’s fervent embrace of the automobile (encouraged, in no small part, by oil interests in Los Angeles that realized the economic potential of the car).

But with a vote by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority’s board last month to approve the Purple Line expansion, there is a consensus that these projects are going to be built, even among those who describe them as a waste of money in a region that will never embrace mass transit. The projects are being financed by a half-cent sales tax surcharge approved by Los Angeles voters two years ago and expected to raise $40 billion over the next 30 years.

Not to say that there aren’t battles left to be fought.

Beverly Hills officials oppose a proposed stretch of the Purple Line because it would burrow under a public high school; they want the line moved a few blocks north. That has its own complications: skirting the high school would put the subway cheek by jowl against an earthquake fault that runs down Santa Monica Boulevard.

“We very much want the Subway to the Sea, but we are very strongly against the high school route,” said Jimmy Delshad, the mayor of Beverly Hills.

Most immediately, the Republican takeover of the United States House this month threatens to undermine a fiscal maneuver pressed by Mr. Villaraigosa in Washington to accelerate construction of the projects. The mayor had asked the federal government to give an advance loan against those sales tax revenues, allowing the work to be done in 10 years, an idea that seemed to be gaining steam until Election Day.

“Let’s face it, after the midterm election we’re in a new world,” said Joel Epstein, a mass transit advocate.

Representative Henry A. Waxman, the Democrat who represents the area, said he hoped Republicans would not block a plan that, he argued, would create jobs, improve the transit system and not cost the federal government a significant sum of money.

“This is the kind of idea that some Republicans may even find attractive,” Mr. Waxman said. “It’s tremendously important. I see that whenever I’m at home and in my car: it’s just terrible traffic.”

Still, the most intriguing question may be whether a place that has so embraced the culture of cars — and, with its sprawl, could not be more different from subway-friendly cities like New York, London and Paris — will make the kind of lifestyle adjustment envisioned by mass transit enthusiasts. There were an average of 295,000 daily riders on the 79 miles of subway and light-rail lines in October, and 1.2 million on city buses.

Tom Rubin, a mass transit consultant in Oakland, called the subway project fiscal folly that would serve only to take resources away from the widely used, if less efficient, network of buses.

“They have been pushing rail expansion for decades now,” Mr. Rubin said, “and it has not had much of an impact in terms of increasing transit ridership. The big problem is that these are very, very expensive, and we wind up spending so much money on building these rail lines that there is not enough to operate bus service. So we wind up cutting back on bus operations and then raising fares, which drives the riders away.”

Robert B. Cervero, the director of the University of California Transportation Center in Berkeley, said that if the subway expansion cut commuting time as promised, it would indeed change ridership habits. Transit officials said the ride from Koreatown to Westwood by subway would take 24 minutes, compared with 50 minutes during the rush in a car or on a bus.

“The science of public transit is not too complicated,” Mr. Cervero said in an e-mail message. “It comes down to how time-competitive transit is with the private car. If it takes two to three times longer to get from Point A to Point B by transit, the vast majority of folks will drive. If it’s faster going by bus or train, then most will forsake their car and ride transit.”

Mr. Epstein said that changing demographics and population patterns — and ever-rising frustration over traffic — would inevitably drive people from cars underground.

“There’s a whole new type of Angeleno who has no cultural opposition to riding,” he said. “The whole old-school L.A. thinking that people don’t ride subways, that’s a thing of the past.”

    In Los Angeles, Big Step Ahead for Mass Transit, NYT, 25.11.2010,






After Many Stumbles,

the Fall of an American Giant


June 1, 2009
The New York Times


It is a company that helped lift hundreds of thousands of American workers into the middle class. It transformed Detroit into the Silicon Valley of its day, a symbol of America’s talent for innovation. It built celebrated cars, like Cadillacs, that became synonymous with luxury.

And now it is filing for bankruptcy, something that would have been unfathomable even a few years ago, much less decades ago, when it was a dominant force in the American economy.

Rarely has a company fallen so far and so fast as General Motors. And while its bankruptcy appeared increasingly likely in recent weeks, the arrival of the moment is still a staggering blow, particularly for anyone with ties to the company.

“I never ever could have believed that one day this thing would go that way,” said Jim Wangers, a retired G.M. executive who was part of the team that developed the Pontiac GTO, and the author of “Glory Days,” about Pontiac’s heyday in the muscle-car era of the 1960s. “We were so successful,” he added.

Founded in 1908, G.M. ruled the car industry for more than half a century, with a broad range of vehicles, reflecting the company’s promise to offer “a car for every purse and purpose.”

The expression “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country” entered the lexicon, even though it was a slight misquotation of Charles E. Wilson, G.M.’s president in the early 1950s.

But then G.M. began a long and slow process of undermining itself. Its strengths, like the rigid structure that provided discipline early on, became weaknesses, and it lost its feel for reading the American car market it helped create, as Japanese automakers lured away even its most loyal buyers.

Only eight months ago, Rick Wagoner, then its chief executive, stood before hundreds of G.M. employees to celebrate the company’s 100th anniversary. “We’re a company that’s ready to lead for 100 years to come,” Mr. Wagoner said.

Instead of leading, G.M. will instead be following other failed companies on a well-worn path into bankruptcy court.

The moment will reverberate beyond G.M.’s epicenter in Detroit, to factory towns in other parts of Michigan and in states like Indiana, Tennessee and Louisiana. It will even be felt on Fifth Avenue in New York, where it built its financial headquarters, and Epcot at Walt Disney World in Florida, where G.M. sponsors the Test Track Pavilion, a showcase of its latest cars.

G.M. factories churned out family cars, pickup trucks and memorable muscle cars with taut, sculptured body panels that were rolling displays of American DNA.

A G.M. plant was a ticket to prosperity for the communities lucky enough to land one. G.M. literally put Spring Hill, Tenn., on the map when it picked the town outside Nashville for its Saturn plant in 1985, prompting the hamlet to swell with new homes, motels and restaurants.

Now city officials around the country, including those in Spring Hill, nervously await phone calls on Monday to tell them if their plants will be among the 14 G.M. is expected to announce it will close in the latest round of cuts.

But even after its deep cuts, G.M. can still claim to be the country’s largest automaker.

For G.M., that simple fact — its sheer size — was long used as a trump card to end debates. If the critics were so right about all that was wrong with G.M., why did so many people buy its cars?

The company did have vast numbers of loyal buyers, but G.M. lost them through a series of strategic and cultural missteps starting in the 1960s.

It bungled efforts in the 1980s to cut costs by sharing the underpinnings of its cars across different brands, blurring their distinctiveness.

G.M. gave in to union demands in 1990 and created a program that paid workers even when plants were not running, forcing it to build cars and trucks it could not sell without big incentives.

Its finance staff argued with product developers and marketers who pushed for aggressive spending on new cars and trucks. But forced to feed so many brands, G.M. often resorted to a practice called “launch and leave” — spending billions upfront to bring vehicles to market, but then failing to keep supporting them with sustained advertising.

With its market share shrinking, G.M. could not give its multiple brands and car models the individual attention that helped Honda attract customers to the Accord and Toyota to its Camry.

It also lost interest in vehicles that needed time to find their audience, as happened when the company introduced the EV1 electric vehicle and then dropped it in 1999 after only three years.

Now G.M.’s brand lineup is being halved, with the company jettisoning divisions like Pontiac.

“Nobody gave any respect to this thing called image because it wasn’t in the business plan,” Mr. Wangers said. “It was all about, ‘When is this going to earn a profit?’ ”

Over the years, G.M. executives became practiced at the art of explaining their problems, attributing blame to everyone but themselves.

That list included the United Automobile Workers, for demanding health care coverage and pensions (even though G.M. agreed to provide them); government regulators, for imposing rules that G.M. said hampered its competitiveness; the Japanese government, for unfairly helping its own carmakers break into the United States market; and the news media, for failing to appreciate G.M. vehicles and the strides the company was making to improve them.

Asked in 1995 why he had not moved faster to reorganize the company, the late G.M. chief executive Roger Smith replied, “Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if we could have flipped a switch?”

Even last week, G.M.’s newly retired vice chairman, Robert A. Lutz, said the automaker had experienced a “world of hurt, much of it not of our own doing.”

Sloganeering was not backed up by execution. Executives wore lapel pins, for example, in 2002, with the number “29” — referring to the market share the company vowed to regain (most companies focus on profits). Through April of this year, its share was 19 percent, a steep drop from its peak of 54 percent in 1954.

Consumers started blaming G.M. for sub-par vehicles. They may have given them second and third chances, but many eventually started switching to other brands, which will make it that much harder for G.M. to win them back.

Mr. Wagoner was able to hold on to his job for longer than people expected, as G.M.’s stock fell steadily from about $70 when he took charge at the start of the decade. It closed at 75 cents a share on Friday.

Mr. Wagoner was pushed out by the Obama administration, which is now making the call to push the company into bankruptcy court.

A judge will then start the process of building a new, though much diminished, G.M. into a company that might have a shot at a second century. But the automaker that so dominated center stage in the American car market for so long will have to earn that place back.


Nick Bunkley contributed reporting from Detroit.

    After Many Stumbles, the Fall of an American Giant, NYT, 1.6.2009,






Industry Fears U.S.

May Quit New Car Habit


May 31, 2009
The New York Times


DETROIT — For all the drastic cuts and financial overhauls that are meant to secure a future for General Motors and Chrysler, their prospects in coming years will be determined more by the answer to a simple question: Can American drivers live without that new-car smell?

In recent years Americans appeared to be hooked on it and took advantage of home equity loans, easy credit and cheap short-term lease deals to send new-car sales to levels of more than 17 million a year.

Now the market has collapsed by 46 percent to below 10 million, as people are making do with the cars they have, leaving the industry to debate — and worry — about what the new normal will be once the recession ends.

Some say the downturn is temporary and that sales will spring back in a few years. Others believe Americans will rethink whether they need so many cars, particularly new ones.

The answer will be important to the Obama administration as it prepares to put G.M. into bankruptcy on Monday. After the company emerges from bankruptcy, the federal government will own about 70 percent of it, in return for $50 billion in taxpayer aid. G.M. has already received about $20 billion in federal help.

The Treasury Department’s advisers, who initially expected auto sales to pick up late next year, now foresee no jump in demand this year or in 2010. And even five years out, they expect annual sales to be about 15 million, still well below the peaks of this decade.

Making predictions is tricky in this economy. The market has grown more bleak, and worst-case scenarios drafted only months ago are becoming reality.

If sales do not recover, the Treasury will have to provide more financial support for G.M. and for Chrysler, which has received about $10 billion in federal aid, before they can stand on their own and the government can divest its shares.

People like Kate M. Emminger do not offer the carmakers much hope. Ms. Emminger sold her 2006 Toyota Corolla last April because she decided she could not afford her $250 monthly payment, even though she earns about $60,000 a year as a university events planner.

“It just became too expensive to have a car,” Ms. Emminger said. Now, she volunteers at City CarShare, a nonprofit organization in San Francisco, in order to earn free use of its vehicles, which normally rent to members for $5 an hour plus 40 cents a mile. Otherwise, she takes public transit.

But plenty of people in Detroit argue that once the recession is over, buyers will rush back to dealer showrooms.

If sales do pick up, carmakers eventually could be more profitable than they have ever been because of all the costs they have shed, said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“After you rebound from this artificial low in demand, wow,” Mr. Cole said of the potential for auto sales and profits.

He estimates that pent-up demand for new cars is actually about 4 million vehicles higher than the current selling rate, which in April would translate to 9.3 million a year, according to Autodata Incorporated.

Others, however, point to shifts suggesting that Americans’ desire — and need — for new cars may be cooling.

Baby boomers, the biggest group in the car market, are beginning to enter retirement, a stage of life when people typically buy fewer cars. Home values are down sharply, making consumers feel less wealthy, and also cutting off a handy source of money from home-equity loans for new cars.

“We sold to people who purchased cars by refinancing their houses,” said Wilbur Ross, the billionaire financier who has invested in steel mills and auto parts companies.

The housing and financial crisis has taken its toll on reliable customers like Frank Powell, a school administrator in the East Palo Alto school district in California. He moved out of the house he had lived in since 1983 and started renting a few months ago because of his debt burden, which includes auto loans.

“I used to buy cars all the time and took out loans to pay them off,” he said. “As soon as I paid part of one off I’d get another. I’d buy one for my kids, my wife, myself. I can’t do that anymore”

He now has a Cadillac Escalade sport-utility vehicle, but he is thinking about downsizing and driving something much smaller — and for longer.

“Something had to change,” he added. “You just can’t keep going with that many cars.”

Lifestyles have changed, too. As many people move back to cities from suburbs, they are swapping three-car garages for a single parking space. Public transit use is up.

“Too many people are looking at alternatives,” said Scott Griffith, chief executive of Zipcar, the national car-sharing company that has more than 300,000 members, up from about 200,000 a year ago. Mr. Griffith estimates that for every three members, a new car probably goes unsold.

“They’re much smarter about spending money and looking for ways that don’t even involve cars any more,” he added.

Of course, car-sharing services like Zipcar are not available everywhere. They are concentrated in urban areas and college towns, where owning a car can be burdensome and expensive.

Donald Grimes, an economist at the University of Michigan, is forecasting the lowest sales for the driving-age population this year since 1970.

From 1970 to 2001, there were 0.76 vehicles sold per driver in the United States. Now that figure has dropped to 0.4 vehicles per driver, and he does not see much of a rebound in coming years.

The swift decline has spooked the industry. “I don’t think there has ever been a period in our history like this,” Josephine Cooper, Toyota’s group vice president for government and industry affairs, said of her company, which lost $7.1 billion in the first three months of the year. “It is very, very sobering.”

Now Toyota and other carmakers must wait to see if Americans will return to their old car-buying habits — people like Jay S. Allen, owner of a San Francisco consulting firm, and his wife, Jennifer Nicoloff, a product manager at Gap. Over the years, they have owned eight cars between them.

But now they are carless, with no plans to buy. When he needs transportation, Mr. Allen either rides his scooter or borrows a car for a few hours from a local car-sharing service.

“The biggest thing right now is fear,” Mr. Allen said. “We don’t know which way the economy is going to go. We don’t want to buy anything that has long-term implications.”


Mary M. Chapman contributed reporting from Detroit,

Michael J. de la Merced from New York

and Gerry Shih from Palo Alto, Calif.

    Industry Fears U.S. May Quit New Car Habit, NYT, 31.5.2009,






This Land

A Life Selling Pontiacs,

and Feeling Sold Out


May 4, 2009
The New York Times



The Arnold Pontiac dealership is not one of those glass-encased bazaars winking from the main drag, with a showroom the size of a parking lot and a name that sounds like a law firm with too many partners: “Acme Chevrolet Buick Jeep Hyundai Volkswagen Kia Saab. How may I direct your call?”

No, Arnold Pontiac pretty much says it all.

The dealership sits exactly where the Arnold family began a car business back in 1916: on the corner of North Main and East Pike in the pit-stop Western Pennsylvania town of Houston, right next to the First Presbyterian Church, where Arnolds are baptized. Small showroom downstairs, service and parts upstairs, free Pontiac calendars everywhere.

Until a few days ago, the Arnolds had a plan. In the tradition of his father and grandfather, Bob the white-haired elder, 74, would be turning the dealership over to his son, Bob the dark-haired younger, 44. The handoff would have happened sooner if not for the embezzlement of $400,000 a couple of years ago by a longtime employee who was like family and who, it turned out, liked to gamble.

But a far deeper betrayal came last week, the Arnolds say, when another family member and poor gambler, General Motors, announced that by 2010 it would close its Pontiac division and 2,600 of its 6,200 dealerships — all to convince a doubtful Obama administration that it had a business plan strong enough to beat a bankruptcy deadline of June 1 and to deserve more government loans.

Pontiac: The Official Car of the 2009 Economic Crisis.

Small, out-of-the-way Arnold Pontiac sells only Pontiacs, GMC trucks and used cars, so the Arnolds figure their G.M. warranty is about to expire. “It was just like getting kicked in the stomach,” says the elder Mr. Arnold, who sold his first car in 1950, to a local man named Paxton. (“Pontiac Catalina. Two-door hardtop. It was cream and rust.”)

His son, who started working at the dealership when he was 6, using a step stool to dust the tops of gleaming Bonnevilles and GTOs, is still trying to process the apparent evaporation of this chunk of his inheritance. “I’m not going to entertain that just yet,” says the younger Mr. Arnold, who sold his first car in 1987. (“Green Sunbird.”)

As Detroit and Washington work to save the car industry from going over a cliff like some roadster in a black-and-white melodrama, entire families have been upended — families that long ago linked their surname to the name of Pontiac in commercial banns of marriage.

For example, the Arnolds are friends with the Mikans, a longtime Pontiac family in Butler, about 60 miles north of here. Robert Mikan, 76, and his son, David, 39, watched last Monday’s devastating news conference on a computer screen in their dealership, in a back room where an old plaque from the Pennsylvania Automotive Association hangs tilted on the gray paneled wall.

After a while the son, whose first sale was a used white 1988 Pontiac Grand Prix, turned to his father, whose first sale was a gray 1946 Pontiac Torpedo, and said, “Dad, I think that’s it.”

They knew the end had come to a legacy dating to Robert’s father, Ivan, who started a car business in the town of Trafford in 1924, sold Chryslers and Hudsons for a while, then settled on Pontiacs. That was 70 years ago.

Such excitement back then. Every year Ivan Mikan would paper over his showroom windows, building excitement, before unveiling the new Pontiac models at a reception where men wore suits and women wore dresses. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing:

Your 1951 Pontiac Chieftain! And yes, that hood ornament lights up!

Your 1958 Pontiac Bonneville! America’s No. 1 road car!

Your 1968 Pontiac GTO! We call it The Great One!

“That’s a lot of years working for a brand and for a division that is now going to be defunct,” says Robert Mikan, who keeps a 1975 Pontiac Grand Ville convertible, red with white interior, in a garage out back.

David Mikan, who runs the dealership now, says their sales of Pontiacs have steadily declined: 100 sold last year, compared with twice that in 2000. Although the emphasis has shifted to their Volkswagen line and their used cars, he says, the Mikans have always considered themselves a Pontiac family.

Still, a few days ago he removed all the preening Pontiacs from the front of the dealership and replaced them with shiny Volkswagens. Partly out of anger, he says, and partly because Volkswagen, not Pontiac, is central to the Mikan future.

Back in Houston, there is no Volkswagen fallback. The Arnolds have been hitched to Pontiacs since 1926, the year the car made its debut. Because of Pontiac, Bob Arnold the elder attended the General Motors Institute in Flint, Mich., more than a half-century ago. Because of Pontiac, then, he happened to meet his future wife, Angela, at an institute dance.

“Girls got in free,” recalls Ms. Arnold, whose first car was a 1955 Pontiac Star Chief Catalina, turquoise and ivory. Now she drives a 2005 Pontiac Bonneville, candy-apple red.

It is quiet now in the dealership’s office, save for the whoosh of passing cars outside, few of them Pontiacs.

A man pops his head in long enough to say: “Thanks, Bob. That was a good deal you gave my sister.”

The visit underscores what Mr. Arnold has been saying about how small dealerships have cultivated relationships that span generations. Yes, Pontiac made mistakes, but Pontiac traditionally enticed younger people to join the G.M. family.

Mr. Arnold wonders about the future — what about their 20 employees? — and soon that wonder turns to complaint. G.M. should never have gotten rid of the Bonneville. G.M. sacrificed Pontiac to save Buick. It’s all about the Buick market in China, which comes at the expense of American jobs. In the end, G.M. betrayed its family.

But Susan Garontakos, a G.M. spokeswoman, responds with a sobering perspective. The Pontiac line has been unprofitable for several years, she says. G.M. is trying to develop a survival plan under the government’s deadline. Plants are closing and people are losing their jobs — including her son-in-law.

“It’s hitting everyone,” she says.

Mr. Arnold walks across the still showroom, shoes squeaking on the treated floor. He passes a display case of family memorabilia. Portraits of his parents and grandparents. A row of souvenir pens. A hood ornament whose amber glow once announced to the night: Here comes another Pontiac.

He starts talking about how discouraged he is, but interrupts himself long enough to hand a visitor a 2009 calendar, courtesy of Arnold Pontiac, Houston, Pennsylvania.

    A Life Selling Pontiacs, and Feeling Sold Out, NYT, 4.4.2009,






Accident Kills Promoter

at Wis. Monster Truck Show


January 26, 2009
Filed at 11:32 a.m. ET
The New York Times


MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The veteran driver whose huge vehicle killed a promoter at a monster truck show told investigators he never saw the man walk into his path, authorities said.

It was the nation's second fatal accident at a monster truck show in a little over a week.

The promoter, George Eisenhart Jr., suffered severe internal injuries when he was hit by the huge truck Saturday at the Motor Sports Monster Truck & Thrill Show at the Dane County Coliseum, the coroner said. The show was immediately halted.

The big blue truck with oversize tires was driven by its owner, Daniel Patrick, who authorities said has been a driver on the circuit for more than 20 years.

Amateur video broadcast on television showed a man walking in front of the truck.

''Our preliminary investigation shows neither Eisenhart nor the truck driver saw each other before the collision,'' Coroner John Stanley said at a news conference Sunday.

Patrick spoke to investigators and authorities said he would not be charged. Sheriff Dave Mahoney said it appeared all safety precautions had been taken and called the death ''a very tragic accident.''

''He knew he had hit something but obviously, he didn't know it was a person. ... He is taking this very hard,'' Mahoney said.

A call to Patrick's home in Circleville, Ohio, on Monday was answered by a woman who said her husband had no comment.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration also was looking into the death. Kim Stille, director of OSHA's Madison office, said Monday that the investigation was continuing but no obvious safety issues had turned up. She agreed it appeared to be an accident.

Eisenhart, 41, of Chardon, Ohio, was owner and president of Ohio-based Image Productions, which has been staging monster truck shows across the nation for more than 15 years.

Eisenhart had spoken proudly of the show's safety record the day before the accident, telling WKOW in Madison: ''This is our 16th year, and I wish I had a big piece of wood to knock on right now, but we have not had an incident besides a gal slipping in the aisle at another location.''

On Jan. 16, a 6-year-old boy was killed in a Monster Jam event in Tacoma, Wash. Sebastian Hizey was struck on the head by a chunk of metal that flew off a truck doing doughnuts. One man in the audience was seriously injured.

    Accident Kills Promoter at Wis. Monster Truck Show, NYT, 26.1.2009,





Philip Egan,

a Designer of a Fabled Sedan,

Dies at 88


January 12, 2009
The New York Times


Just to see one is to be awash in desire.

The Tucker ’48 sedan was futuristic style incarnate. Its teardrop-shaped body had long, swooping fenders that recalled jet engines. It had three headlights, the center one pivoting as the wheel was turned. And it was fast, capable of 120 miles an hour.

Only 51 were ever built.

A Hollywood film was made about the Tucker ’48. A book was written. No poetic odes were composed to it, but they should have been.

Inside, the car was as sleek and functional as a cockpit. Philip S. Egan, who created much of its interior, had been trained as a designer of airplanes. His layout of the dashboard evoked a coolly elegant jukebox or, perhaps, a really swell cigarette machine.

Mr. Egan, an industrial designer and author who was one of the last surviving members of the Tucker ’48 design team, died on Dec. 26 in San Rafael, Calif. He was 88 and lived in Fairfax, Calif.

His daughter Frances Anamosa confirmed the death.

The Tucker automobile was born of the quixotic vision of Preston Thomas Tucker, a self-taught automobile designer. It was unveiled to a standing ovation in June 1947. Besides being beautiful, the Tucker ’48 had safety features that were years ahead of their time, among them a windshield that popped out on impact. And for all its splendor, it sold for just $2,450; it was a midpriced car for the period.

In October 1949 Mr. Tucker and seven associates went on trial on 31 counts of mail fraud, securities violations and conspiracy. All were acquitted, but the Tucker Corporation, undercapitalized from the start, closed its doors forever.

In 1988 Francis Ford Coppola’s film “Tucker: The Man and His Dream” told, in Hollywood fashion, the story of the Tucker ’48’s fevered gestation, enthusiastic reception and untimely end. The film starred Jeff Bridges as Preston Tucker. There was no character based on Mr. Egan, though there was one modeled on Alex S. Tremulis, the car’s chief designer.

Philip Sidney Egan came into the world — on Dec. 13, 1920, in Oak Park, Ill. — spectacularly well equipped for his future calling. Both his parents were artists, his mother a watercolorist and his father the art director of an advertising agency. Some of Philip Egan’s earliest memories, he later wrote, were of the family Pierce-Arrows, a superb start in life.

Mr. Egan studied aeronautical engineering at the Stewart Technical Institute in New York. After serving with the Army Air Forces in World War II, he worked as a design engineer for the Edo Aircraft Corporation in College Point, Queens, before joining the noted design firm Lippincott & Margulies.

The firm won a contract to help design the Tucker ’48, and Mr. Egan and several colleagues were dispatched to Chicago to work with Mr. Tremulis. (Mr. Tremulis’s design of the car’s exterior had as its starting point a 1946 prototype by George Lawson.)

Mr. Egan contributed some exterior details, but he was mostly responsible for the inside: dashboard, door handles and other functional parts. The instrument panel he created was minimalist and compact, giving the driver concise information in streamlined form.

This was not the norm in the late 1940s. “Dashboards, certainly at that time, tended to be ornate,” William E. Pommering, secretary-treasurer of the Tucker Automobile Club of America (tuckerclub.org), said in a telephone interview on Friday. “They tended to be spread out, they tended to be gaudy, they tended to be chromey.”

Like the exterior, the Tucker’s interior was designed for safety. Mr. Egan conceived a steering wheel that had just a single spoke radiating from its center instead of the usual two or three: this would reduce the impact on the driver’s chest in a crash. But the Tucker Corporation, pressed for time, wound up using steering wheels from Lincoln Zephyrs instead.

After Tucker went out of business, Mr. Egan worked as a senior designer for Sears, Roebuck & Company, creating appliances like sewing machines and vacuum cleaners. He was later the chief designer for Phonic Ear, a maker of hearing aids and other acoustic devices, and had his own design practice.

Mr. Egan’s first marriage, to Jane Wickersham, ended in divorce. Besides Ms. Anamosa, of Napa, Calif., he is survived by another daughter, Sandi Strand of Solana Beach, Calif.; his second wife, the former Virginia Wood; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Mr. Tucker died in 1956. Mr. Tremulis, the chief designer, died in 1991.

Mr. Egan wrote a history of the Tucker ’48, “Design and Destiny: The Making of the Tucker Automobile” (On the Mark Publications), released in 1989. He also wrote nonfiction books for children about the natural world, published by Rand McNally.

Today, 47 Tuckers survive, in museums and private hands. Last year one of them sold at auction for just over a million dollars.

    Philip Egan, a Designer of a Fabled Sedan, Dies at 88, NYT, 12.1.2009,






Nearly the End of the Line for S.U.V.’s


December 24, 2008
The New York Times


JANESVILLE, Wis. — Even a federal bailout could not save three of the last remaining plants in the United States still making sport utility vehicles.

Reeling from its financial problems and a collapsing S.U.V. market, General Motors on Tuesday closed its factories in this city and in Moraine, Ohio, marking the passing of an era when big S.U.V.’s ruled the road. The moves followed the shutdown last Friday of Chrysler’s factory in Newark, Del., which produced full-size S.U.V.’s.

The last Chevrolet Tahoe rolled off the line here in Janesville shortly after 7 a.m. in the 90-year-old plant, which had built more than 3.7 million big S.U.V.’s since the early 1990s.

Most of the plant’s 1,100 remaining workers were not scheduled to work the final day, but many showed up for an emotional closing ceremony. Dan Doubleday, who had 22 years on the job, broke down in the plant’s snowy parking lot afterward.

“I was a fork lift driver,” he said, glancing at his watch through welling tears. “Until about seven minutes ago.”

At the Mocha Moment coffee shop around the corner, two co-workers, Michael Berberich and Lisa Gonzalez, exchanged Christmas presents just as they had most years since they were both hired in 1986.

“For a while we had it made,” Ms. Gonzalez said. “I just wish it would have lasted.”

The fate of the Janesville, Moraine, and Newark plants was sealed this spring, when rising gas prices suddenly made S.U.V.’s unpopular, and long before President Bush approved $17.4 billion in emergency loans last week to keep G.M. and Chrysler out of bankruptcy.

While the overall new vehicle market has dropped 16 percent so far this year, sales of big S.U.V.’s have plummeted 40 percent.

With consumers shifting rapidly to smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, G.M. no longer needed to produce big S.U.V.’s in Janesville as well as in a plant in Texas.

Still, some Janesville workers felt G.M. broke a pledge in its 2007 contract with the United Automobile Workers to keep the factory running.

“We didn’t deserve this,” said John Dohner Jr., shop chairman at U.A.W. Local 95. “We’ve all put a lot of hard work into trying to secure a future here.”

Shrinking market shares have forced G.M., Chrysler and the Ford Motor Company to close more than a dozen assembly plants and shed tens of thousands of workers in recent years. The moves have devastated communities from Georgia to New Jersey and from Michigan to Oklahoma.

Even so, G.M. and Chrysler are likely to close more manufacturing facilities as they overhaul their operations to meet conditions of the federal loans.

“The companies are moving very fast now to close plants, but it may be too little, too late,” said John Casesa, a principal in the Casesa Shapiro Group, a consulting firm. “They’re doing now what they should have done 15 or 20 years ago.”

G.M.’s Moraine plant was the last to build the midsize Chevrolet Blazers and GMC Envoys that were once among the best-selling vehicles in the country.

The Janesville factory built three of the biggest and most profitable vehicles in G.M.’s lineup, the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban and GMC Yukon. The Chrysler plant in Newark also made big S.U.V.’s — the Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen.

Their closings leave the Big Three with only one factory each still devoted to making traditional big S.U.V.’s — Ford in Kentucky, G.M. in Texas, and Chrysler in Detroit.

The Janesville plant once employed more than 5,000 workers and turned out 20,000 Tahoes, Yukons and Suburbans each month. With its closing, residents worried about the future of this city of 64,000 people, about 75 miles southwest of Milwaukee.

“Janesville will lose a lot,” said Patti Homan, as she finished a strawberry-topped waffle at the nearby Eagle Inn restaurant. “I expect my electricity to go up, water rates to go up, property taxes to go up, and the value of my home to go down.”

Ms. Homan worked in the plant for 23 years, and her father, brother and husband all retired from the factory. “It’s generation after generation for so many families here,” she said.

The empty feelings in Janesville were echoed in Moraine, a suburb of Dayton and last week at the Chrysler plant in Newark.

More than 1,000 workers were laid off at the Moraine plant. Under terms of the U.A.W. contract for all its members, they and the workers in Janesville and Newark will collect unemployment checks and payments from G.M. that together equal about 80 percent of their take-home pay.

But those payments will only last about a year. And with the U.A.W. prepared to suspend its “jobs bank” program as a condition of the federal loans, there will be no safety net after that.

Some workers will have an opportunity to transfer to other plants. But with the industry contracting so quickly, there is little job security in making a move.

“I can’t risk transferring,” said David Williams, one of the remaining 1,100 workers at the Newark plant when it closed. “I don’t want to go 1,200 miles away to get laid off again.”

Mr. Williams installed a sunroof on the last Dodge Durango to come down the assembly line in Newark. Now he plans to take massage-therapy classes and pursue a new career far from the factory floor.

“Enough with the concrete,” he said. “It’s time for some carpet and climate control.”

On the last day for the Newark plant, 84-year-old Woody Bevans unlocked the weight room at the U.A.W. union hall and began brewing coffee for a handful of retirees who passed the time there.

A Texan who started work at the plant when it opened in 1952, Mr. Bevans recalled how the factory was first used to build tanks for the Korean War. He retired in 1983, but thought the plant would go on forever.

“We had hope right up until the last,” Mr. Bevans said. “We’re really going to feel it when it shuts down. There’s a big chain reaction, believe me.”

The University of Delaware is negotiating with Chrysler to buy the plant and redevelop the 270-acre site with academic buildings and a technology park.

After the plant closed, one of the workers, Merle Black, drove directly to a Delaware Department of Labor office and registered for job openings. He is hoping to become a heavy equipment operator, and possibly be involved in the demolition of the factory where he used to install airbag parts.

“If I can get in there to help take it apart, I don’t mind,” Mr. Black said. “That’s where I spent the last 19 years. That’s what I know.”

The closing of an auto plant draws a crowd, with some people somber and nostalgic and others defiant and energized.

Outside the Janesville plant on Tuesday, a few workers posed for pictures in front of the building while others said their goodbyes as they loaded gear in their snow-covered S.U.V.’s

One man had two small children with him on the last day. Another man wearing an orange ski mask waved a large American flag as departing workers drove by.

Many of the workers trudged over to a one-story, cinder-block building on the grounds of the factory, a bar called the Zoxx 411 Club. A sign said “customers only” and forbade reporters and media from entering.

Outside, a cluster of reporters, including a documentary film crew from Japan, tried to interview workers about the last days of the S.U.V. plant.

“It’s been a good ride, man,” said Frank Hereford, a body shop worker, as he left the plant with a microwave oven that heated up countless lunches during many of his 38 years with G.M. “Good people worked down here.”

    Nearly the End of the Line for S.U.V.’s, NYT, 24.12.2008,







Was Another Dismal Month

for Auto Sales


December 3, 2008
The New York Times


DETROIT — Toyota said Tuesday that its sales in the United States fell 33.9 percent last month, even as the company offered record-high discounts on its vehicles. The Ford Motor Company said its sales declined 30.6 percent and estimated that total vehicle sales for the industry fell 35 percent.

General Motors, Chrysler and other automakers are scheduled to release their November sales results later in the afternoon. All are expected to say that they sold significantly fewer vehicles than in November 2007 as the economic downturn and tight credit markets deterred consumers from buying a car or truck.

The reports come on the same day that the Detroit automakers are submitting restructuring plans to Congress in a bid to secure at least $25 billion in government-backed loans, and a day after the National Bureau of Economic Research declared that the United States has been in a recession for the last year.

Overall vehicle sales were down 14.6 percent this year through October, when the industry’s sales rate fell to a 25-year low.

Though G.M., Ford and Chrysler have been hit hardest because they sell higher percentages of trucks and sport utility vehicles, this has been an unpleasant year for foreign carmakers like Toyota and Honda as well. Those companies have been deeply discounting their vehicles, something they have done only sparingly before.

Toyota’s discounts averaged $1,908 a vehicle, an all-time high for the company, according to Edmunds.com. Toyota offered zero-percent loans on 11 models. Incentives were more than $3,000 a vehicle for the Detroit automakers, but the average for each company was down slightly from October.

“The story of the industry seems to have shifted a little bit from potential buyers being unable to close the deal due to the credit tightening, towards a widespread reluctance to purchase durable goods at this point, amid continued very weak consumer confidence,” Brian A. Johnson, an analyst with Barclays Capital, wrote in a recent report.

Ford said it planned to make 430,000 vehicles in the first quarter of 2009, 38 percent fewer than it did in the period of 2008. It also expected to build 430,000 vehicles in the current quarter.

“We believe the economy will continue to weaken in 2009,” James D. Farley, Ford’s marketing chief, said in a statement. “Our near-term production plan reflects this view, as we continue to align capacity with customer demand.”

    November Was Another Dismal Month for Auto Sales, NYT, 3.12.2008,






Op-Ed Contributor

Let Detroit Go Bankrupt


November 19, 2008
The New York Times



IF General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.

Without that bailout, Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself. With it, the automakers will stay the course — the suicidal course of declining market shares, insurmountable labor and retiree burdens, technology atrophy, product inferiority and never-ending job losses. Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check.

I love cars, American cars. I was born in Detroit, the son of an auto chief executive. In 1954, my dad, George Romney, was tapped to run American Motors when its president suddenly died. The company itself was on life support — banks were threatening to deal it a death blow. The stock collapsed. I watched Dad work to turn the company around — and years later at business school, they were still talking about it. From the lessons of that turnaround, and from my own experiences, I have several prescriptions for Detroit’s automakers.

First, their huge disadvantage in costs relative to foreign brands must be eliminated. That means new labor agreements to align pay and benefits to match those of workers at competitors like BMW, Honda, Nissan and Toyota. Furthermore, retiree benefits must be reduced so that the total burden per auto for domestic makers is not higher than that of foreign producers.

That extra burden is estimated to be more than $2,000 per car. Think what that means: Ford, for example, needs to cut $2,000 worth of features and quality out of its Taurus to compete with Toyota’s Avalon. Of course the Avalon feels like a better product — it has $2,000 more put into it. Considering this disadvantage, Detroit has done a remarkable job of designing and engineering its cars. But if this cost penalty persists, any bailout will only delay the inevitable.

Second, management as is must go. New faces should be recruited from unrelated industries — from companies widely respected for excellence in marketing, innovation, creativity and labor relations.

The new management must work with labor leaders to see that the enmity between labor and management comes to an end. This division is a holdover from the early years of the last century, when unions brought workers job security and better wages and benefits. But as Walter Reuther, the former head of the United Automobile Workers, said to my father, “Getting more and more pay for less and less work is a dead-end street.”

You don’t have to look far for industries with unions that went down that road. Companies in the 21st century cannot perpetuate the destructive labor relations of the 20th. This will mean a new direction for the U.A.W., profit sharing or stock grants to all employees and a change in Big Three management culture.

The need for collaboration will mean accepting sanity in salaries and perks. At American Motors, my dad cut his pay and that of his executive team, he bought stock in the company, and he went out to factories to talk to workers directly. Get rid of the planes, the executive dining rooms — all the symbols that breed resentment among the hundreds of thousands who will also be sacrificing to keep the companies afloat.

Investments must be made for the future. No more focus on quarterly earnings or the kind of short-term stock appreciation that means quick riches for executives with options. Manage with an eye on cash flow, balance sheets and long-term appreciation. Invest in truly competitive products and innovative technologies — especially fuel-saving designs — that may not arrive for years. Starving research and development is like eating the seed corn.

Just as important to the future of American carmakers is the sales force. When sales are down, you don’t want to lose the only people who can get them to grow. So don’t fire the best dealers, and don’t crush them with new financial or performance demands they can’t meet.

It is not wrong to ask for government help, but the automakers should come up with a win-win proposition. I believe the federal government should invest substantially more in basic research — on new energy sources, fuel-economy technology, materials science and the like — that will ultimately benefit the automotive industry, along with many others. I believe Washington should raise energy research spending to $20 billion a year, from the $4 billion that is spent today. The research could be done at universities, at research labs and even through public-private collaboration. The federal government should also rectify the imbedded tax penalties that favor foreign carmakers.

But don’t ask Washington to give shareholders and bondholders a free pass — they bet on management and they lost.

The American auto industry is vital to our national interest as an employer and as a hub for manufacturing. A managed bankruptcy may be the only path to the fundamental restructuring the industry needs. It would permit the companies to shed excess labor, pension and real estate costs. The federal government should provide guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing and assure car buyers that their warranties are not at risk.

In a managed bankruptcy, the federal government would propel newly competitive and viable automakers, rather than seal their fate with a bailout check.

Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts,

was a candidate for this year’s Republican

presidential nomination.

    Let Detroit Go Bankrupt, NYT, 19.11.2008,






Carl D. Keith,

a Father of the Catalytic Converter,

Dies at 88


November 15, 2008
The New York Times


Carl D. Keith, a co-inventor of the three-way automotive catalytic converter — a major advance in eliminating the toxic tailpipe emissions that once blanketed cities in smog — died Sunday while visiting one of his daughters in New Bern, N.C. He was 88 and lived on Marco Island in Florida.

His grandson Leonard Hardesty Jr. confirmed the death.

Working with John J. Mooney and a team of other chemical engineers at the Engelhard Corporation, one of the world’s largest mineral refining companies, Dr. Keith designed the three-way catalytic converter in the early 1970s, just as the stricter emission requirements of the Clean Air Act Extension of 1970 were coming into effect.

“Billions of people around the world breathe cleaner air because of this invention,” Margo Oge, director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality at the Environmental Protection Agency, said Friday.

The three-way converter was a significant improvement over what is called the oxidizing converter, the patent for which is held by General Motors. The three-way is now standard for cars and light trucks made in the United States and in most of the rest of the world.

Lindsay Brooke, a senior editor of Automotive Engineering International, the magazine of the Society of Automotive Engineers, said Thursday in an interview, “The catalytic converter, combined with the transition to unleaded gasoline, led to a dramatic improvement in air quality and enabled the auto industry to meet the Clean Air Act regulations.”

A catalytic converter is a can-shaped device installed beneath a vehicle as part of the exhaust pipe. Inside the converter, a bricklike ceramic honeycomb with hundreds of tiny passages is coated with a catalyst material, typically platinum or palladium. When the exhaust flows out of the engine and passes over and through the catalyst coating, a chemical reaction renders three toxic compounds harmless.

The oxidizing converter worked for two of those compounds, turning carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide and hydrocarbons into carbon dioxide and water. The three-way device designed by Dr. Keith and his colleagues added the conversion of nitrogen oxides into nitrogen and water, greatly reducing the emission of harmful particulates into the air.

According to an E.P.A. statement, today’s cars are 98 percent cleaner in terms of nitrogen oxide emissions than those built in the 1970s, “and the three-way catalytic converter is the greatest contributor to that reduction.”

David Doniger, the director of climate policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, agreed, pointing out that “smog has gone down sharply, even as the number of cars and the size of the economy has more than doubled.”

Carl Donald Keith was born in Stewart Creek, W.Va., on May 29, 1920, one of three sons of Howard and Mary Rawson Keith. His father was a steelworker, and his mother worked in a bakery.

Dr. Keith graduated from Salem College, in Winston-Salem, N.C., in 1943. He received a master’s degree in chemistry from Indiana University in 1945, and a doctorate from DePaul University in 1947.

He was a chemist for Sinclair Oil from 1943 until 1957, and then joined Engelhard Industries. From 1976 to 1985, when he retired, he served as an executive vice president, president and then chairman of the company.

Dr. Keith’s wife, the former Edith Birmingham, died in 2000. He is survived by two daughters, Judith Hardison of New Bern and Carla Hardesty of Randolph, N.J.; six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

In 2002, President Bush presented Dr. Keith and Mr. Mooney with the National Medal of Technology, the nation’s highest honor for technological innovation.

    Carl D. Keith, a Father of the Catalytic Converter, Dies at 88, NYT, 15.11.2008,






Lower Gas Prices

Don’t Make Americans Feel Rich


November 14, 2008
The New York Times


CLEVELAND — Drivers are breathing a sigh of relief as gasoline prices plunge across the country. Gas below $1.50 a gallon has appeared in a few places in recent days, and the national average has dropped almost in half since July, to $2.18 a gallon.

But even as worry about gas prices fades, it is being replaced by fear about the broader economy. Each 10-cent drop in gasoline prices puts $12 billion a year back in consumers’ pockets. Instead of spending that cash, people are trying to save it or cut their debt, many said in interviews.

“All that money is going right into paying off my credit cards,” said Jose Martinez, 33, as he pumped gas into his Dodge Charger at Ohio Gas Station No. 1 in Cleveland.

Moreover, the fall in gasoline prices is not translating into improved fortunes for automakers, at least not yet. Consumers said they remained wary of gas-guzzling cars on the theory that prices would rise again.

“I don’t think anyone who’s been paying attention for the last eight years would think that now is the time to go out and buy a Hummer,” said Geoff Sundstrom, spokesman for AAA, the automobile club.

When gasoline topped $4 a gallon this summer, Celeste Vazquez of Cleveland started working 10 hours of overtime every week to make ends meet. But lately, with prices falling below $2 a gallon at many stations here, she has been able to cut her hours.

“I finally get to spend time with my kids, which is wonderful,” said Ms. Vazquez, 34, as she paid $1.93 a gallon to fill her Chrysler PT Cruiser. “I doubt it will last, though. I’m not about to go buy a new wardrobe or anything.”

Lower gas prices meant that Art and Lisa Ritchie, who are farmers, could afford to spend $12 on breakfast last week at the Lighthouse Cafe in Lodi, Ohio. But they have no plans to spend tens of thousands of dollars to furnish and landscape their new house.

“I’d love to do those big projects,” said Mr. Ritchie, 49, who farms 16 acres of cherries, peaches, nectarines and figs in northwest Ohio. “But I just know that gas prices will go right back up.”

Lower gasoline prices have followed a rapid drop in the price of oil, to less than $59 a barrel on Thursday, from more than $145 a barrel in July. The pace of the recent drop in fuel prices is “absolutely unprecedented,” said Tom Kloza, publisher and chief analyst for the Oil Price Information Service.

“People are just excited about it,” said Dennelle Fisher, director at the Maverik store in Wheatland, Wyo., which was selling gas for $1.45 a gallon on Thursday, and even giving a 2-cent break on that price to people with the store’s loyalty cards. “They come in and they ask how long are we going to keep it down,” Ms. Fisher said.

Many experts say they believe that gasoline prices are close to bottoming out and that the national average will hover around $2 a gallon through the holidays before creeping up in the new year.

In the terrible economic climate, the gas price cut was not enough to bolster consumer spending in October, according to MasterCard SpendingPulse, a report based on MasterCard purchases and estimates of cash, check and other credit card sales.

“It would be very surprising if things recovered based solely on gasoline prices,” said Michael McNamara, vice president of research and analysis of MasterCard Advisors, which produces SpendingPulse.

Dan Stone certainly has not started spending again. Mr. Stone, of Cleveland, stopped driving his 1996 Dodge Ram pickup on vacations to Arizona and Florida when gas prices rose this year. He also quit buying tickets to Cleveland Indians and Cavaliers games. Now that prices have dropped, the only change he has made is to resume driving his 12-year-old daughter to basketball practice himself instead of arranging car pools.

“I still eat all my meals at home,” said Mr. Stone, 59, as he filled his pickup’s tank recently. “And I haven’t started going back to sports games because I’m pretty sure the gas prices will go right back up.”

Sitting around the communal table at the Lighthouse Cafe in Lodi, three couples enjoyed breakfast last week before leaving for a group camping trip in the Hocking Hills of Ohio, 150 miles away. One of the campers, Bob Leonard, replaced his Chevrolet S-10 pickup four months ago with a Toyota Prius. His brother, Bill Leonard, 65, swapped his Ford Ranger pickup for a compact Toyota Yaris last year.

“I don’t see gas prices staying this low,” said Bob Leonard, 63, a nutrition adviser from Medina, Ohio. “I’m glad I bought the Prius when I did.”

Their friend Bob Keller, 62, had parked his Toyota Highlander S.U.V. and started riding the bus to work in downtown Cleveland. With lower gas prices, riding the bus costs as much as he would spend on gas and parking, but he has not considered switching back.

“I get to nap on the bus,” said Mr. Keller, who works for Cuyahoga County Employment and Family Services. “Besides, why start driving again when the gas prices will only go right back up?”

Across the country, high prices seem to have produced lasting changes in public habits. As prices rose, many people parked their cars and took the bus or train, and that change is evidently sticking even as gas falls. At 22 transit systems surveyed last week by the American Public Transportation Association, ridership either stayed the same or increased over the last two months, said Virginia Miller, spokeswoman for the group.

Likewise, MasterCard Advisors reports show that national gasoline demand remains down compared to previous years — though by only 3 to 4 percent a week, compared with the 8 or 9 percent drops of earlier this year.

When prices topped $4 a gallon over the summer, Jim Booth of Cleveland could not afford gas for his 1992 Dodge Caravan to visit his 2-year-old son, who lived just eight miles away.

Last month, those visits started again. “So that’s wonderful,” said Mr. Booth, 51. “But it’s not like I can afford to buy a new car or anything.”

Not everyone is cutting back. Alexander Kudryk paid $2,000 last week for a 1988 Cadillac Brougham with flashy 22-inch rims so he could cruise the streets of Cleveland in style.

“I love it,” said Mr. Kudryk, 20. “But if gas prices go back up, I’ll have to sell it.”

    Lower Gas Prices Don’t Make Americans Feel Rich, NYT, 14.11.2008,






Average gas price

drops below $3 a gallon


18 October 2008
USA Today
Staff and wire reports


The national average price of a gallon of gasoline has fallen below $3 for the first time since February.

The average price for a gallon of regular gas was $2.991 Saturday, according to the AAA's daily survey of up to 100,000 self serve gas stations by the Oil Price Information Service and Wright Express. That's down from $3.040 Friday.

A year ago, the national average price of a gallon of gas was $2.81, according to AAA. A month ago, it was $3.835.

Gasoline prices have been sliding along with crude oil prices since July, when gasoline hit a peak of $4.114.

According to the survey, gas was the least expensive in Oklahoma, with a gallon of regular averaging $2.58. Other cheap states were Missouri and Kansas, while the most expensive was Alaska, with a gallon averaging nearly $3.92. Hawaii and California also ranked high.

Gas prices likely will fall further, and figure to hit $2.50 to $2.60 a gallon if oil goes down to $50 a barrel as some analysts suspect.

While motorists welcome the decline in price, they are wary given the huge fluctuations the past couple of years, says Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist at San Francisco's Golden Gate University who has studied how high oil prices have affected Americans' buying behavior.

"People have learned that they can't trust gas prices to stay low," she says.

She says she doubts motorists — who cut fuel consumption as prices rose — will return to their old ways, even as prices have come down.

"Everywhere you go, be it the store, the diner, whatever, you hear people talking about there gas costs and how they need to cut back," David Robinson, 67, of Lakewood, N.J., said recently as he was getting coffee at a convenience store. "You still hear it, even though gas keeps dropping."

The drop in gasoline prices comes as crude oil rose Friday, rallying above $71 a barrel on speculation that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Courntries might slash output to try to stop crude's downward spiral.

Light, sweet crude for November delivery rose $2 to settle at $71.85 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after earlier rising as high as $74.30. On Thursday, prices lost $4.69 to settle at $69.85 a barrel.

Despite Friday's modest rally, oil is still down $75 — or 51% — since catapulting to a record high $147.27 July 11.

The pullback in oil and gas comes as a widening economic slowdown forces a wholesale contraction in U.S. energy demand: Americans are driving less, airlines are keeping planes on the ground and businesses are winding down operations.

Worried about the financial fallout of the oil price drop on their countries, OPEC, which controls 40% of the world's oil supply, called a special meeting next Friday in Vienna to address the slide. Underscoring the cartel's anxiety, it moved up the meeting date by nearly a month.

An Iraqi lawmaker said Friday that his government expects to cut its budget next year by $15 billion because of falling oil prices. Abbas al-Bayati, a senior lawmaker of the United Iraqi Alliance, the largest Shiite bloc in parliament, said the recent plunge would cut into earlier budget estimates, which were made when crude was hovering around $120 a barrel.

Analysts say OPEC could decide to trim output by as much as 1 million barrels a day in a bid to halt the slide, in addition to a 500,000 barrel per day cut announced last month.

"Demand is really in trouble," says Addison Armstrong, director of market research at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut. "Every week we get figures showing falling U.S. demand for energy. European demand is just beginning to turn down, and all indications are that China is in for a significant economic downturn."

"We could have prices in the low $60 range very soon," he said.

Still, some analysts say crude's decline has been overdone.

"Even in a dire economic situation, a lot of energy use isn't discretionary, so I expect prices to bounce back at some point," said Gavin Wendt, head of mining and resources research at consultancy Fat Prophets in Sydney.

Contributing: Associated Press writers Mark Williams,

Bruce Shipkowski in Lakewood, N.J.,

Pablo Gorondi in Budapest, Hungary,

Bushra Juhi in Baghdad and Alex Kennedy in Singapore

    Average gas price drops below $3 a gallon, UT, 18.10.2008,






Surge in Natural Gas Cars

Has Utah Driving Cheaply


August 30, 2008
The New York Times


SALT LAKE CITY — The best deal on fuel in the country right now might be here in Utah, where people are waiting in lines to pay the equivalent of 87 cents a gallon. Demand is so strong at rush hour that fuel runs low, and some days people can pump only half a tank.

It is not gasoline they are buying for their cars, but natural gas.

By an odd confluence of public policy and private initiative, Utah has become the first state in the country to experience broad consumer interest in the idea of running cars on clean natural gas.

Utahans are hunting the Internet and traveling the country to pick up used natural gas cars at auctions. They are spending thousands of dollars to transform their trucks and sport utility vehicles to run on compressed gas. Some fueling stations that sell it to the public are so busy they frequently run low on pressure, forcing drivers to return before dawn when demand is down.

It all began when unleaded gasoline rose above $3.25 a gallon last year, and has spiraled into a frenzy in the last few months.

Ron Brown, Honda’s salesman here for the Civic GX, the only car powered by natural gas made by a major automaker in the country, has sold one out of every four of the 800 cars Honda has made so far this year, and he has a pile of 330 deposit slips in his office, each designating a customer waiting months for a new car.

“It’s nuts,” Mr. Brown said. “People are buying these cars from me and turning around and selling them as if they were flipping real estate.”

Advocates for these cars see Mr. Brown’s brisk sales as a sign that natural gas could become the transport fuel of the future, replacing much of the oil the nation imports. While that remains a distant dream, big increases recently in the country’s production of natural gas do raise the possibility of making wider use of the fuel.

To a degree, it is already starting to happen in Utah, where the cost savings have gotten the public’s attention. Natural gas is especially cheap here, so that people spend about 87 cents for a quantity of gas sufficient to propel a car approximately the same distance as a $3.95 gallon of gasoline.

The word about natural gas cars has been spreading in news reports and by word of mouth, and so many Utahans are now trying to get their hands on used natural gas vehicles that they are drying up the national supply. Used car lots are stocking up, and beginning to look like county government parking lots with multiple lines of identical white Civic GXs once used in out-of-state fleets.

Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. got into the act last year, spending $12,000 out of his own pocket to convert his state sport utility vehicle to run on natural gas. “We can create a model that others can look to,” Mr. Huntsman said in an interview. “Every state in America can make this a reality.”

In fact, some unique factors apply in Utah. Natural gas prices at the pump here are controlled and are the cheapest in the country, while the price of conventional gasoline is one of the highest. Questar Gas, the public utility, has compressed-gas pumps around the state open to the public, a fueling infrastructure that few states can match.

Special factors or not, the sudden popularity of natural gas vehicles here demonstrates their potential, according to advocates like T. Boone Pickens, the Texas oil billionaire who is financing a national campaign promoting wind power and natural gas to replace imported oil. “Utah shows that the technology is here and the fuel works and the fuel is better than foreign oil,” Mr. Pickens said.

Natural gas cars produce at least 20 percent less greenhouse gas per mile than regular cars, according to a California study.

No official figures are available on how many natural gas vehicles Utah has, in part because so many people go to garages that install conversion kits that are not certified by the Environmental Protection Agency and are therefore illegal.

(Governor Huntsman has expressed concern, and some in the installation business have requested that the E.P.A. close down the unauthorized operations; the agency says it does not comment on possible investigations.)

But Questar estimates the number at 6,000 and growing by several hundred a month. That is small compared with the 2.7 million vehicles registered in the state, but natural gas executives and state government officials say it makes Utah the fastest-growing market in the country for such cars.

Cars fueled by compressed natural gas have been available intermittently in the United States for decades, and have found wide use in fleets, but have never attracted much consumer interest. The situation is markedly different abroad. Of the eight million natural gas vehicles operating worldwide, only about 116,000 were in the United States, mostly as fleet vans, buses and cars, according to a 2006 Energy Department estimate.

Congress mandated the use of fleets capable of using alternative fuel cars for governments and some energy companies in the early 1990s, but public interest petered out as gasoline prices plummeted. Over the years, all the major car companies except Honda dropped their production in the United States.

The cars have two major disadvantages — a shortage of fueling stations and limited range. (A typical natural gas car goes half as far on a full tank as a gasoline car.) Utah is one of the few states where a driver can travel across the state without being out of range of a station.

The situation is a Catch-22: Carmakers do not want to make natural gas cars when few filling stations are set up for them, and few stations want to install expensive equipment to compress gas with so few cars on the road.

Hundreds of stations supply compressed gas in a few states like California, New York and Arizona, but most are either closed to the public or charge only modestly less than regular gasoline prices.

Retail natural gas prices in some states are triple the price in Utah. The only state that comes close to Utah’s low gas prices is Oklahoma, and a surge of natural gas car buying is going on there, too.

The natural gas industry and some politicians are pushing to open up the market to gas-powered vehicles across the country. Even in states without fueling stations, a few drivers have switched by spending several thousand dollars to install a home gas compressor.

A proposal on the ballot in California this fall would allow the state to sell $5 billion in bonds to finance rebates of $2,000 and more to buyers of natural gas vehicles. Legislation has been introduced in Congress to offer more tax credits to producers and consumers and mandate the installation of gas pumps in certain service stations, with the goal of making natural gas cars 10 percent of the nation’s vehicle fleet over the next decade.

“If the incentives are right and the fuel and cars are available, natural gas can work,” said Gordon Larsen, supervisor for natural gas vehicle operations at Questar Gas. But he said that any drop in gasoline prices douses enthusiasm among drivers considering the switch.

With gasoline hovering just below $4 a gallon for unleaded regular here, interest in the Salt Lake City area is strong.

Questar reports that the volume of natural gas pumped at its 21 filling stations is up 240 percent this year from last, after a 50 percent rise in 2007. Demand has grown so fast that the compressors at many of Questar’s stations run low during the day, forcing drivers to settle for half a tank or fill up during off-peak hours.

The natural gas car surge in Utah is because of several factors. Questar has had filling pumps around the state to fuel its own fleet of service vehicles since the 1980s, and because it had excess capacity, it opened those stations to the public. Natural gas prices are cheap because under Utah regulations, the utility is obliged to offer about half of the gas that it sells to its retail customers at the cost of production.

The state and a few municipalities are preparing to open more filling stations. If the trend continues, it could eventually lower the environmental impact of driving in Utah.

For now, demand for compressed-gas cars is outstripping supply.

“People get into a frenzy and they just have to buy,” said Rick Oliver, owner of a company that converts vehicles. He said that in a recent online auction, a Utah buyer paid $19,000 for a 2001 Civic GX with 50,000 miles — the price a buyer of a new GX would pay after state and federal tax credits.

Gary Frederickson, a 48-year-old computer technician, has bought six natural gas vehicles on Craigslist over the last year, flying as far as Portland and Oakland to pick up the cars. One 1998 Ford Contour he bought for $3,000 in effect cost him nothing because he will receive a $3,000 state tax credit for buying an alternative fuel car.

“It’s crazy to be in Utah and have access to 85-cent-a-gallon fuel and not take advantage of it,” he said before a recent 2-cent increase.

    Surge in Natural Gas Cars Has Utah Driving Cheaply, NYT, 30.8.2008,






You Know Gas Prices Are High

When Texans Start Driving Golf Carts

Low-Speed Electric Vehicles Catch On;
Peters Family Jaunts in the Land of Giants


July 31, 2008
Page A1
The Wall Street Journal


HOUSTON -- In the garage where chiropractor Rick Peters once parked his Dodge pickup, two tiny electric cars now sit back-to-back next to his wife's small SUV.

For trips to work, to run errands or visit friends, Dr. Peters, 43 years old, and his wife, Kris, hop into the munchkin-size cars while their old gas guzzlers gather dust. Admittedly, it's cramped inside the miniautos, which move along city streets at just 25 miles per hour. But the Peterses are converts to their low-speed vehicles.

As more families struggle to cope with high prices at the pump, the Peters, in Texas, have stowed away their regular gas guzzler in favor of a tiny, electric car.

"It makes so much sense for getting around. We go everywhere in it," says Mrs. Peters, 41.

It's a sure sign electric cars have a future when they're catching on in Texas. Others here, too, are abandoning the family car and driving to the office in what appear to be fancy little golf carts. Small battery-powered vehicles have been on the market for years but have mainly been used by workers driving around factories and university campuses.

The small cars are powered by batteries charged by plugging them into regular 110-volt house current. Though they do look like golf carts, they have heftier frames and more powerful engines. Now, with high gasoline prices driving booming sales, many are going to ordinary folks like the Peterses, who have fallen in love with gasoline-free transportation.

Orders at ZAP, a Santa Rosa, Calif., maker of small electric cars, have exploded to about 50 a day from just five six months ago. Shipments at Chrysler LLC's Global Electric Motorcars, or GEM, which made the Peterses' cars, have jumped 30% from last year's second quarter, with some of its 150 dealerships around the country tripling their sales.

Switching to tiny electric cars requires some big adjustments. With three children, the Peterses must use both their little cars when they take family outings. Every trip is an adventure into the land of the giants where they're dwarfed in traffic by SUVs and trucks. They've had to learn how far -- about 30 miles -- they can go on a single charge. The night they got their first car, they rousted a friend dressed in his pajamas for a test drive and he wound up having to help them push the car home.

The cars aren't for long-distance travel. On average, Andrew Kunev, also of Houston, can go about 25 miles on one charge in his Tic Tac-shaped three-wheeled electric car, which is technically a motorcycle and goes up to 40 mph. He sometimes plugs in his car at friends' homes for a refresher charge while he visits.

To fit his 6-foot-2 frame into the tiny driver's compartment so that he can see properly out the windshield, Mr. Kunev has to recline in his seat.

It's a price he doesn't mind paying considering the gas savings -- more than $100 a month -- and the unexpected bonuses. "You wouldn't think it, but it's a chick-magnet," says the unmarried, 40-year-old chemical engineer, adding that women -- and pretty much everybody else, too -- approach him to talk about his unusual car.

Local Sensation

Owners now for two years, Elaine Triplett and her husband are pioneers in their small East Texas hometown of Palestine, where their tiny electric pickup is a local sensation and has inspired two other people they know to buy electric cars. At the request of her supermarket, she drove the gasoline-free vehicle into the store and parked it next to the produce section for Earth Day.

The Tripletts decided it made financial sense to buy the electric truck even when gasoline was costing them less than $2 a gallon. Their 9-foot-long truck is big enough for all their needs, including hauling lumber for a renovation project, and bringing home a 9-foot Christmas tree.

The Peterses have experienced their own neighborhood celebrity in the two months they've owned their GEM electric cars. On a recent trip to the doughnut shop, they met up with people snapping pictures with cellphones. "Everybody looks at you and waves," marveled 8-year-old Alex Peters. The family has been followed home by curious strangers. Other drivers have jumped out of their big cars at stoplights to run over and ask them about their vehicles.

Laws governing the roadworthiness of the little autos vary by state. In Texas, they're legal to drive only on streets with speed limits no higher than 35.

But some owners modify engines so the cars can travel much faster, and a few audacious drivers take them out on the highway. The Texas Department of Transportation recently got a call from a flabbergasted policeman who had stopped a "golf cart" on the freeway, says Kim Sue Lia Perkes, a spokeswoman for the agency. Starting Sept. 1, the department will no longer issue license plates for the tiny vehicles to dissuade drivers from using them like regular cars.

The Peterses' cars get about 30 miles from a full charge, which at about 15 cents per kilowatt hour, amounts to a 60-cent fill-up, or two cents a mile. Compare that with 20 cents a mile for a car that goes 20 miles on one $4 gallon of gasoline. Dr. Peters's chiropractic practice is just a few miles from his home, so he has no problem taking neighborhood streets to get there.

Enjoying the Breeze

Electric cars like the Peterses' can cost from about $7,000 to more than $18,000, depending on the model and accessories, though they paid about $10,000 altogether for the two cars, which they bought used off the Internet. Although the cars share many features with their bigger, gasoline-powered brethren, including blinkers and windshield wipers, they are decidedly more basic. The Peterses' cars don't have air conditioning or even doors -- something that at first made Mrs. Peters particularly nervous when transporting the children. With the kids safely belted in, now she sees the extra breeze as an advantage in the Houston summer heat. The cars make for a bouncy ride along rough streets, and emit a whirring noise that seems to attract barking dogs.

Sharing the road with bigger cars requires extra caution and alertness, say owners. And drivers of normal-size cars sometimes get impatient with the slower, tinier vehicles. Dr. Peters recalls one driver who screamed an expletive-laced version of "get that thing off the road." Generally, though, faster drivers just pass him by. Then, Dr. Peters says, he usually catches up to them at the next light.

    You Know Gas Prices Are High When Texans Start Driving Golf Carts,
    WSJ, 31.7.2008,






Donald Stokes, 94, Auto Tycoon, Dies


July 28, 2008
The New York Times


LONDON — Donald G. Stokes, who was at the heart of the rise and fall of Britain’s automotive industry in the 1960s as chairman of the British Leyland Motor Corporation, died July 21 at the age of 94.

His death was announced on the Web site of the British Parliament, which did not give a location or cause of death. Knighted in 1965 for his contributions to British industry, Mr. Stokes was one of the longest-serving members of the House of Lords.

Charged with rescuing an industry that was overstaffed, inefficient and lacking structure, Mr. Stokes oversaw the merger of the Leyland Motor Corporation and British Motor Holdings in 1986. The merger, which was intended to rescue a struggling carmaker and create a national champion, instead ended in a government bailout and Mr. Stokes’s resignation.

Born in 1914, Mr. Stokes joined Leyland in 1930 as a student apprentice. After serving in World War II, he returned to Leyland convinced that the future of the company lay in selling its vehicles abroad.

He was put in charge of exports and soon won large contracts, including the sale of buses to Cuba. Mr. Stokes, who once said that even though he was an engineer by training his real strength was in selling, soon ascended the ranks to Leyland’s boardroom and became its chairman in 1967.

The late 1960s was a time of consolidation in the automotive industry, and Leyland was on the acquiring end. Through a string of takeovers, including that of the British carmaker Rover, Mr. Stokes turned Leyland from a regional truck business into a global automotive empire.

“He was among a very small group of men who came to personify British industry during the 1960s when revolutionary models such as the Austin and Morris Mini seemed to exemplify British design genius,” the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders wrote on its Web site.

But while Leyland was flourishing, its larger rival, the British Motor Corporation, foundered because of bad management and uncompetitive models. The governing Labor Party, which was eager to preserve the company and avert the loss of thousands of jobs, saw a solution in pressing Mr. Stokes to merge the ailing company with his successful one and create a national leader to rival the likes of Ford.

The result was one of Britain’s largest exporters and an automotive giant that included brands like Jaguar, Rover and Standard-Triumph. But the merged company, led by Mr. Stokes, soon ran into trouble when the integration of the many businesses proved difficult; strikes, low productivity and high costs coincided with an oil crisis and a recession.

In 1975, things became so bad that the government decided to step in, and Mr. Stokes resigned. The company was drastically slimmed down and sold off in pieces.

Mr. Stokes is survived by Patricia Pascall, whom he married in 2000, and a child from his first marriage, to Laura Lamb, who died in 1995.

    Donald Stokes, 94, Auto Tycoon, Dies, NYT, 28.7.2008,






Car Buyers Downsize,

but Spend Big on Options


July 17, 2008
The New York Times


DETROIT — Consumers used to buy small cars for a simple reason: they were cheap. A decade ago, many budget-minded shoppers turned down even options like air-conditioning, power windows and compact disc players to keep the price low.

Now people of all income levels are buying small cars to pinch pennies at the gas pump, but they are not scrimping on creature comforts. Instead, they are spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on options, like heated leather seats and high-end entertainment systems, usually found in luxury cars.

That is adding up to some rare good news for Detroit automakers, which have long had trouble earning a profit on small cars. By contrast, they make as much as $10,000 on each big pickup or sport utility vehicle they sell. But consumer tastes have shifted rapidly as gas has climbed over $4 a gallon.

Sales of Ford’s big F-series pickup have fallen nearly 23 percent this year, for example, while sales of the compact Focus, its most inexpensive and fuel-efficient car at American dealerships, have risen 27 percent. From April to June, two-thirds of the Focuses sold were sporty SES models, priced at a $2,170 premium over the base model, according to data from the Power Information Network, a division of J. D. Power & Associates.

Bev Dickinson, an insurance saleswoman from suburban Detroit, recently bought a $20,000 Focus equipped with the Sync digital entertainment system, Sirius satellite radio, a power sunroof and heated leather seats.

“I was absolutely not going to have anything but leather,” said Mrs. Dickinson, who previously drove two larger Fords, including an Expedition sport utility vehicle.

Small-car buyers often pay $600 for a sunroof, $500 for satellite radio or $400 for a hands-free phone system. Some even spend $300 for colorful interior lights.

In this new math for the auto industry, gas mileage often trumps sticker price for consumers.

“Affordability is not so much the issue as fuel economy,” said George Pipas, Ford’s chief sales analyst. “Just because you want more fuel efficiency doesn’t mean you don’t want a moonroof or leather interior.”

Among the growing ranks of small-car buyers are baby boomers who previously toted their families in well-equipped minivans and S.U.V.’s. Now, with gas above $4 a gallon and their children grown, they want nothing to do with such a large vehicle but have grown accustomed to its luxuries.

The price Americans are paying for a subcompact car has increased an average $2,532 since 2004, nearly double the $1,253 increase for all vehicles, according to the Power Information Network data.

Transaction prices for compact cars have increased an average of $2,370 over the same period and $3,055 for the segment’s top seller, the Honda Civic.

Perhaps the biggest success in the small car segment, in terms of persuading buyers to upgrade, is BMW’s Mini Cooper, which starts as low as $18,050 but typically sells for at least 40 percent more than that. BMW offers myriad options on the Cooper that can take the price well above $40,000.

Lenny Schafer, a landscape contractor in Clinton Township, Mich., is looking to buy a Mini Cooper S convertible that sells for nearly $30,000, and gets much better gas mileage than his family’s S.U.V. and pickup truck.

“If you do the math, financially it’s not worth it,” Mr. Schafer said. “But we figured if we buy something that’s small and fun we can achieve some gas savings. It just kills me personally when I take a ride by myself and I’m getting 10 miles to the gallon and I have nothing in the back.”

While buyers are adding options, tight inventories of small cars have also allowed dealers to charge full price where they previously had to provide discounts. Only a few years ago, some Chevrolet dealers actually gave away a tiny Aveo or Cavalier to people who bought a pickup truck.

Many dealers, having realized that small-car shoppers are willing to buy higher trim levels and optional features, are stocking their lots with more upgraded vehicles. That is particularly true for hot sellers that have waiting lists, such as the Toyota Prius hybrid and the Honda Civic.

D. J. Smith, the sales manager at Panama City Toyota in the Florida Panhandle, said shoppers were so eager to get one of these hard-to-find cars that they would settle for whatever was available, usually at a higher price, so they did not have to keep driving an S.U.V. — and paying $100 to fill its gas tank — all summer.

The $11,550 sticker price on a basic Yaris hatchback, Toyota’s smallest car, gives his dealership $340 in profit, he said. But that more than doubles, to $800, for a top-of-the-line Yaris priced around $17,000.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Mr. Smith said. “You don’t have too many people saying, ‘It has to be white with a power package and it has to have Michelin tires.’ Instead it’s, ‘What do you have and can I get it by the end of the month? Just get me out of my Tahoe.’”

    Car Buyers Downsize, but Spend Big on Options, NYT, 17.7.2008,






At $100 for Tank of Gas,

Some Choke on ‘Fill It’


July 6, 2008
The New York Times


With gasoline prices high and rising, a new financial milestone has arrived: the $100 tank of gas.

Bryan Carisone, a heating and air-conditioning contractor in Raritan, N.J., “absolutely loves” his new GMC Denali XL, an extra-large sport utility vehicle with televisions built into the leather seats. But in June, one week after he bought it, he pulled into a station on a near-empty tank and watched the total climb higher and higher — to $109.

“It just about killed me,” Mr. Carisone said.

For decades, the $100 barrel stood as a hypothetical outlier in doom-and-gloom conversations about future oil prices. And nobody could even imagine an American family paying $100 to fill the tank.

But the future is here. Oil passed $100 a barrel in January and now seems headed toward $150 a barrel. Gasoline prices surpassed $4 a gallon on June 8, stalled for a while, and have been rising again in recent days, setting a record Saturday.

By late spring, owners of pickups and sport utility vehicles with 30-gallon tanks, like the Cadillac Escalade ESV and Chevrolet Suburban, started paying $100 or more to fill a near-empty tank. As gas prices continue to rise — the national average stood at about $4.10 a gallon Saturday — membership in the triple-digit club is growing. Now, even not-so-gargantuan Toyota Land Cruisers and GMC Yukons can cost $100 to fill up.

Data on exactly how often people pay $100 for a tank of gas are scarce, given price variations from market to market and day to day. But during the first five months of 2008, about 11 percent of American drivers said they bought 24 gallons or more at their last fill-up, according to a survey of 81,000 drivers by the NPD Group, a market research firm — which at today’s prices would place many of them at or around $100.

For people who love their big vehicles, the pain is acute.

Members of the Chevy Avalanche Fan Club of North America prize the Avalanche, a large sport utility vehicle, for its versatility, including a rear cab wall that slides forward for a larger pickup bed or backward for more passenger room.

But the Avalanche also has a 31-gallon tank, which would cost $127 to fill at Saturday’s national average price. Even the truck’s most dedicated fans find that galling. David H. Obelcz, who founded the club in 2002 and is still a member of the board, sold his Avalanche because he could not afford gasoline for it.

Thirty members of the fan club’s Arizona chapter used to attend off-roading and other events three times a month. But now that Avalanche owners pay more than $100 per tank, the club is lucky to attract 10 members once every two months, said Eric Tolliver, a chapter leader.

“Everybody’s trying to save money on gas, so now we mostly chat online instead of driving,” Mr. Tolliver said.

Eric Laugen, a firefighter in Seattle, is administrator of the Chevy Avalanche Fan Club of North America. For a trip to Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, he wanted to drive his truck because it has enough room for his fishing and camera gear, as well as space in the back to sleep. But he rode his motorcycle instead. That means pitching a tent every night, and no fishing.

“Motorcycle touring is a pain,” said Mr. Laugen, talking on his cellphone from a park in Alaska. “But then I looked at how much gas would cost in the Avalanche. It just doesn’t make sense anymore.”

Hummer clubs are hurting, too. In Nebraska, Ric Hines of the Omaha Hummer Owner Group — known as Omahog — stopped doing off-road trips this summer and started riding his recumbent bicycle instead.

“I get to camp either way, and biking pushes me to save a few hundred dollars on gas,” Mr. Hines said.

Mark R. Price, founder of the Illiana Hummer Club in the Chicago area, owns three Hummer H1s, which get about eight miles per gallon. “A lot of our members won’t travel 70 miles just to support a parade anymore,” Mr. Price said. “People wait for something a little closer.”

Families that were accustomed to the convenience of sport utility vehicles are having to cut back as well. Colleen Hammond of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, loves packing her three kids and all their soccer gear into her 2000 GMC Yukon XL. But she hates paying $160 to fill the 38.5-gallon tank. Last month, she parked the Yukon in her driveway and borrowed her friend’s Toyota Land Cruiser.

“I don’t know if it gets better gas mileage, but I like her car because it costs $100 to fill it,” said Ms. Hammond, 40. “I think $100 for a tank of gas is cheap now.”

Steve Burtch bought a Dodge Ram truck last year, when gas cost $3.75, because he thought gas prices had peaked and would start coming down. Instead, he pumped his first $100 tank in June. “I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be able to keep this up,” said Mr. Burtch, 43, who lives in Marion, Ohio.

It seems that plenty of other drivers are sharing his dismay. An automotive information Web site and market research firm, Edmunds.com, compiled sales data showing that in the last seven model years, Americans have bought 25.4 million vehicles with tanks 24 gallons or larger — the point at which three figures is now a real possibility. A few big trucks and sport utility vehicles have tanks exceeding 30 gallons.

But people who try to pump $100 worth of gas often find that they cannot, since most pumps that take credit cards shut off at $75 to prevent someone with insufficient funds or a stolen credit card from running off with gas. In addition, some older pumps still are not capable of registering triple-digit bills.

“It’s a huge inconvenience,” said Dr. Walter Bahr, a chiropractor in Cape Coral, Fla., who drives a Dodge Ram 2500 pickup and pays $130 per tank.

Many consumers whose tanks would easily swallow $100 worth of gas refuse to pump that much at once, just to avoid the trauma.

“Usually I don’t let it get real empty so that I don’t have to see that $100 on the pump,” said Bob Hammond, 61, of Chesterland, Ohio, who drives an Avalanche. “It’s a mental thing.”

Gary Chamberlain always pays cash for gasoline, so the pump kept right on spinning two weeks ago when he made his first triple-digit fill-up of his Ford conversion van.

“The bill was $104.98, which was a real shock,” said Mr. Chamberlain, 71, of Marion, Ohio. “I never thought I’d see the day.”

    At $100 for Tank of Gas, Some Choke on ‘Fill It’, NYT, 6.7.2008,






Politics Failed,

but Fuel Prices Cut Congestion


July 3, 2008
The New York Times


Soaring gas prices and higher tolls seem to be doing for traffic in New York what Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s ambitious congestion pricing was supposed to do: reducing the number of cars clogging the city’s streets and pushing more people to use mass transit.

In May, with gasoline at more than $4 a gallon, traffic at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s bridges and tunnels dropped 4.7 percent compared with the same month the previous year.

Preliminary data for June shows a similar decrease in traffic, and officials say the change is largely because of higher prices at the pump.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has recorded a similar decline in travel across its bridges and tunnels since early March, when it raised tolls. The greatest decline was in April, when traffic fell by 4.2 percent. (The transportation authority also increased tolls in March, but by a much smaller amount.)

At the same time, subway, bus and commuter rail ridership has increased.

Weekday subway ridership was up 6.5 percent in April, compared with the same month a year ago. April ridership increased 5.5 percent on the Long Island Rail Road, 4.3 percent on the Metro-North Railroad and almost 9 percent on PATH trains between Manhattan and New Jersey. Use of the subways and rail lines also increased in May, compared with the previous year, but in most cases by smaller amounts. New Jersey Transit ridership, including bus, commuter rail and light rail, was up about 4.6 percent in April and May combined.

“We’re at the point where people really are changing habits,” said Sam Schwartz, a transportation consultant. He said that if gas prices stayed high, the result could be close to the goal set by Mr. Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan, which, if it had been approved, was expected to reduce traffic in much of Manhattan by 6.3 percent.

“If we start eclipsing $5 a gallon, which we might over the summer, I think we might get very close,” Mr. Schwartz said.

Throughout the country, rising gas prices have had a broad economic impact, hitting especially hard in many cities and suburban communities where people are more dependent on cars than in the transit-dense New York City region.

And while there is no denying that increased costs mean a certain pain for drivers in New York, they may also have the unique effect of meshing with the city’s goal of cutting traffic and, as a consequence, lowering pollution.

Bloomberg administration officials, however, said the actual impact may be slight.

“The magnitude here is by no means comparable to the effect that congestion pricing would have in reducing traffic,” said Bruce Schaller, deputy transportation commissioner for planning and sustainability.

“What congestion pricing does,” he added, “is it focuses traffic reduction on the most congested places and times, whereas gasoline prices spread the impact out.”

Still, the new numbers do bolster a central point of the Bloomberg plan: that higher prices can motivate commuters to give up their cars.

“It shows that pricing matters and that people respond to it,” said Jeffrey M. Zupan, a senior fellow for transportation at the Regional Plan Association.

It is hard to say exactly what the impact of lighter bridge and tunnel traffic has been on the streets of Manhattan — or other boroughs — since the city does not take traffic measurements that show changes from month to month. But there are other indications.

The Metropolitan Parking Association, which represents garage and parking lot owners, said that its members had seen about a 10 percent decrease in daily customers. And gas station managers interviewed in Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey said that the number of drivers buying gas had also declined.

Interviews with drivers and transit riders indicate, however, that a change in habits has not come easy — and might be reversed if gas prices fall.

“When prices went over $4, I stopped driving,” said Scott Pisciotti, 41, a real estate portfolio manager from Somers, N.Y. Mr. Pisciotti said he used to drive daily to his office in Midtown Manhattan but now rides a Metro-North train from White Plains to Grand Central Terminal. It is a new routine for him, and he has not fully embraced it. “If prices dropped,” he said, “I would drive a lot more.”

Commuter trains have also become more crowded, riders say.

At the Secaucus Junction train station of New Jersey Transit, Brian Simmons, 30, said that it had become much harder to get a seat on the train in recent months. “It’s like the New York City subway,” he said.

Gas price-induced traffic reduction might have a downside. Mr. Bloomberg’s plan was intended, among other things, to raise hundreds of millions of dollars a year for mass transit improvements by charging cars an $8 fee to enter the area of Manhattan below 59th Street. The plan was defeated in April when legislative leaders in Albany refused to bring it up for a vote.

In contrast, the current reduction in traffic at bridges and tunnels could actually take money away from transit, because a large portion of the tolls collected at the transportation authority’s crossings helps to finance the subways, buses and commuter railroads. In May, toll revenues were more than $4 million below budget projections, and Gary J. Dellaverson, the authority’s chief financial officer, said that June toll revenues appeared to be down even further.

So far, the drop has been more than offset by an increase in fare collections generated by higher transit and rail ridership, but Mr. Dellaverson said that the combination of slipping toll revenues and the increased cost of fuel for the authority’s buses and trains could eventually outpace ridership revenue gains.

The rise in gas prices may also be increasing something that congestion pricing was meant to eliminate: the incentive for drivers to avoid tolls by using the free bridges over the East River, causing heavier traffic in the surrounding neighborhoods.

The congestion pricing plan called for a 6.3 percent reduction in the total miles traveled by all vehicles in the pay zone. That is different from simply taking cars off the street since some vehicles, like taxis, are responsible for a higher share of the total miles driven. Mr. Schaller said that to achieve the program’s goal, the city would have needed at least a 10 percent reduction in the number of cars entering the zone.

Mr. Schwartz estimated that a 4 or 5 percent drop at the bridges and tunnels might mean just a 2 or 3 percent reduction in Manhattan traffic.

While some drivers have given up and switched to trains or buses, those who are sticking with their cars say they are driving less.

Singh Bridgemohan, 50, was putting some gas, at $4.35 a gallon, in his red 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee on a recent morning at an Exxon station in Bay Terrace, Queens. Mr. Bridgemohan, who runs a small construction company, said he used to drive his wife, a nanny, from their home in Jamaica to her work in Bayside every day. Now he does it rarely, to save on gas, while she makes a much longer commute by bus.

At a Shell station on the New Jersey side of the Holland Tunnel, Peter Lin, 54, a sales executive from Holmdel, N.J., paid $56.18 to fill up his 2005 Toyota Camry before heading to work in Manhattan. Mr. Lin echoed several drivers who said that an unexpected benefit of higher driving costs was that there are simply fewer cars on the road.

“Do I like the traffic?” he said. “Yes. Do I like the cost of gas? Forget about it.”

Reporting was contributed by Kathryn Carlson,

Jason Grant, Nate Schweber and Mathew R. Warren.

    Politics Failed, but Fuel Prices Cut Congestion, NYT, 3.7.2008,



















added 16 June 2008















Segway Glides as Gasoline Jumps

Maligned Scooter Winning New Fans;

$5,000 Price Tag


June 16, 2008
The Wall Street Journal
Page B2


With gasoline prices and global warming on their minds, more Americans are getting out of their cars and riding to work -- and riding on the job -- on the once-maligned Segway.

Scott Hervey of Yorba Linda, Calif., bought one of the electric scooters on June 7 and has put 150 miles on it commuting to his custodian's job at Disneyland, about 12 miles away. He had considered buying a Segway for four years, and gasoline prices finally drove him to do it. Now he "glides," as Segway enthusiasts say, to work. "I like passing gas stations," says the 54-year-old.

The two-wheeled Segway, a self-balancing vehicle that runs on a rechargeable battery, debuted amid massive hype in 2001. Tech icons like Steve Jobs, Apple Inc.'s chief executive officer, and Amazon.com Inc. CEO Jeff Bezos predicted it would change the way people lived. But critics panned the high-tech scooter for its $5,000 price tag and portrayed it as a toy for geeks and the rich. Some cities banned it from sidewalks because of safety concerns.

Today, the Segway is gaining converts. It plugs into a standard electrical outlet and can get up to 25 miles per charge.

Sales at the scooter's maker, Segway Inc., have risen to an all-time high, says CEO Jim Norrod. The closely held Manchester, N.H., company doesn't release detailed numbers. (A September 2006 recall showed the company had sold 23,500 Segways.) But Mr. Norrod says he expects sales this quarter to jump 50% from a year earlier, versus a 25% year-over-year increase in the first quarter.

Among the new customers are local governments and universities whose budgets have been pinched at the gas pump. New York's Syracuse University and the University of Kansas say they bought Segways for their campus police this year, in part because of rising gasoline prices.

Has $4 gasoline prompted you to change to your driving habits? Vote in the Question of the Day.Aurora, Ill., bought two Segways in the past month for parking-enforcement officers, to replace a pair of three-wheeled, gasoline-powered scooters now used. Aurora will use the Segways for most of the year -- except in the winter and in the rain, when the gasoline scooters will come back. The city figures its Segways will help cut the $4,000 a year it usually spends on gasoline for the older scooters.

A push for green initiatives in other cites, too, is helping Segway sales. In Seattle, parking-enforcement officials say they began using six Segways this year, chiefly because Mayor Greg Nickels pushed city agencies to go greener. The city plans to buy four more when money becomes available.

And some small businesses are turning to Segways as a marketing tool. A few years ago, Mathew Mitnitsky, owner of Nonni's Italian Eatery in Concord, N.H., experimented with delivering pizza by car, but gasoline and insurance costs made it prohibitive. He bought a Segway a few months ago and customized it to carry a pizza and display ads. It is now making deliveries in the downtown area, he says, and "it saves a ton of money."

Enthusiasts acknowledge the scooters' shortcomings. Their top speed is about 12.5 miles per hour. Commutes of much over 10 miles are less feasible because Segways won't go more than 25 miles on a charge. There's also a safety issue, as riders are exposed to the elements, and hazards like tree branches. They require some coordination; careless riders can fall off, as President Bush did in 2003.

The biggest shortcoming for some is still the $5,000 price tag on a typical model. Buzz Jellett, a Segway dealer in San Antonio, Texas, says that although he has received twice as many phone inquiries about Segways in past months as before, sales have increased minimally because callers balk after hearing the price.

In Millsboro, Del., Cindy and Ross Carlisle, who run a photo and printing business, say they are selling their diesel-powered bus and traveling to more events on their his-and-hers Segways.

And in Keizer, Ore., Joey Serafica's parents offered him two choices for a high-school graduation gift: a used car or a Segway. "The car is more practical for a lot of things: You can cover more distance, you don't get rained on," says Mr. Serafica, 17. "But then, there's also the gas and, of course, the fact mine [would be] the only Segway in Keizer."

After deliberating for several weeks, he chose the Segway.

    Segway Glides as Gasoline Jumps, WSJ, 16.6.2008,









Top Car Dealer Says High Gas Prices

Are Good for the U.S. Auto Industry

AutoNation CEO Says Increase
Will Drive Demand For Hybrids,
Electric Cars and Other Alternatives


June 9, 2008
The Wall Street Journal


Detroit's big auto makers are slashing jobs, closing factories and undertaking costly revamps of their product strategies to cope with $4 a gallon gas. What's the worst thing that could happen now? Gas could get cheap again, says the man who runs America's biggest auto retailer.

"For once we actually have viable alternatives and exciting technology that are really game changers" in the effort to wean transportation from petroleum, says Mike Jackson, chairman and chief executive officer of AutoNation Inc. "However, if the price of petroleum goes down … it undercuts the viability of new technology."

"You have to tell the American people the truth," he says. "Energy costs will be higher."

It might seem odd that America's leading car salesman would want gasoline prices to stay high, given how much damage the recent surge in pump prices has done to demand for the big sport-utility vehicles and pickups that once powered sales at many AutoNation stores.

But Mr. Jackson's point of view about energy policy and the auto industry isn't based on concerns about this month's sales. What has him worried, he says, is that in the future he -- and by extension the whole auto industry -- will be stuck trying to make sense of a fundamentally incoherent national energy strategy, which was mirrored by the seemingly incoherent product strategies that the big U.S. auto makers were pursuing until $130 a barrel oil blew them up.

Readers, over to you: If you had a big SUV or pickup would you be getting rid of it now? Discuss.Mr. Jackson confronts a daunting challenge trying to read American culture and make intelligent bets about what consumers will want to drive.

If he looks in one direction, he sees a widespread consensus that, for a combination of environmental and national security reasons, Americans should consume less oil. To that end, Americans want the auto industry to speed production of electric vehicles and high-mileage, gasoline-electric hybrids, while substantially improving the mileage of conventional oil-powered cars.

Here's the big news: The auto industry finally appears willing and eager to respond.

It's entirely possible that a decade from now, we'll realize that this was a pivotal moment in the auto industry's history. This could be the moment when a century of relying almost exclusively on petroleum to power personal mobility gives way to a new model, in which electricity powers our transportation.

Indeed, there's a case that consumers who want to buy into the next generation of transportation technology shouldn't buy a new car until 2010 or 2011. By then, General Motors Corp. has promised to deliver its hybrid-electric Chevrolet Volt; Nissan Motor Corp. has said it will begin offering electric cars; Honda Motor Co. and several European manufacturers have promised to launch in the U.S. new, advanced, high-mileage clean diesel cars; and Toyota Motor Corp. might have a whole family of hybrid vehicles based on the next generation Toyota Prius.

A gaggle of small companies such as Norway's Think Global AS and Silicon Valley's Tesla Motors Inc. are all gearing up to expand the electric vehicle market if the big guys won't. But the excitement over projects like the Tesla Roadster can't compare to the significance of the shift in mindset among the people who run the world's biggest auto companies. This isn't a crowd given to green idealism, but they have come to the conclusion that remaining totally shackled to petroleum is bad for business and are re-gearing their future vehicle plans accordingly.

But when Mr. Jackson looks in the other direction he sees a widespread consensus that Americans shouldn't have to pay $4 a gallon or more for gasoline, and a Congress that in an election year has put driving down gas prices at the top of its agenda.

Further, he confronts the inertia of more than half a century of automotive marketing investment in teaching consumers that size and power are what make a vehicle desirable, and worth more money.

Mr. Jackson, like others of his baby boom generation, remembers well what happened in the 1980s, after the last big oil price shock. Through a combination of conservation and new production, the U.S. turned the tables on the oil producers. Gas prices plunged, sales of gas guzzlers took off and the table was set for the crisis the U.S. auto industry faces today.

"We are highly skilled at selling size, horsepower and speed at a premium price, and giving away fuel efficiency," Mr. Jackson says. "Now, going forward over the next 10 years we are going to have to convince consumers why they should pay more for a smaller engine…or some new technology that is going to give them a tremendous benefit on fuel efficiency. That's a completely new world for us."

"I'm a good car salesman," Mr. Jackson says. "If I have high gas prices and an open-minded consumer, it's very doable. There is a connection between their needs and what we have to offer them. If we have cheap gasoline, it's mission impossible."

    Top Car Dealer Says High Gas Prices
    Are Good for the U.S. Auto Industry, WSJ, 9.6.2008,






Rural U.S. Takes Worst Hit

as Gas Tops $4 Average


June 9, 2008
The New York Times


TCHULA, Miss. — Gasoline prices reached a national average of $4 a gallon for the first time over the weekend, adding more strain to motorists across the country.

But the pain is not being felt uniformly. Across broad swaths of the South, Southwest and the upper Great Plains, the combination of low incomes, high gas prices and heavy dependence on pickup trucks and vans is putting an even tighter squeeze on family budgets.

Here in the Mississippi Delta, some farm workers are borrowing money from their bosses so they can fill their tanks and get to work. Some are switching jobs for shorter commutes.

People are giving up meat so they can buy fuel. Gasoline theft is rising. And drivers are running out of gas more often, leaving their cars by the side of the road until they can scrape together gas money.

The disparity between rural America and the rest of the country is a matter of simple home economics. Nationwide, Americans are now spending about 4 percent of their take-home income on gasoline. By contrast, in some counties in the Mississippi Delta, that figure has surpassed 13 percent.

As a result, gasoline expenses are rivaling what families spend on food and housing.

“This crisis really impacts those who are at the economic margins of society, mostly in the rural areas and particularly parts of the Southeast,” said Fred Rozell, retail pricing director at the Oil Price Information Service, a fuel analysis firm. “These are people who have to decide between food and transportation.”

A survey by Mr. Rozell’s firm late last month found that the gasoline crisis is taking the highest toll, as a percentage of income, on people in rural areas of the South, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and North and South Dakota.

With the exception of rural Maine, the Northeast appears least affected by gasoline prices because people there make more money and drive shorter distances, or they take a bus or train to work.

But across Mississippi and the rural South, little public transit is available and people have no choice but to drive to work. Since jobs are scarce, commutes are frequently 20 miles or more. Many of the vehicles on the roads here are old rundown trucks, some getting 10 or fewer miles to the gallon.

The survey showed that of the 13 counties where people spent 13 percent or more of their family income on gasoline, 5 were located in Mississippi, 4 were in Alabama, 3 were in Kentucky and 1 was in West Virginia. While people here in Holmes County spent an average of 15.6 percent of their income on gasoline, people in Nassau County, N.Y., spent barely more than 2 percent, according to the survey.

Economists say that despite widespread concern about gasoline prices, the nationwide impact of the oil crisis has so far been gentler than during the oil crises of the 1970s and 1980s, when shortages caused long lines at the pump, set off inflation and drove the economy into recession.

Americans on average now spend about 4 percent of their after-tax income on transportation fuels, according to Brian A. Bethune, an economist at Global Insight, a forecasting firm. That compares with 4.5 percent in early 1981, the highest point since World War II. At its lowest point, in 1998, that share dropped to 1.9 percent.

“Gas prices have doubled over the last year but the economy has not fallen off the cliff,” said Rajeev Dhawan, director of the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State University. “But for the rural lower income people, as a proportion of their income the rise of gas prices is very high.”

While people everywhere are talking about gasoline prices these days, some folks in Tchula (the T is silent) have gone beyond talking.

Anthony Clark, a farm worker from Tchula, says he prays every night for lower gasoline prices. He recently decided not to fix his broken 1992 Chevrolet Astro van because he could not afford the fuel. Now he hires friends and family members to drive him around to buy food and medicine for his diabetic aunt, and his boss sends a van to pick him up for the 10-mile commute to work.

A trip from Tchula to the nearest sizable town about 15 minutes away can cost him $25 roundtrip — for the driving and the waiting. That is about 10 percent of what he makes in a week.

Taking a break under some cottonwood trees beside a drainage ditch filled with buzzing mosquitoes, Mr. Clark and members of his work crew spoke of the big and little changes that higher gas prices have brought. The extra dollars spent at the pump mean electric bills are going unpaid and macaroni is replacing meat at supper. Donations to church are being put off, and video rentals are now unaffordable.

Cleveland Whiteside, who works with Mr. Clark and used to commute 30 miles a day, said his Jeep Cherokee was repossessed last month, because “I paid so much for gas to get to work I couldn’t pay my payments anymore.” His employer, Larry Clanton, has lent him a pickup truck so he can get to work.

Signs of pain and adaptation because of the cost of gas are everywhere. Local fried chicken restaurants are closing because people are eating out less. At the hardware store here, sales have plummeted to $30 a day from $250 a day a month ago.

“Money goes to gasoline — I know mine does,” said the hardware store’s manager, Pam Williams, who tries to attract customers by putting out choice crickets for fishing bait beside the front door.

Local governments are leaving grass high along the roads and doing fewer road repairs to save on fuel costs. The Holmes County government has cut the work week to four days to give workers gasoline relief (keeping the same total of hours), and politicians are even considering replacing sanitation workers with prison inmates on some shifts to conserve money for fuel.

The local price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline was roughly $3.85 last week, slightly below the national average, but the median family income in Holmes County is about $18,500.

Nationwide, regular unleaded gasoline reached an average of $4.005 on Sunday, according to the American Automobile Association. That is the highest price ever and about a dollar higher than at the start of the year.

While looking to cut workers at his fish processing plant in nearby Isola, Miss., Dick Stevens, president of Consolidated Catfish Producers, said that 10 workers walked into his office last week and volunteered to take a buyout rather than continue commuting from Charleston, Miss., 65 miles away. “The gas ate them alive,” he said.

Workers at the plant are trying to find ways to cope. Josephine Cage, who fillets fish, said her 30-mile commute from Tchula to Isola in her 1998 Ford Escort four days a week is costing her $200 a month, or nearly 20 percent of her pay.

“I make it by the grace of God,” she said, and also by replacing meat at supper with soups and green beans and broccoli. She fills her car a little bit every day, because “I can’t afford to fill it up. Whatever money I have, I put it in.”

Sociologists and economists who study rural poverty say the gasoline crisis in the rural South, if it persists, could accelerate population loss and decrease the tax base in some areas as more people move closer to urban manufacturing jobs. They warn that the high cost of driving makes low-wage labor even less attractive to workers, especially those who also have to pay for child care and can live off welfare and food stamps.

“As gas prices rise, working less could be the economically rational choice,” said Tim Slack, a sociologist at Louisiana State University who studies rural poverty. “That would mean lower incomes for the poor and greater distance from the mainstream.”

    Rural U.S. Takes Worst Hit as Gas Tops $4 Average, NYT, 9.6.2008,






Gasoline rises above $4 a gallon

for first time


Mon Jun 9, 2008
11:31am EDT
By Bernard Woodall


LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The U.S. average price for a gallon of regular gasoline topped $4 for the first time, a survey issued on Sunday by the travel group AAA showed.

AAA's survey showed a national average price of $4.005 per gallon, up from $3.67 a month ago and $3.10 a year ago.

Average national gasoline prices had stabilized last week before Thursday and Friday's spike of U.S. crude oil futures by $16 to a record above $139 a barrel. Friday's one-day gain of $10.75 for crude oil was the biggest daily gain in history, and Thursday's gain was the second biggest.

A year ago, U.S. crude was trading at $66 per barrel. Since then, a weakening dollar and the chances of violence in oil-producing nations such as Iran have pushed oil prices higher.

The record crude and gasoline prices have taken a bite out of U.S. motor fuel demand and cut sales of gas-guzzling pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles in favor of smaller cars that use less fuel per mile, said Geoff Sundstrom, AAA's fuel price analyst.

"It's looking like the late 1970s or the early 1980s," said Sundstrom referring to increased sales of smaller vehicles. And available now but not decades ago are hybrids, which run on both electricity and gasoline.

"AAA expresses the same degree of shock and concern that consumers all over the United States are feeling as gasoline prices reach this very high level," said Sundstrom. "The upcoming national presidential and congressional elections ought to reflect the concern in the policy debates that are about to take place."

While Americans cringe at the price of gasoline, they are still paying far less than drivers in many nations, including most European countries. Britain, France and Germany each have average gasoline prices that are at least double the average price in the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.



A survey issued last week found that 74 percent of Americans would change their driving habits if gasoline were to top $4 per gallon.

If gasoline prices hit $5 a gallon, 85 percent of Americans would cut out nonessential driving, consolidate errands, carpool, walk or bike, according to the survey by Ipsos Public Affairs.

Gasoline price analyst Trilby Lundberg's biweekly survey issued on Sunday also showed a national average for regular at $4 per gallon.

"If crude oil prices stay at nearly $139 a barrel, a 30-cent rise (for a gallon of gas) over the next few weeks is possible," said Lundberg, whose publication surveys about 7,000 gasoline stations.

EIA chief Guy Caruso told a Reuters Global Energy Summit last week that the average price for U.S. regular could peak at $4.10 a gallon this month if oil prices are in the $120 to $125 per barrel range.

Investment bank Goldman Sachs analyst Arjun Murti told Barron's oil is likely to rise to $150 to $200 per barrel, but he said $200 was not sustainable because such prices would deeply cut global demand.

At $200 a barrel, Murti said, U.S. gasoline prices would be $5.75 per gallon.

Alaska on May 14 became the first U.S. state to reach $4 for average gasoline. On Sunday, California, with a statewide average for regular gasoline at $4.436, had the highest price among the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

The AAA survey showed Connecticut and Alaska tied for the second-highest, at $4.296 per gallon. Missouri was the lowest at $3.80.

Prices in some U.S. cities have been above $4 per gallon for months. And mid-grade and high-grade gasoline has been over $4 a gallon for weeks or months in many parts of the United States.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

    Gasoline rises above $4 a gallon for first time, R, 9.6.2008,






What makes up

the price of a gallon of gas?


24 May 2008
The Associated Press
USA Today


Consider the game of chicken that plays out every day across Pennsylvania State Highway 441. In Marietta, where the road hugs the Susquehanna River, a Rutter's Farm Store gas station stands on one side, a Sheetz gas station on the other.

Kelly Bosley, who manages Rutter's, doesn't even have to look across the highway to know when Sheetz changes its price for a gallon of gas. When Sheetz raises prices, her own pumps are busy. When Sheetz lowers prices, she has not a car in sight.

She calls Rutter's headquarters to report the competition's new price and wait for instructions.

"I call a lot of times and say, 'They went down, hurry up! Hurry up! Call me! Call me!' Or it could be where theirs goes up, and I'll say, 'Take your time! You know, I like being busy.' But I have no control over that."

You think you feel helpless at the pump?

Bosley makes a living selling gas — and even she has little control over what it costs.

So how exactly are gas prices set? What determines the hair-pulling figure you see displayed in large electronic or plastic numbers? Why is a gallon of gas, say, $4.11 — not $4.10 or $4.12? Why is the price different across the street?

It all starts with oil.

The biggest factor in the skyrocketing price of gasoline is the historic ascent of crude oil, which has surged from $45 per barrel in 2004 to more than $135 this past week, setting new record highs all the while.

In the first quarter of this year, based on a retail price of gas that now seems like a steal — $3.11 a gallon — crude oil accounted for all but about a dollar, or 70%, of the cost, according to the federal government.

The rest is a complex mix of factors, from the cost of turning oil into gas to taxes to marketing costs to, sometimes, nothing more than the competitive whims of your local gas station owner.

Not that understanding the breakdown makes it any less cringe-inducing to fill 'er up.


How it all works

First a primer on how gas gets to your tank:

Once oil is pumped from the ground, it can be sold on the spot market, a last-minute trading arena where oil companies and distributors buy and sell to each other, or straight to refiners. After it's brewed into gasoline, the product can again be sold on the spot market, or directly to wholesalers, who in turn can supply their own stations or sell it to other retailers.

Each step of the way, buyers and sellers negotiate a price until, finally, drivers pay the ultimate tab at the pump.

At the starting point of all this is the price of oil — which, like the oil itself, is nothing if not crude.

The knee-jerk villains are the oil companies, fat with multibillion-dollar profits, frequent targets of populist anger. But wait: The oil companies don't set the price of oil or the cost of a gallon of gas.

Prices are a function of the open market, the result of futures contracts being traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange, or Nymex, and other exchanges around the world.

Buying the current July crude oil futures contract means you're buying oil that will be delivered by the end of July. But most investors who trade futures have no intention of ever accepting the underlying oil: Like stock investors who frequently buy and sell their holdings, they're simply betting that prices will rise or fall.

Of late, on the Nymex, oil futures have been rising.

Why? Blame the falling dollar. Oil is priced in U.S. dollars, and the weaker the dollar gets, the more attractive dollar-denominated oil contracts are to foreign investors — or any investor looking for a safe haven in the turbulent stock market.

The rush of buyers keeps pushing oil futures to a series of new records, and the rest of the energy complex, including gasoline futures, has followed. That pushes up the price of gas that goes into your tank.

"Crude is the driver," said Jim Ritterbusch, president of energy consultancy Ritterbusch and Associates in Galena, Ill. "As long as it stays up there, gasoline's not going to be able to decline much at all, even if demand slips. That's just the way it is."

There is some evidence Americans are buying less gas as the price marches higher, and common sense suggests they would cut back even more if gas rose to $4.50 or $5 a gallon.

Lower demand should mean lower prices — but it takes time for that to happen, given the enormous scale of refining operations that produce gasoline.

"Once demand begins to slow, that needs to translate into inventories, then you get some price weakening," Ritterbusch said. "But it takes a while."

Oil and gasoline prices often move in the same direction, but they aren't linked directly. In fact, while oil prices have more than doubled in the past year, gasoline is only up about 19% during the same time.

Oil prices often fluctuate with production decisions from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which supplies about 40% of the world's crude, or when conflict in the Middle East or Nigeria threatens supplies.

For example, oil prices rose $2.46 in one day last month amid reports a ship under contract to the Defense Department fired warning shots at two boats in the Persian Gulf that may have been Iranian.

A Navy spokesman later said the origin of the boats was unclear, but the news raised concerns that a conflict between U.S. and Iranian forces could cut oil supplies from the region. That same day, gas prices rose another 2.1 cents to a then-record national average of $3.577 a gallon on other supply concerns.

And the rise has only grown more dramatic. Oil sprinted higher this past week, rising more than $4 a barrel on Wednesday alone and past $135 on Thursday.

As for gasoline prices: They're closely tied to demand from U.S. drivers and how efficiently refineries are operating. Falling production or inventories often send prices skyrocketing.

Those prices can vary greatly depending on the region.

The Gulf Coast is the source of about half the gasoline produced in the United States, and areas farthest from there tend to have higher prices because of the cost of shipping gas via pipeline and tanker truck all over the country.

Some of those places, like California and New York, also have higher local taxes that push the price higher.

Oil companies may not set the price of oil and gasoline, but not everyone is willing to sit back and let them claim to be innocent bystanders.

In particular, for the second time this year, Big Oil's biggest executives were on Capitol Hill in recent days getting pummeled by many in Congress for their record profits while Americans struggle with record fuel prices.

"Where is the corporate conscience?" Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., asked the top executives of the five largest U.S. oil companies.


Answers sought

Soaring gas prices have led to cries for a variety of answers, from Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain's suggestion to suspend the federal gas tax this summer to President Bush's call to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and some offshore waters that are now off limits to oil development.

Others have suggested a windfall profits tax on oil companies, although some economists say that might actually hurt supply. Oil companies say they're not to blame for spiking fuel prices, and their earnings, measured against revenue, are in line with other industries.

On top of that, rising oil prices have sharply cut profit margins for refining, and that hits the major oil companies — which both pump oil and refine it for use as gasoline.

A giant like ExxonMobil can handle the blow. Its refining and marketing profits for the first quarter were down 39% from a year ago, but Exxon still banked a nearly $11 billion profit because of the hefty prices earned on crude it pumped out of the ground.

Smaller refiners aren't so fortunate. Sunoco Inc.'s refining and supply business lost $123 million in the first quarter, hurt by lower margins. Tesoro Corp. lost $82 million for the same period.

In any case, huge profits at big oil companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron aren't because of high prices at the pump. Their massive profits are tied to their exploration and production arms, which are benefiting from record crude prices.

Higher crude costs also have squeezed profits at the refining arms of companies like ConocoPhillips, which don't produce enough crude themselves to refine at full capacity without buying more oil from other producers.

CEO Jim Mulva said ConocoPhillips, the second-largest U.S. refiner behind Valero Energy Corp., buys about 2 million barrels of crude a day at market prices to refine into gasoline and other products.

"If oil costs us $30 a barrel or $40 a barrel or $120 a barrel, that's why the cost of gasoline is what it is," he said. "It's not because of taxes. It's not because of ... refining and distribution. It's because of the cost of oil."


Other factors

But it's not only about the price of oil. Other costs are a factor — though they've remained relatively stable.

For example, federal and state taxes added 40 cents to a gallon of gas in the first three months of this year, roughly the same amount as they added four years ago.

California's 63.9 cents of tax is the nation's highest, Alaska's 26.4 cents the lowest. How the money is used varies from state to state, though the federal take helps to build and maintain highways and bridges.

Marketing and distribution costs — the tab for delivering gasoline from refiner to retailer — were 27 cents to start the year, only 6 cents above the cost four years ago.

The cost of refining added 27 cents to a gallon in the first quarter of this year, a nickel less than what it added in 2004, according to the Energy Information Administration.

That refining occurs at sprawling industrial complexes across the U.S., with most of the biggest along the Gulf Coast. Barrels of crude arrive each day by pipeline, ship and barge. The refineries, by heating, treating and blending the raw oil, turn out products like diesel and lubricating oil.

And, of course, gasoline.


A 'waiting game'

What happens when that gasoline makes its way to your neighborhood gas station?

Major oil companies own fewer than 5% of gas stations. Most are owned by small retailers — and many of them say they're struggling these days to turn a profit on gas. That's because wholesale gasoline prices have risen sharply in recent months — again, blame it on crude — but station owners have been unable to raise pump prices fast enough to keep pace.

And you can't keep jacking up the price when drivers are buying less.

Gas station owners face a balancing act: They must try to maintain a price that allows them to afford the next shipment of gasoline but not give the competition an edge.

Stations pay tens of thousands of dollars for each gas shipment before they see a cent in the register. Eventually, many make only a few cents on a gallon of gasoline, a margin that can disappear altogether when credit card fees are added in.

Thank goodness for beef jerky and sodas.

Most gasoline retailers long ago got past any illusion they can make money by selling gas. They rely on gas sales to drive traffic to their shops, where they hope auto repairs or food and drink sales will help them turn a profit.

"You're always out there competing with the guy next door — literally with the guy across the street — and worried too about how you're going to pay for your next supply," said Rayola Dougher, a senior economic adviser at the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry's trade association.

In the Philadelphia suburb of Havertown, Pa., earlier in the week, Sunoco station operator Steve Kehler received a load of gasoline — 9,000 gallons — which, at a wholesale price of $3.729 a gallon, cost him 4 cents more than the previous load.

That left him in a sticky situation: Should he raise prices right away to recoup some of his higher gasoline expenses, or should he hold off for a couple of days in hopes his competitors will also have to raise their prices?

"I'm surrounded by $3.89's, and I'm already at $3.91," said Kehler, referring to his prices and those of some nearby competitors. "I'm going to play a little waiting game right now."

The $33,600 Kehler must pay for his overnight gasoline delivery won't be debited from his bank account for a few days. That gives him a little breathing room, time to hold prices steady. Hiking prices too quickly will hurt sales.

"I'll probably change it tomorrow night, at closing," Kehler said. "I'll go up 4 cents."

That will put Kehler at a gross margin of about 20 cents a gallon. After paying credit card fees, labor and rent, Kehler will be lucky to break even on his gasoline sales.

But many times, he loses money selling gas. Kehler, like most other service station operators, relies entirely upon his car repair business for income.

Of course, the plight of retailers is little consolation for drivers.

Mayra Perez said she works two fast-food jobs to help support her family, and gasoline is becoming harder to afford. She said perhaps the government should step in to help ease the burden, possibly by placing price limits on gasoline.

She was filling the tank of her compact car in Miami this past week to the tune of $3.89 per gallon for regular gas.

"This is horrible," she said. "On the weekend, my husband and I use only one car to save on gas.

"But then there's the cost of food, milk, eggs, the rent."

    What makes up the price of a gallon of gas?, UT, 24.5.2008,






Gas Prices Send Surge of Riders

to Mass Transit


May 10, 2008
The New York Times


DENVER — With the price of gas approaching $4 a gallon, more commuters are abandoning their cars and taking the train or bus instead.

Mass transit systems around the country are seeing standing-room-only crowds on bus lines where seats were once easy to come by. Parking lots at many bus and light rail stations are suddenly overflowing, with commuters in some towns risking a ticket or tow by parking on nearby grassy areas and in vacant lots.

“In almost every transit system I talk to, we’re seeing very high rates of growth the last few months,” said William W. Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association.

“It’s very clear that a significant portion of the increase in transit use is directly caused by people who are looking for alternatives to paying $3.50 a gallon for gas.”

Some cities with long-established public transit systems, like New York and Boston, have seen increases in ridership of 5 percent or more so far this year. But the biggest surges — of 10 to 15 percent or more over last year — are occurring in many metropolitan areas in the South and West where the driving culture is strongest and bus and rail lines are more limited.

Here in Denver, for example, ridership was up 8 percent in the first three months of the year compared with last year, despite a fare increase in January and a slowing economy, which usually means fewer commuters. Several routes on the system have reached capacity, particularly at rush hour, for the first time.

“We are at a tipping point,” said Clarence W. Marsella, chief executive of the Denver Regional Transportation District, referring to gasoline prices.

Transit systems in metropolitan areas like Minneapolis, Seattle, Dallas-Fort Worth and San Francisco reported similar jumps. In cities like Houston, Nashville, Salt Lake City, and Charlotte, N.C., commuters in growing numbers are taking advantage of new bus and train lines built or expanded in the last few years. The American Public Transportation Association reports that localities with fewer than 100,000 people have also experienced large increases in bus ridership.

In New York, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority reports that ridership was up the first three months of the year by more than 5 percent on the Long Island Rail Road and the Metro-North Railroad, while M.T.A. bus ridership was up 10.9 percent. New York City subway use was up 6.8 percent for January and February. Ridership on New Jersey Transit trains was up more than 5 percent for the first three months of the year.

The increase in transit use coincides with other signs that American motorists are beginning to change their driving habits, including buying smaller vehicles. The Energy Department recently predicted that Americans would consume slightly less gasoline this year than last — for the first yearly decline since 1991.

Oil prices broke yet another record on Friday, climbing $2.27, to $125.96 a barrel. The national average for regular unleaded gasoline reached $3.67 a gallon, up from $3.04 a year ago, according to AAA.

But meeting the greater demand for mass transit is proving difficult. The cost of fuel and power for public transportation is about three times that of four years ago, and the slowing economy means local sales tax receipts are down, so there is less money available for transit services. Higher steel prices are making planned expansions more expensive.

Typically, mass transit systems rely on fares to cover about a third of their costs, so they depend on sales taxes and other government funding. Few states use gas tax revenue for mass transit.

In Denver, transportation officials expected to pay $2.62 a gallon for diesel this year, but they are now paying $3.20. Every penny increase costs the Denver Regional Transportation District an extra $100,000 a year. And it is bracing for a $19 million shortfall in sales taxes this year from original projections.

“I’d like to put more buses on the street,” Mr. Marsella said. “I can’t expand service as much as I’d like to.”

Average annual growth from sales tax revenue for the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, a rail service that connects San Francisco with Oakland, has been 4.5 percent over the last 15 years. It expects that to fall to 2 percent this year, and electricity costs are rising.

“This is a year of abundant caution and concern,” said Dorothy W. Dugger, BART’s general manager, even though ridership on the line was up nearly 5 percent in the first quarter of the year.

Nevertheless, Ms. Dugger is happy that mass transit is winning over converts. “The future of mass transit in this country has never been brighter,” she said.

Other factors may be driving people to mass transit, too. Wireless computers turn travel time into productive work time, and more companies are offering workers subsidies to take buses or trains. Traffic congestion is getting worse in many cities, and parking more expensive.

Michael Brewer, an accountant who had always driven the 36-mile trip to downtown Houston from the suburb of West Belford, said he had been thinking about switching to the bus for the last two years. The final straw came when he put $100 of gas into his Pontiac over four days a couple of weeks ago.

“Finally I was ready to trade my independence for the savings,” he said while waiting for a bus.

Brayden Portillo, a freshman at the University of Colorado Denver, drove from his home in the northern suburbs to the downtown campus in his Jeep Cherokee the entire first semester of the school year, enjoying the rap and disco music blasting from his CD player.

He switched to the bus this semester because he was spending $40 a week on gas — half his salary as a part-time store clerk. “Finally, I thought this is stupid,” he said, and he is using the savings to pay down a credit card debt.

The sudden jump in ridership comes after several years of steady, gradual growth. Americans took 10.3 billion trips on public transportation last year, up 2.1 percent from 2006. Transit managers are predicting growth of 5 percent or more this year, the largest increase in at least a decade.

“If we are in a recession or economic downturn, we should be seeing a stagnation or decrease in ridership, but we are not,” said Daniel Grabauskas, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which serves the Boston area. “Fuel prices are without question the single most important factor that is driving people to public transportation.”

Some cities are seeing spectacular gains. The Charlotte Area Transit System, which has a new light rail line, reported that it logged more than two million trips in February, up more than 34 percent from February 2007.

Caltrain, the commuter rail line that serves the San Francisco Peninsula and the Santa Clara Valley, set a record for average weekday ridership in February of 36,993, a 9.3 increase from 2007, according to its most recent public calculation.

The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which operates a commuter rail system from Miami to Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, posted a rise of more than 20 percent in rider numbers this March and April as monthly ridership climbed to 350,000.

“Nobody believed that people would actually give up their cars to ride public transportation,” said Joseph J. Giulietti, executive director of the authority. “But in the last year, and last several months in particular, we have seen exactly that.”

    Gas Prices Send Surge of Riders to Mass Transit, NYT, 11.5.2008,






Gas prices rattle Americans


USA Today
By Judy Keen and Paul Overberg


Record high gas prices are prompting Americans to drive less for the first time in nearly three decades, squeezing family budgets and causing major shifts in driving habits, federal data and a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll show.
As prices near — or in some places top — $4 a gallon, most Americans say they are cutting back on other household spending, seriously considering buying more fuel-efficient cars and consolidating their daily errands to save fuel.

Americans worry that steep gas costs are here to stay: eight in 10 say they doubt today's high prices are temporary, the poll finds. It's the first time such a large majority sees pricey gas as a long-term problem.

The $4 mark, compounded by a sagging economy, could be a tipping point that spurs people to make permanent lifestyle changes to reduce dependence on foreign oil and help the environment, says Steve Reich, a program director at the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida.

"This is a more significant shift in behavior than I've seen through other fluctuations in gasoline prices," he says. "People are starting to understand that this resource … is not something to be taken for granted or wasted."

The average price of a gallon of gas nationwide is $3.65 — the highest ever, adjusted for inflation. California's average: $3.90 a gallon. The federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects a $3.66 per-gallon average this summer.

The pinch is reshaping the way Americans use their cars:

• February was the fourth consecutive month in which miles driven in the USA fell, an analysis of Federal Highway Administration data show.

There hasn't been a similar decline since 1979, when shortages created long lines at pumps. In the 12 months ending in February, the latest month for which data are available, miles driven fell 0.4% from a year earlier. The last drop of that scale was in 1980-81.

The decline, while small, is significant because the U.S. population and number of households, drivers and vehicles grow by 1% to 2% a year. A gallon of gas has gone up 59 cents since February, suggesting the trend seems likely to continue. The EIA expects demand for gas to shrink 0.4% this summer from 2007 and fall 0.3% for the year. It would be the first dip in annual consumption since 1991.

• In 2004 and 2005, about one-third of Americans said they cut spending because of rising gas prices. In the new poll, 60% say they are trimming other expenses. Half of households with incomes below $20,000 say they face severe hardships because of soaring gas prices. Three-fourths of households making $75,000 or more also are changing how they use their cars.

Dawn Morris, a consultant in Dover, Del., is blunt about how gas prices are affecting her family.

"It's killing us," she says. She and her husband often stay home on weekends, and when she balances her checkbook, "every third line it says gas: $20, $30, $50."

• Americans' efforts to conserve gas are evident across the USA. At Don Jacobs Used Cars in Lexington, Ky., salesman Tony Morphis says customers are dumping gas guzzlers and ask first about gas mileage when they shop for replacements. Sonya Jensen, owner of Cat's Paw Marina in St. Augustine, Fla., says some boat owners are considering selling their watercraft. At Cycle Cave in Albuquerque, Hervey Hawk says customers are "dragging 30- to 40-year-old bikes out of the garage" and having them fixed so they can pedal to work.

• In the poll, eight in 10 Americans say they use the most fuel-efficient car they own whenever possible. Three-fourths hunt for the cheapest gas available. Six in 10 share rides with friends or neighbors.

Three-fourths say they are getting tuneups, turning off the air-conditioning or driving slower to improve mileage.

Slower speeds might help save lives, says Dennis Hughes, safety chief for the Wisconsin Transportation Department. There have been fewer driving deaths each month since October compared with a year earlier. A harsh winter and record gas prices "conspired to keep a lot of people off the road, or at least to slow down," he says.

Most of those polled expect things to get worse: 54% say they expect gas prices to reach $6 a gallon in the next five years.

For now, they are rethinking the ways they get around, where they buy a home and what they do for fun.

    Gas prices rattle Americans, UT, 8.5.2008,






A Pioneering Driver Spins Tales,

Not Wheels


May 8, 2008
The New York Times


FREWSBURG, N.Y. — There was a faraway look in Lloyd Moore’s eyes as he recalled racing against a Nascar legend.

“That Petty was a tough driver, good guy,” he said. “We became good friends, but it almost didn’t happen. Once, in Detroit, he booted me, hit my car in the rear. He teed me off. Afterward, I asked him what his idea was. He said, ‘It was just an accident on purpose.’ We both laughed and we shook hands. He was always smiling. All the Pettys smile.”

This Petty was not Kyle, who is 47 and close to retiring as a driver. It was not Richard, Kyle’s father, who is 70 and still the icon of the sport. This was Lee Petty, Richard’s father, who died in 2000 at 86.

Moore, his contemporary, will turn 96 next month. Nascar says he is its oldest living driver. In an interview last week at his home here, he gave evidence that he may be its best storyteller, too.

He lives 80 miles south of Buffalo in the farmhouse where he was born. His village, in the foothills of the Alleghenies, has two service stations, one full-time police officer, no stoplights and road forks that do not show on maps.

Moore drove from 1949 to 1955 in the Grand National series, a predecessor of the Sprint Cup. In his 49 races, he won once, finished in the top five 13 times and in the top 10 23 times. Most of his career earnings of $10,493 went to the car owner. He often paid for his meals on the road.

That was Nascar in its infancy, when many stock car racers made a living as moonshiners delivering illegal booze.

“They were Southern boys,” Moore said. “No one would admit it, but the woods were full of stills. They would deliver a batch, and the cops would chase them. They’d outrun the cops because they had bigger engines in their cars.”

After races in the South, Moore and Petty often drove to the Petty home in Randleman, N.C., and sunned themselves on the lawn. Young Richard would join them. One day there, Moore learned about moonshine life.

“I told Lee we had a guy in our garage who loves to taste that medicine,” Moore said. “Lee drove me to an open well where there were ropes. He pulled the ropes and pulled up a basket with a lot of bottles with corks. He gave me one bottle and said to give it to my friend. I did, and my friend said, ‘Take off the cork.’ He smelled it and said, ‘That’s it, all right.’ ”

Moore’s first Nascar race was in Heidelberg, Pa., outside Pittsburgh. Lee Petty won. Moore was sixth and earned $150, which he split with the car owner.

The fifth-place finisher was Sara Christian.

“I got raspberries from the guys at the track,” Moore said, “and when I got home it was just as bad. Beaten by a woman? Hah, hah.”

His one victory in Nascar came in 1950 at Winchester Speedway in Indiana over a half-mile dirt track. He finished the season fourth in points. His teammate, Bill Rexford, won the title. Among Moore’s celebrated rivals were Buck Baker, Fireball Roberts, Curtis Turner, and the brothers Tim and Fonty Flock.

Moore’s car owner was Julian Buesink, a car dealer.

“We took cars off the showroom floor and drove them to the next race,” Moore said. “Then we reinforced the wheels and maybe got away with doing something with the shocks and steering. We all did it. We never got caught. After the race, we’d drive the car back to Julie’s used-car lot.

“One day, we took Julie’s wife’s car, a Mercury, and it rolled over in practice. I hurt my neck. He got her a new car fast.”

The fast driving was not confined to the racetrack.

“After one race, we were driving home on the Pennsylvania Turnpike,” Moore said. “Bill Rexford was in front of us and Julie was sitting with me. Julie said, ‘Will this thing go any faster?’ So Bill and I started racing side by side on the Pennsylvania Turnpike at 100 miles an hour.”

In Moore’s early years, he struggled to find racing time. He was the only boy among five children, and when his father lost a leg in a farm accident when Lloyd was 5, he had to take much of the workload. He quit high school after a year and a half to maintain the farm. He began racing at 18.

“I would run a tractor around the farm at maybe 12 or 13 miles an hour,” he said. “Then we raced cars on the roads. There were no speed limits then, so the cops couldn’t get us for speeding. They called it reckless driving.”

He raced Model A Fords in the mid-1930s in a little gravel pit, now a reservoir, in Onoville and at a half-mile horse racing track in Leon, N.Y.

“There were 12 or 15 of us,” Moore said. “We paid a $1.50 entry fee and put the money in a hat. That was the prize money. We also raced at Satan’s Bowl of Death in Sugar Grove, Pa. That was an obstacle course: uphill, downhill, through a stream, through the woods. I never dreamed auto racing would go this far.”

He also worked at a Studebaker garage. One day, Rexford asked to borrow his helmet because he was going to a race in Nascar. Moore said he would not mind doing that, either. Rexford told Buesink, the car owner, and soon Rexford had a teammate.

In 1945, Moore bought a plane. He never took a flying lesson, but he said he learned from a handbook. On his first flight, he took off and rose to 100 feet when the engine quit. He crashed in the woods, but escaped serious injury.

“I forgot to turn on the gas,” he said.

Moore, who owned a school bus business until he retired in 1974, now finds adventure watching Nascar races on television. He does not seem thrilled.

“We drove maybe 110 to 120 miles an hour at Daytona and far less on smaller tracks,” he said. “Now they might hit 220. I never thought they would go that fast. That’s O.K., but I don’t like all the talk on TV before the races. It never ends. It’s Hollywood: too much show, not enough racing.

“Those ads on cars and uniforms are ridiculous. I wore a helmet, T-shirt and chopped-off pants. These guys look like a Christmas tree. And at a time when some people don’t have money to buy food, these guys spend so much on gas and tires. But I watch the races on Sundays, although my eyes get kind of dreary because the races are so long.”

His wife of 61 years, Virginia, amended that.

“He watches the beginning of races,” she said, “and I wake him up for the end.”

Moore raised 6 daughters and has 14 grandchildren and 32 great-grandchildren. All live within 25 miles. He stopped driving three years ago because of double vision.

“I don’t like to go too many places,” he said. “I figure I’ve traveled enough.”

In March, Moore slipped in mud and broke his right ankle, so he uses a wheelchair or a walker.

“I drive him to the doctor and church,” Virginia, 84, said. “Except for that, we don’t go out a lot because he’s not up to it.”

One frequent visitor is Reggie Holland, 53, who lives nearby.

“He grew up with my uncle and I’ve known him my whole life,” Holland said of Moore. “He’s a sweet old man, like your grandpa. He’s pretty darn sharp. Give him a refresher, and everything comes out.”

Moore seems happy, if ambivalent.

“My driving career ended because I realized I should be doing more work on the farm,” he said. “I had a lot of kids to feed and my mother and father to take care of. I had been on the road long enough. It was the right decision. I never wanted to go back to racing. I haven’t been to a track since. It seems like when you give it up, you give it up.

“But if I didn’t have such a big family, I would have raced probably another 10 years. There’s nothing like sliding into a car and competing. I like speed. I like the competition. I miss it.”

    A Pioneering Driver Spins Tales, Not Wheels, NYT, 8.5.2008,






Gas Hits $3.60 a Gallon

as Crude Nears $120


April 28, 2008
Filed at 12:27 p.m. ET
The New York Times


NEW YORK (AP) -- Gas prices hit $3.60 a gallon and oil futures rose to their own new record near $120 a barrel on Monday as labor actions overseas threatened crude supplies. Oil prices later retreated to alternate between gains and losses as the dollar stabilized against foreign currencies.

At the pump, the national average price Americans pay to gas up rose 0.4 cent overnight to a record $3.603 a gallon, according to a survey of stations by AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. While prices are 66 cents higher than a year ago, their rate of increase has slowed some since last week, when prices jumped more than 2 cents a day several times.

That could suggest that a price peak is near, analysts said.

''I've got to think we're close to the end on increases,'' said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

However, Lynch thinks prices could rise another 10 cents to 15 cents before they reach that peak and begin falling.

Gas prices are rising in part because refiners are making the seasonal switch-over from making winter-grade gasoline to the more expensive, but less polluting, fuel they must sell during the summer. Supplies tend to fall while refiners are doing this as they try to sell off all of their winter gasoline.

But short supplies of a key ingredient used in the manufacture of summer grade gas have contributed to the increases, as has an intentional slowing of gasoline production by many refiners due to low profit margins on the fuel. Refiners have to buy the crude they turn into gasoline and other fuels, and crude prices have risen much faster over the past year than gas prices.

Light, sweet crude for June delivery rose to a record $119.93 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange overnight, then retreated to trade up 13 cents at $118.65 a barrel. Oil prices alternated between positive and negative territory, buffeted by the dollar, which was mixed against foreign currencies, and concerns about supplies.

When the dollar holds its ground, commodities such as oil become less effective hedges against inflation. Many analysts believe oil's meteoric rise from around $65 a barrel a year ago is due in large part to a protracted decline in the value of the greenback.

Energy investors will be closely watching the Federal Reserve's decision Wednesday on interest rates; lower rates tend to weaken the dollar. If, as expected, the Fed lowers a key interest rate by another quarter percentage point and signals that it will temporarily hold off on any future rate cuts, the dollar could strengthen, and oil might fall.

''A quarter point cut could suggest ... we're getting to a point where the dollar might bottom out,'' Lynch said.

An unexpectedly large cut, or a suggestion that rates might be cut further, however, could fuel oil to new heights.

Meanwhile, Monday, labor actions that cut crude supplies from the North Sea and Nigeria supported prices. BP PLC on Sunday shut down the Forties Pipeline System that carries more than 700,000 barrels of oil a day to the U.K. because of a 48-hour walkout by employees at a refinery in central Scotland.

''With the refinery being shut down, it will affect supplies from the North Sea, and that has a potentially significant impact,'' said David Moore, a commodity strategist with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia in Sydney. ''That comes at the same time that there's production disruptions from Nigeria, so the combined effect of those is the immediate factor that's put pressure on oil prices.''

In Nigeria, workers at an ExxonMobil Corp. joint venture cut production by an unspecified amount to demand more pay. Militant attacks on oil infrastructure have also cut production of Nigeria's light, sweet crude, which is easily refined. After years of attacks, Nigeria's output is dropping and the country can produce only about 75 percent of its official capacity of 2.5 million barrels per day.

In other Nymex trading Monday, May gasoline futures fell 1.58 cent to $3.0379 a gallon, and May heating oil futures fell 0.53 cent to $3.2975 a gallon. May natural gas futures rose 20.7 cents to $11.17 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude futures rose 14 cents to $116.48 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.


Associated Press writers George Jahn in Vienna,

Gillian Wong in Singapore

and Jamey Keaten in Paris

contributed to this report.

    Gas Hits $3.60 a Gallon as Crude Nears $120, NYT, 28.4.2008,






GM Announces New Hybrid System


March 4, 2008
Filed at 9:34 a.m. ET
The New York Times


DETROIT (AP) -- General Motors Corp. says it expects to bring its first lithium-ion battery powered hybrid engine system to market in North America in 2010.

The world's largest automaker by sales was to announce the hybrid system Tuesday at the Geneva International Motor Show, saying the new battery will deliver three times the power of GM's current nickel-metal-hydride batteries.

Automakers and battery companies across the globe have been racing to develop lithium-ion technology, seen by many as the key to mass producing hybrid vehicles powered by conventional and electric motors. The batteries also are essential in producing the next generation of electric cars.

Daimler AG plans to introduce a gasoline-electric hybrid version of its Mercedes-Benz flagship S-Class luxury sedan that also uses a lithium-ion battery starting next year.

Lithium-ion technology already is widely used in consumer electronics, but now is being adapted to meet demanding automotive requirements. The batteries are lighter than other batteries, but cost and concerns about overheating have delayed their use.

Lithium-ion batteries common in laptops are smaller, yet more powerful than the nickel-metal hydride batteries used in gas-electric hybrids like Toyota Motor Corp.'s Prius.

The GM and Daimler announcements in Geneva indicate increasing confidence about lithium-ion technology.

In addition, Toyota said in December it was preparing to start mass producing lithium-ion batteries for low-emission vehicles.

GM said the new hybrid system eventually will spread worldwide, and it expects sales volumes to exceed 100,000 vehicles per year. The system would build on GM's current hybrids, reducing engineering costs and the cost to consumers, the company said.

The battery system would be paired with a wide range of GM engines, including turbocharged gasoline, diesel and biofuel power plants. It would be used in multiple GM models across all brands, but the company would not say which models would get the new system.

The new system will produce a 15 percent to 20 percent increase in fuel economy over what a nonhybrid vehicle would get in 2010, GM spokesman Brian Corbett said.

The company said the hybrid system would debut in North America before the Chevrolet Volt, which is an electric car with a small conventional motor used to recharge the batteries. The company hopes to bring the Volt to market in 2010 as well.

GM said in a statement that the new hybrid system would save fuel by turning the engine off at idle and cutting off fuel during deceleration. It would offer brief electric-only power, the company said in a statement.

    GM Announces New Hybrid System, NYT, 4.3.2008,






Car Plows Into Crowd in Maryland,

Killing 7


February 16, 2008
Filed at 11:37 a.m. ET
The New York Times


ACCOKEEK, Md. (AP) -- A car plowed into a crowd that had gathered to watch a drag race on a suburban road early Saturday, killing seven people and injuring at least four, police said.

Witnesses said they had just watched two cars in the illegal street race speed past when a car without any lights on came up behind them and veered into a crowd of about 50.

''There were just bodies everywhere; it was horrible,'' said Crystal Gaines, 27, whose father was among the dead.

Gaines said she grabbed her child but could not help her father, William Gaines Sr., 61.

''He wasn't breathing, he wasn't moving,'' she said. ''His body was in pieces.''

A white sedan hit people standing on the side of Route 210 around 3:40 a.m., Prince George's County Police Cpl. Clinton Copeland said, but it wasn't clear whether that was one of the cars involved in the race. A tractor-trailer that came by shortly afterward may also have struck someone on the road as it tried to avoid the crash, he said.

''It's probably one of the worst scenes I've seen,'' Copeland said. ''This is a situation that could have been avoided, and it's a very tragic situation.''

Four people were taken to hospitals, Copeland said. Their conditions weren't immediately known.

Hours after the accident on the divided highway in Accokeek, bodies covered in white sheets were scattered along what police were calling a 200-yard crime scene. Some were in the road, while others were on the shoulder.

The sedan came to a rest on an embankment about 150 feet from where the crowd had been. It had a crumpled front and hood, and the roof had partially collapsed.

The driver of the white sedan had been interviewed and did not appear to be seriously hurt, but a passenger was among the dead, Police Capt. Donald Frick said.

Authorities were working to identify the victims by showing digital photos of them to bystanders who said loved ones had been hurt. John Courtney said after viewing one of the images that his brother, Mark, 33, was among the dead.

''He liked going to the race track, watching races,'' Courtney said. ''It's going to take a toll on my family for a long time.''

Investigators had ''more questions than answers,'' Copeland said.

Route 210 has two lanes in each direction and traffic lights about every 150 to 200 yards in Accokeek, about 20 miles south of Washington. In that area, the road is flanked by some businesses but has little traffic in the early hours, Copeland said.

    Car Plows Into Crowd in Maryland, Killing 7, NYT, 16.2.2008,






In Many Communities,

It’s Not Easy Going Green


February 7, 200
The New York Times


ARLINGTON, Va. — This urban suburb of Washington seems well-prepared for a leading role in the green revolution embraced by hundreds of the nation’s cities, counties and towns.

For decades, Arlington County’s development has been consciously clustered around its subway line. There is abundant open space to plant thousands of trees. Residents also seem eager to cut back on their own energy use.

Jose R. Fernandez, who moved here last year and works at the nearby national headquarters of the National Guard, chose to settle in Arlington because he does not need a car. “I can go anywhere on the bus,” Mr. Fernandez said, “or I can ride my bike anywhere.”

But even in Arlington, county officials are reckoning with the fact that though green is the dream, the shade of civic achievement is closer to olive drab. Constraints on budgets, legal restrictions by states, and people’s unwillingness to change sometimes put brakes on ambitious plans to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

Emissions are stubborn things. In Arlington, emissions per capita are now 15 tons annually and rising. In Sonoma County, Calif., the figure is close to nine tons. Arlington is not alone in bumping up against obstacles.

“We have been doing things like filling potholes and reducing crime since cities began,” said David N. Cicilline, the mayor of Providence, R.I., but energy efficiency requires “a whole new infrastructure to evaluate and measure.”

When Providence officials pushed for new police cars with four cylinders instead of six, to save gasoline, there was pushback — unsuccessful — from police officers who preferred more powerful engines to pursue speeders or criminals. Cleveland’s plans to retrofit a local hot-water plant, produce new electricity and save tons of greenhouse gas emissions, molder in a file. It would cost $200 million, and there is no money — the tax base, left ragged by the loss of population and industry over the last two decades, has been hit hard again by the subprime mortgage crisis.

Nearly 1,200 miles away, in Austin, Tex., — a city that ranks high on any list of green strivers — some residents want to help but do not feel they can afford it. DeVonna Garcia’s family won an award for its beautiful outdoor display of Christmas lights — but she stayed with her old-fashioned incandescent bulbs, hearing that a friend paid $600 for energy-efficient lights.

Ann Hancock, the executive director of the Climate Protection Campaign, a nonprofit based in Sonoma County, a wine-growing area north of San Francisco, said that the county and its nine municipalities signed climate-protection agreements with enthusiasm more than five years ago, committing to bringing down greenhouse-gas emissions. Then they tried to figure out how.

“It’s really hard,” Ms. Hancock said. “It’s like the dark night of the soul.” All the big items in the inventory of emissions — from tailpipes, from the energy needed to supply drinking water and treat waste water, from heating and cooling buildings — are the product of residents’ and businesses’ individual decisions about how and where to live and drive and shop.

“They’ve seen the Al Gore movie, but they still have their lifestyle to contend with,” she said.

“We need to get people out of their cars, and we can’t under the present circumstances,” because of the limited alternative in public transportation, Ms. Hancock said. And the county’s many older homes are not very good at keeping in the cool air in the summer or the warm air in winter. “How do you go back and retrofit all of those?” she asked.

County governments are also finding that homeowners’ associations can be troublesome. Carbondale, Colo., would welcome people like Adam and Rachel Connor, who bought a lot in a subdivision outside town and made plans for a house with solar panels. But the homeowners’ association vetoed the proposal on aesthetic grounds. Such associations have rejected solar projects from Southern California to the Chicago suburbs to Phoenix, prompting at least two states to pass laws prohibiting such vetoes.

“Unrealistic and unreasonable expectations,” Ms. Connor said, “should not stand in the way of us taking climate change seriously and taking control of energy security with our own hands.”

Arlington, Providence and more than 300 other communities in the United States are members of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, which has developed software to help them determine the quantity of greenhouse gases their municipalities emit. They are still trying to figure it all out. Reductions and remedies are harder still.

Regional politics render ideas that are embraced in some cities unthinkable in others. In Burlington, Vt., and Berkeley, Calif., there are local laws requiring that people who are selling their homes upgrade the energy efficiency to meet current standards, whether by adding thicker insulation to the pipes, replacing the windows or putting in an energy-saving water heater. (The maximum amount to be spent is determined by the selling price of the house.)

Would the idea fly in, say, Cleveland? On a statewide level, “politically, it would be a non-starter,” said Andrew Watterson, the program director of Cleveland’s office of sustainability. “Legally, I’m not sure if we could do it” because of state limits on local taxing powers, Mr. Watterson said.

But Cleveland’s mayor, Frank G. Jackson, has backed the redevelopment of three old city neighborhoods in accordance with blueprints established by the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program (for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.) Mr. Watterson said he hoped this sort of project would encourage a reverse migration of families who seek livable, walkable communities.

Arlington County is not having a problem attracting residents who are partial to the idea of a green revolution. But in the outer sections of Arlington, the problem is aging houses with inadequate insulation and inefficient appliances.

“We have an old house,” said Kevin Clark, who is 41 and a professor of instructional technology at George Mason University. “We got double-paned glass. We could feel the air coming in through those nice wood frames.”

Between the $13,000 cost of that repair and the money for a new refrigerator and other appliances, energy efficiencies have cost Mr. Clark and his family about $18,000. Though they have cut monthly electric bills, he is not sure how much he is saving.

Among the county’s biggest roadblocks in its effort to reduce emissions are the strict legal limits on Arlington officials. The state government in Richmond has the final authority in setting building codes, for instance. Like Cleveland, Arlington cannot require a house’s energy systems be upgraded when the house is sold. And Arlington cannot require commercial builders to install more insulation and more efficient heating, cooling and lighting systems than the state does.

As J. Walter Tejada, the chairman of Arlington County’s governing board, said, “Sometimes I think that even when you’re sneezing you need to ask the Legislature for permission.”

Laura Fiffick, the director of the office of environmental quality in Dallas — one vehicle in four is a pickup truck in Texas — said, “How do you reach an individual citizen and tell them: Everybody makes a difference.”

She added: “A lot of cities have said, ‘We’re going to be carbon-neutral by 2020.’ To me, the idea is to figure out what emissions we are going to go after and what we can do and then set the goal. When you set the bar too high, it becomes demotivating.”

    In Many Communities, It’s Not Easy Going Green, NYT, 7.2.2008,

















Country Coach serves the high rollers,

with models like the 45-foot Allure 470 Crane Prairie


Photograph: Geoff Oliver Bugbee

for The New York Times


Housing Crisis? Try Mobile McMansions


2 December 2007
















Housing Crisis?

Try Mobile McMansions


December 2, 2007

The New York Times





THE magician, dapper and gray-haired, got laughs with card tricks and other feats that were already old when he was still young. And as he deftly linked and separated steel rings, Dick Stoner drew a crowd around an enormous banner that read “Crossroads” — the company paying him so that it could stand out from more than a hundred other manufacturers at the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s annual dealer convention in the cavernous Kentucky Exposition Center.

It’s no small trick to attract throngs from some 15,000 footsore attendees at a show that covers 925,000 square feet and is packed with vehicles costing $5,000 to $1 million. But Mr. Stoner is very good at his craft, and his patter is timeless. He blends punch lines and prestidigitation with frequent repetition of the Crossroads moniker.

After all, the $15 billion R.V. industry could use a little magic just now. To read news releases, of course, things are going really, really great! Public relations materials sent to reporters in the weeks before the trade show noted that the current five-year sales period was the best in the last 30 years and that a consumer survey from the University of Michigan had projected a 3.8 percent rise in shipments to manufacturers in the coming year.

In fact, though, things are not really, really great in R.V. land. Sales are slipping. Winnebago announced during the show that its revenue was falling for the first time in six years. And the industry association released updated projections indicating that industrywide sales would probably decline 4.8 percent next year compared with 2007.

It’s easy to see why sales are off. With an uncertain economy, tightening credit and gas prices through the roof, many would-be captains of land yachts are rethinking their dreams. Other issues also loom in a world increasingly worried about waste, sustainability and global warming. It might be getting harder to love a beast that gulps a gallon of fuel every seven miles.

Little wonder, then, that one word is on many lips. Bruce D. Hertzke, the chief executive of Winnebago, acknowledges that the times are “challenging.” In an interview, Richard Riegel, chief operating officer of Thor Industries, the parent company of 11 R.V. makers, including Crossroads and Airstream, invoked the specter of a “challenging market.”

Mark Warmoth, whose Weekend Warrior Trailer Manufacturing pioneered “toy haulers” — R.V.’s with garage space in the back for all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles and other implements of ear-splitting outdoor fun — is less prone to euphemism. “A lot of people,” he said, “are laying down and dying.”

But, gentle reader, before you start into a “serves them right” sermon about wretched excess, fuel consumption or the driving habits of snowbirds, consider this: Challenging times for the industry generally mean challenging times for many other Americans as well, because R.V. slumps tend to precede economic recessions.

R.V.’s are a “highly discretionary” purchase, said Matt Howard, the vice president for marketing at Country Coach, a manufacturer of luxury craft that are roughly large enough to have their own ZIP code. “The only reason somebody needs our motor coach is because they tell themselves they need our motor coach,” he said.

Manufacturers say they are optimistic that the downturn is temporary and that they will bounce back before long. “We will be affected, like a lot of the industry when the economy goes up or down,” Mr. Hertzke said, noting that such shifts have occurred many times over the five decades that Winnebago has been in business. “Each time we come back to a stronger, higher level.”

Until things do turn around, there is still some joy in the market. It may seem counterintuitive, but the biggest, baddest — and, of course, the most expensive — R.V.’s are doing well, said Mr. Howard of Country Coach. The very high end, he points out, “is where our growth is.”

At the high end exists that peculiar breed of shopper that, to use a technical term from the world of economics, let’s call the Rich Dude. They have sacks of money — as the novelist Terry Pratchett puts it, “so much gold in your pockets that you would have to employ two people just to hold your trousers up.” And there are still many, many Rich Dudes out there. What does Rich Dude’s money buy? At Country Coach, Rich Dude buys rolling palaces that can cost $1.7 million and come with Italian marble floors, high-tech controls, window-size flat-screen high-definition televisions and always-connected satellite systems for Internet and satellite TV. Do you want an electronic palm reader to unlock the door? “We’ve done it,” Mr. Howard said.

Stepping into the Magna 630, a sort of blue whale on wheels, Mr. Howard explained in a tone as smooth as a crème brûlée that the idea behind the Country Coach vehicles is “residential luxury — it’s not a camping experience.”

Which is why these models have two bathrooms.


Well, yeah. “When I’m at home, I don’t have to share my bathroom” with guests, Mr. Howard said. The master bath is large, with a full-size shower. The old joke about standard R.V. bathrooms, he says, is that they are so small that the most effective way to shower is to “soap up the walls and spin around.”

Who buys such behemoths? These days, increasingly, baby boomers are hitting the age that historically coincides with motor home purchasing — a vacation vehicle as nicely turned out as their Lexus or Mercedes. According to Mr. Howard, the target age of his buyers has been 63 to 68 years old. But a new market segment has opened and is growing fast: relative youngsters from 53 to 61.

“The boomers aren’t waiting to retire to buy a coach,” he noted. They “want to manage their portfolio online and then take a walk on the beach.”

Life without compromise is not cheap. At $700,000, the Magna is about three times as expensive as the average single-family home, and its 650-horsepower engine burns diesel almost as fast as it can be pumped into the 150-gallon tank.

Richard Coon, the head of the trade association, argues that rising gas prices aren’t a big issue for the owners of high-end R.V.’s, whose attitude can be summed up as: “I just paid $400,000 for this motor home. Do you really think I give a rat’s about the price of fuel?”

Not missing a beat, Mr. Coon also pointed out that “it’s hard to say that in public, but that guy can afford the gas.”

Mr. Howard of Country Coach estimated that even if a rolling condo got only 7 or 8 miles to the gallon, the spending increase for serious travelers as gas prices have climbed is, perhaps, a few hundred dollars a month.

The decadence — not just conspicuous consumption, but flamboyant consumption — continues across the west wing of the Exposition Center in the territory staked out by the Newmar Corporation, where the company shows off an eye-popping vehicle that can probably be spotted from the International Space Station. It has been configured specifically to make the scene at sporting events. “We are targeting the tailgaters,” said Holly Nunemaker, a spokeswoman for the company.

The $270,000 All-Star UTV — for “Ultimate Tailgating Vehicle” — is more than 40 feet long and nearly 13 feet tall and has so many gadgets and fold-outs that it looks like something Batman might plunk down the Wayne millions for in his golden years.

The UTV has two bathrooms, sure. But this one has two kitchens as well. There is a small galley for intimate family cooking and another for preparing and presenting the big feed before the game. One side of that kitchen is an industrial roll-up door that opens the room and its two stainless-steel countertops to the outside.

Open a panel on the outside, there’s the heavy-duty Jenn-Air gas grill, which slides out on a shelf and can swivel so the chef is upwind. An exterior panel pops up to expose a 52-inch flat-screen TV — the largest of the four on board. Friends can set up the lawn chairs around it in a kind of reverse drive-in, watching video under the two 17-foot-wide awnings while powerful external speakers blare out the audio.

Did I mention the two flagpoles? You pop them up after you park.

ALL is not over-the-top excess, however, at the show. Over in the Thor domain, the distinctively rounded, aluminum-clad Airstream trailers attract those with an interest in style and design. In new models like the 16-foot-long $45,000 Bambi, an Ikea-meets-the-Jetsons interior matches the nostalgically futuristic exterior and has become a draw for yuppies.

Mr. Riegel, the Thor executive, said a visitor focusing on the biggest and most expensive R.V.’s at the show would miss the point that companies like his want to make. “We don’t build rock star buses and race-car driver coaches,” he said. “There are a couple of hundred of those sold in a year. We build for the mass market, generally.”

That means Thor shoots for annual sales of 100,000 R.V.’s and trailers. It offers luxurious coaches from its Mandalay division, with $325,0000 models, but it also markets $6,000 starter R.V.’s. That middle range, he said, is “where the meat of the market is — not in the rock star bus pricing.” But he laughingly concedes that the land yachts are “sexy.”

At Winnebago, meanwhile, the company is opening a midsize line of recreation vehicles, including some that get 15 miles a gallon — by R.V. standards, virtually a Prius. Americans yearn for the open road, said Mr. Hertzke, the company’s chief executive. “Nobody has a retirement plan that is just for them to just stay home.”

Kelli Harms, a spokeswoman for Winnebago, said that some of the surging interest in R.V. travel in recent years came after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. “Everybody re-evaluated what they’re doing with their lives.”

Rather than travel abroad, she said, more decided to “see the great features of America.” Yes, she conceded, you might see Paris and the Eiffel Tower if you venture overseas, but “when is the last time you went to see Mount Rushmore?” And a cross-country trek in an R.V. also gives you another kind of clarity: “You do appreciate more what you have — the freedom you have.”

This sounds much nicer than an alternative explanation: that Americans became skittish about flying. Or maybe they were tired of being treated like potential terrorists just to go from Point A to Point B. You know, forced to throw away their yogurt in the security line, stuff their tiny shampoo bottles in just the right plastic bags, and take off their shoes for a weapons scan. Or the airline food itself, or —

Oh, wait a minute. Is this still about R.V.’s? Rather than focusing on the drudgery of air travel, Ms. Harms went on to talk about community. Owning an R.V. creates camaraderie with other owners, she said, who socialize at campsites and build friendships. “When you buy an R.V., you’re purchasing the lifestyle, too.”

YET even the democratizing effects of shared campsites could be shifting, with the emergence of the ultra-high-end vehicles. Monaco Coach, a luxury manufacturer whose vehicles can cost $700,000 or more, is building high-end “destination resorts” for super-R.V.’s so that they won’t be the biggest, gaudiest vehicles at the campground.

The plots of land cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, said Jim Sheldon, a senior executive at Monaco, and the communities offer golf courses and upscale restaurants. “For someone who has invested $500,000 to $700,000” on an R.V., he said, “spending another $200,000 for a destination location is very plausible.”

Such talk might seem antithetical to the “we’re all just campers here” ethic that has long characterized R.V. communities. But there’s still plenty of room for the rest of us, said Mr. Warmoth, the founder of Weekend Warrior. In a black T-shirt and blue jeans, with his double-peaked goatee and graying curls that peek out from under his black gimme cap, he stands apart from the suit-and-tie armies of manufacturers’ representatives at the show.

Mr. Warmoth’s innovation was trailers that offer full living space, but with a large room at the back that can be easily cleared of furniture. The back wall folds down to create a ramp and mobile garage for all manner of recreational, off-road equipment. “It’s brought in a younger group of people,” he said. He says the toy haulers have contributed mightily to the company’s $200 million in annual sales, and have inspired imitations throughout the industry.

Sitting on a leather couch in what he calls his “top-dog, double throw-me-down huge” trailer, called Full Throttle, which costs $75,000 and shows the “warrior wing” logo on every surface, Mr. Warmoth, 51, observed that “this industry is very mild, and we’re not. We’re wild.”

Mr. Warmoth’s youngish weekend warriors are a bright spot for the industry. That is one reason Michael A. Schneider, the chief executive of the R.V. trade magazine publisher Affinity Group, says that “most of us who have been around a while” see the recent downturn as “a temporary blip.” People try the behemoths and just fall in love, he said.

Recessions come and go. Gas prices rise and, well, rise. But “once somebody gets hooked on the lifestyle, sure, it’s not pleasant when gasoline goes up,” Mr. Schneider added. “But they adjust, because they’re passionate about the lifestyle.”

    Housing Crisis? Try Mobile McMansions, NYT, 2.12.2007,






Algae Emerges

as a Potential Fuel Source


December 2, 2007
The New York Times


ST. PAUL, Dec. 1 (AP) — The 16 big flasks of bubbling bright green liquids in Roger Ruan’s laboratory at the University of Minnesota are part of a new boom in renewable energy research.

Driven by renewed investment as oil prices push $100 a barrel, Dr. Ruan and scores of scientists around the world are racing to turn algae into a commercially viable energy source.

Some algae is as much as 50 percent oil that can be converted into biodiesel or jet fuel. The biggest challenge is cutting the cost of production, which by one Defense Department estimate is running more than $20 a gallon.

“If you can get algae oils down below $2 a gallon, then you’ll be where you need to be,” said Jennifer Holmgren, director of the renewable fuels unit of UOP, an energy subsidiary of Honeywell International. “And there’s a lot of people who think you can.”

Researchers are trying to figure out how to grow enough of the right strains of algae and how to extract the oil most efficiently. Over the past two years they have received more money from governments, the Pentagon, big oil companies, utilities and venture capital firms.

The federal government halted its main algae research program nearly a decade ago, but technology has advanced and oil prices have climbed since then, and an Energy Department laboratory announced in late October that it was partnering with Chevron, the second-largest American oil company, in the hunt for better strains of algae.

“It’s not backyard inventors at this point at all,” said George Douglas, a spokesman for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, an arm of the Energy Department. “It’s folks with experience to move it forward.”

A New Zealand company demonstrated a Range Rover powered by an algae biodiesel blend last year, but experts say algae will not be commercially viable for many years. Dr. Ruan said demonstration plants could be built within a few years.

Converting algae oil into biodiesel uses the same process that turns vegetable oils into biodiesel. But the cost of producing algae oil is hard to pin down because nobody is running the process start to finish other than in a laboratory, Mr. Douglas said.

If the price of production can be reduced, the advantages of algae include the fact that it grows much faster and in less space than conventional energy crops. An acre of corn can produce about 20 gallons of oil per year, Dr. Ruan said, compared with a possible 15,000 gallons of oil per acre of algae.

An algae farm could be located almost anywhere. It would not require converting cropland from food production to energy production. It could use sea water and could consume pollutants from sewage and power plants.

The Pentagon’s research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is financing research into producing jet fuel from plants, including algae. The agency is already working with the Honeywell subsidiary, General Electric and the University of North Dakota. In November, it requested additional research proposals.

    Algae Emerges as a Potential Fuel Source, NYT, 2.12.2007,






San Francisco Fleet Is All Biodiesel


December 2, 2007
The New York Times


SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 30 — Claiming it now has the largest green fleet in the nation, the city of San Francisco this week completed a yearlong project to convert its entire array of diesel vehicles — from ambulances to street sweepers — to biodiesel, a clean-burning and renewable fuel that holds promise for helping to reduce greenhouse gases.

Using virgin soy oil bought from producers in the Midwest, officials said that as of Friday, all of the city’s 1,500 diesel vehicles were powered with the environmentally friendlier fuel, intended to sharply reduce toxic diesel exhaust linked to a higher risk of asthma and premature death.

“Just like secondhand smoke, diesel is one of the worst things we can breathe,” said the city’s clean vehicle manager, Vandana Bali of the Department of the Environment.

The announcement came without fanfare from Mayor Gavin Newsom’s office late Thursday, even as Congressional lawmakers dickered over the particulars of an energy bill that would give automakers incentives to produce cars that burn biofuels.

Ms. Bali said the city’s diesel vehicles now all used a fuel known as B20, a mix of 20 percent soy-based biofuel and 80 percent petroleum diesel fuel, which reduces toxic emissions of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and other pollutants that lead to global warming.

A spokesman for the mayor, Nathan Ballard, said the goal was to cut such emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

In November, Mr. Newsom announced a new project called SFGreasecycle, a program to collect fats and cooking oils from restaurants, at no charge.

“We are collecting grease,” Mr. Ballard said. “Waste fats and oils are a major source of backup in our sewage system. But we’re taking the grease that would have gone down the drain and turning it into biodiesel.”

    San Francisco Fleet Is All Biodiesel, NYT, 2.12.2007,






Energy Plan Pushes Automakers

on Mpg


December 2, 2007

Filed at 3:41 a.m. ET

The New York Times



WASHINGTON (AP) -- The groundbreaking deal in Congress to raise mile-per-gallon standards will compel the auto industry to churn out more fuel-efficient vehicles on a faster timeline than the companies wanted, though with flexibility to get the job done.

The auto industry's fleet of new cars, sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks and vans will have to average 35 mpg by 2020, according to the agreement that congressional negotiators announced late Friday. That compares with the 2008 requirement of 27.5 mpg average for cars and 22.5 mpg for light trucks. It would be first increase ordered by Congress in three decades.

Majority Democrats plan to include the requirement in broader energy legislation to be debated in the context of $90-per-barrel oil, $3-plus pump prices and growing concerns about climate change. The House plans to begin debate this week.

''It is a major milestone and the first concrete legislation to address global warming,'' said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

While Senate Democrats were quick to embrace the compromise, the energy bill may face problems over requirements for nonpublic electric utilities to produce 15 percent of their power from renewable energy sources such as wind or solar.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., on Saturday said that idea ''will make this bill untenable for many in the Senate.''

Environmentalists have sought stricter mileage standards for years, saying that is the most effective way to curb greenhouse gas emissions and oil consumption.

The energy bill will help accelerate plans by automakers to bring more fuel-efficient technologies to conventional engines and alternatives such as gas-electric hybrids and vehicles running on ethanol blends. For the first time, for example, manufacturers will receive credits for building vehicles running on biodiesel fuel.

Domestic automakers and Toyota Motor Corp. vehemently opposed a Senate bill approved passed in June that contained the same mileage requirements and timeline. They warned the measure would limit the choice of vehicles, threaten jobs and drive up costs.

The companies backed an alternative of 32 mpg to 35 mpg by 2022. At the time, Chrysler LLC executive Tom LaSorda told employees the Senate bill would ''add up to a staggering $6,700 -- almost a 40 percent increase -- to the cost of every Chrysler vehicle.''

But the compromise worked out by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate leaders, maintains a significant boost in mileage standards while giving the industry more flexibility and certainty as they plan new vehicles.

The proposal would continue separate standards for cars and trucks, extend credits for producing vehicles that run on ethanol blends, and allow automakers to receive separate credits for exceeding the standards and then apply those credits to other model years.

Michigan lawmakers secured an extension of the current 1.2 mpg credit for the production of each ''flexible fuel'' vehicle, capable of running on ethanol blends of 15 percent gasoline and 85 percent ethanol. Without the extension, the credits may have run out by 2010, but under the deal, they will be phased out by 2020.

The United Auto Workers union also won a provision intended to prevent companies from shifting production of less profitable small cars to overseas plants. At stake are an estimated 17,000 jobs.

The House's energy bill, approved in August, did not include mileage standards, and lawmakers had worked since then to include them.

Rick Wagoner, General Motors Corp.'s chairman and chief executive, said the new rules would ''pose a significant technical and economic challenge to the industry.'' He said GM would tackle the changes ''with an array of engineering, research and development resources.''

GM, Chrysler and Ford Motor Co. have announced plans to double their production by 2010 of flex-fuel vehicles. Toyota has said it will bring the option to the Tundra pickup.

Among hybrids, Toyota has dominated the market with the Prius, but several automakers are beginning to bring the technology to large SUVs and pickups.

Environmental groups estimate the deal would save the country 1.2 million barrels of oil per day by 2020 while helping motorists save at the pump.

''Cars are going to be more attractive to consumers because they won't cost as much to own and operate,'' said David Doniger, director of the climate center for the Natural Resources Defense Council.


On the Net:

Environmental Protection Agency's fuel economy site: http://www.fueleconomy.gov/

General Motors Corp.: http://www.gm.com/explore/livegreengoyellow/

Natural Resources Defense Council: http://www.nrdc.org/

    Energy Plan Pushes Automakers on Mpg, NYT, 2.12.2007,






The Energy Challenge

Fuel Without the Fossil


November 9, 2007
The New York Times


DENVER — Mitch Mandich proudly showed off his baby, a 150-foot contraption of tanks, valves, hoppers, augers and fans. It hissed. It gurgled. An incongruous smell wafted through the air, the scent of turpentine.

Mr. Mandich’s machine devours pine chips from Georgia and turns them into an energy-rich gas, a step toward making liquid fuels. His company, Range Fuels, is near the front of the pack in a technology race that could have an impact on the way America powers its automotive fleet, and help ameliorate global warming.

“Somebody’s going to hit a home run here,” Mr. Mandich said. “We want to be first.”

For years, scientists have known that the building blocks in plant matter — not just corn kernels, but also corn stalks, wood chips, straw and even some household garbage — constituted an immense potential resource that could, in theory, help fill the gasoline tanks of America’s cars and trucks.

Mostly, they have focused on biology as a way to do it, tinkering with bacteria or fungi that could digest the plant material, known as biomass, and extract sugar that could be fermented into ethanol. But now, nipping at the heels of various companies using biological methods, is a new group of entrepreneurs, including Mr. Mandich, who favor chemistry.

They believe techniques borrowed from oil refining and other chemical industries will allow them to crack open big biological molecules, transforming them into ethanol or, even more interesting, into diesel and gasoline. Those latter fuels could be transported in existing pipelines and burned in existing engines without fuss. Advocates of the chemical methods say they may be flexible enough to go beyond traditional biomass, converting old tires or even human waste into clean transport fuel.

In Madison, Wis., a company called Virent Energy Systems is turning sugar into gasoline, diesel, kerosene and jet fuel, with the long-range plan of obtaining the sugars from biomass. In Ontario, Dynamotive Energy Systems is turning biomass into a form of oil, and in Chicago, a Honeywell subsidiary called UOP is doing something similar. In Irvine, Calif., BlueFire Ethanol is using acid to break down organic material for conversion to fuel.

Possibilities like these are coming to the fore at a time when rising oil prices have created an incentive to develop substitute fuels. Making them from biomass would be environmentally friendly in that, unlike standard gasoline or diesel, the fuels would not take long-stored carbon from underground and dump it into the air as carbon dioxide.

And unlike making ethanol from corn kernels, these techniques do not require significant amounts of natural gas or coal. Carbon dioxide, emitted in large volume when people burn fossil fuels, is the primary culprit in global warming.

Lately, these factors have resulted in a flood of investment capital into both biological and chemical techniques for using biomass. Experts consider both approaches promising, and they say it is too early to tell which will win.

“It’s not obvious, and I don’t think it will be obvious for a very long time,” Andrew Karsner, the assistant secretary of energy for energy efficiency and renewable energy, said in Washington. His department is awarding grants to support both approaches.

Experts say it is possible that more than one type of plant will reach commercial success, with the ideal technique for a given locale depending on what material is available to convert to fuel.

Range Fuels favors pine chips and other waste from softwood logging operations, largely because there is so much of it. Logging in Georgia, for instance, leaves behind about a quarter of the tree. “Bark, needles, cones, we use all of it,” said Mr. Mandich, chief executive of Range.

Range is a privately held company whose chief scientist, Bud Klepper, has been working on the two problems, creating gas from biomass and then converting it to liquid fuel, since the 1980s. The company is heavily backed by Vinod Khosla, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist who has turned his focus to energy investments.

Range broke ground this week on the first full-scale biomass-to-fuel plant in the United States, in Soperton, Ga. “Today marks the beginning of a new phase of our effort to make America more energy secure,” the secretary of energy, Samuel Bodman, said at the event. The plant, its cost not publicly disclosed, is expected to produce 20 million gallons of ethanol a year, with more capacity to be added later.

In Georgia alone, enough waste wood is available to make two billion gallons of ethanol a year, Mr. Mandich said. If all that material could be captured and converted to fuel, it could replace about 1 percent of the nation’s gasoline consumption.

Biomass of various types is abundant in every state, some of it gathered daily by garbage trucks. A study two years ago by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory found that enough biomass is available in the United States to replace more than a third of the nation’s gasoline consumption, assuming the economics can be made to work.

The Bush administration is counting on biofuels to help limit the growth of petroleum demand, and environmentalists routinely include such fuels in their forecasts as a way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. But to date, no one has shown that fuels from biomass can be made profitably, even when competing with gasoline at $3 a gallon.

Daniel M. Kammen, director for the renewable and appropriate energy laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, said, “I suspect we will have a trickle” of fuels from biomass in the next few years. But it will be only a trickle unless the government adopts quotas or offers additional support, he said.

Companies like Range that are trying to convert biomass by chemical methods follow one of two broad approaches. The first is to mix the material with steam to produce a gas known as synthesis gas, consisting of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. With additional processing, that gas can be converted to liquid fuels. The second technique does not break the material down as far, creating a product that resembles oil that can then be refined into liquid fuel.

Research papers and patents are flying these days as scientists struggle to improve these methods. As with oil refineries, the final stages typically produce a variety of chemicals, of varying value, and the trick is to maximize production of the desirable chemicals. “Everybody is dealing with a byproduct they don’t want,” said Arnold Klann, the chief executive of BlueFire.

Range Fuels is one of the companies that turn biomass into a gas before converting it to liquid fuel. The company wants to make ethanol, a form of alcohol, but its technique produces less valuable varieties of alcohol as well. Company scientists are tweaking their approach to maximize the ethanol yield.

The other day, laboratory technicians grabbed samples of a yellow liquid emerging from the machinery and swirled it like a suspect vintage of chenin blanc. An expensive chemical analyzer called a gas chromatography machine stood in the corner. By using it, engineers can calculate what changes in temperature, pressure and flow rates would work best to produce ethanol in a full-scale commercial venture.

Overseeing the operation, Mr. Mandich radiated confidence. “You can’t have so many people at bat without hitting something,” he said.

As the nation seeks to develop new types of fuel, Congress has leaned heavily toward ethanol made from corn kernels, and it is the only alternative fuel available today in large volume. Ethanol benefits from a tax break and a mandate that a significant amount of it be blended into gasoline.

Turning biomass into gasoline would be simpler, requiring no changes in the nation’s cars or pipelines, but federal policy is tilting many research programs toward ethanol.

Range, for instance, could make any of several types of fuel from its pine chips. Asked whether the company chose ethanol for the 51-cent-a-gallon tax break, Mr. Klepper declared: “It’s the American way.”

    Fuel Without the Fossil , NYT, 10.11.2007,







Government's green promises

on transport policy

A green transport policy?
New figures show how 30 years of failure
has put Britain on the road to gridlock and pollution


Published: 18 July 2007
The Independent
By Ben Russell, Nigel Morris and James Macintyre


Dramatic new evidence that car travel has become far cheaper while buses and trains have soared in cost led to renewed attacks on Labour's transport policy last night, as MPs said the Government was undermining its own battle against climate change.

According to newly disclosed statistics, the cost of car travel has fallen by 10 per cent over the past 30 years, while the price of bus and train tickets has risen by more than 50 per cent. The respective trends have continued throughout Labour's period in office.

Campaigners warned that the figures, revealed by the Department of Transport in a parliamentary answer yesterday, laid bare the huge disincentive for Britons to choose environmentally friendly forms of travel.

The statistics show that Labour has failed to reverse the long-term trend. Since 1997 when the party came to power, the cost of running a car has fallen by 10 per cent, but the price of bus travel has increased by 13 per cent and train travel has become 6 per cent more expensive. British trains are already among the most expensive in the world, with further above-inflation rises certain in the future.

Over the same period, greenhouse gas emissions have risen in five out of 10 years despite government promises to tackle global warming. Unsurprisingly, over the past 10 years the inexorable rise in car travel has continued, with motorists clocking up almost 400 billion kilometres (270 billion miles) a year.

The statistics, disclosed by the Transport minister Jim Fitzpatrick, provoked uproar among politicians of all parties and from environmental groups.

News of the huge rises in public transport costs came amid growing concern that the cost of rail travel is due to increase still further by the end of the year following a series of deals between the Government and train companies. Stagecoach and Arriva are planning fare rises in the East Midlands and Cross Country franchises of 3.4 per cent a year in real terms. Go-Ahead plans to raise fares by 3 per cent a year on the London to Northampton route.

Susan Kramer, the Liberal Democrat transport spokeswoman, who obtained the figures, said: "When we're all concerned about climate change, government strategy that increases the cost of public transport while motoring costs fall is outrageous."

Colin Challen, Labour chairman of the parliamentary all-party group on climate change, accused the Government of being timid in its efforts to cut the rise in car usage. He said the increasing cost of public transport " sends all the wrong signals" to travellers. "We should be prepared to bite the bullet with putting up the costs of driving," he said. "The Government could have done a great deal more. Since the fuel protests in 2000 we have run rather scared of certain lobbies. We really have to face them down."

Peter Ainsworth, the shadow Environment Secretary, said: "This demonstrates how far off-beam the Government's policies are in delivering a low-carbon economy. They give serious cause for concern."

Theresa Villiers, the shadow Transport Secretary, added: "There's a good environmental case for encouraging people out of their cars and on to public transport. The increasing divergence in the cost between the two is not the way to achieve that."

Environmentalists echoed their concern, warning that ministers needed to take tough decisions to turn their rhetoric into results. Green campaigners have long argued that only aggressive policies, including road tolls and higher fuel prices, will encourage motorists to leave their car behind and use public transport. The pressure-group Transport 2000 has argued that a 10 per cent reduction in car use could be achieved by 2050, by measures including the introduction of more flexible and varied bus and train services.

Tony Bosworth, of Friends of the Earth, said: "These figures show one of the reasons why the Government is finding it so difficult to get people out of their cars and on to public transport." A Greenpeace spokesman said: "It appears Gordon Brown has been in hock to the motorist for too long. If he's serious about climate change he will face down opposition from the motoring lobby and promote green, low-carbon alternatives."

Sian Berry, the Green Party principal speaker, said: "If we're serious about tackling climate change we need to make public transport cheaper, easier and more efficient."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport said that spending on public transport had increased by more than 50 per cent in the past 10 years. She said: We are starting to see the results - public transport journeys have increased by 7 per cent since 2000.

"Government is also working to reduce the environmental impact of transport in other ways, for example by encouraging the use of biofuels and investing in new, clean technologies."




Why driving is cheaper

* Successive governments have shied away from taking on motorists and the motoring industry, while rail privatisation under the Conservatives ­ and its continuation under Labour ­ has resulted in repeated increases in fares.

* Governments since the 1970s have taxed fuel, and in 1993 the Conservatives introduced the Fuel Price Escalator, resulting in an increase in the price of fuel above VAT year on year. Gordon Brown abolished the scheme in 2000.

* Tax subsidies on company cars and continued road expansions, at the same time as rail companies are having to maintain their own tracks, has meant the trend away from public transport and on to the roads is continuing and may even increase.

    Derailed: Government's green promises on transport policy, I, 18.7.2007,






Asthmatic Girl Used in NY Traffic

- Fee Ad


July 5, 2007
Filed at 6:34 p.m. ET
The New York Times


NEW YORK (AP) -- A sad-looking little girl squeezes an asthma inhaler, with a message imploring lawmakers to approve Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to reduce traffic and pollution by charging motorists who drive into Manhattan.

The tag line: ''She cannot hold her breath waiting for Albany to act.''

The flier is being mailed this week to 350,000 households throughout the city, urging residents to call lawmakers in Albany. The state Legislature would have to come back for a special session to approve the plan before a July 16 application deadline for federal funding.

The campaign was paid for by the Partnership for New York City, a business group that is a chief supporter of the mayor's plan.

U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, an outspoken critic of the congestion pricing plan, said the image of the asthmatic girl is more of a political tactic than anything based on substance.

''The mayor's car tax is not a cure for asthma -- what it is is a giant bureaucracy funded by a regressive tax,'' said Weiner, D-N.Y.

Bloomberg's plan calls for a three-year pilot program that would charge drivers a fee -- $8 for cars and $21 for trucks -- in the city's most heavily congested zone. His administration says it would force more people onto mass transit, thereby reducing traffic and improving air quality, particularly for children who suffer from asthma.

''Does anybody want to look a parent in the eye and say, 'Well, we can wait for your child, we'll do it down the road, just let your child continue to breathe worse air than we could have had if we had the courage to stand up?' I don't think anybody wants to make that call,'' Bloomberg said Thursday at a rally in support of his proposal.

Medical studies, including one published in the Lancet earlier this year, have found links between air pollution and respiratory ailments. But it is unclear how much the traffic fee would change the city's asthma problem.

The Bloomberg administration predicts that traffic would decrease by 6 percent inside the zone -- the business district on the lower half of Manhattan. The city's asthma rates are highest in poor neighborhoods outside that area.

Backers of the traffic proposal, who include environmentalists and a number of elected officials, say that those outer communities would also benefit from the reduction in traffic, since many of the thruways leading into Manhattan snake through those neighborhoods.

City officials project that traffic would decrease by 1.8 percent in the Bronx, 1.5 percent in Brooklyn and 1.2 percent in Queens. The decline may seem small, city officials said, but it is significant because much of the relief would be concentrated on major arteries.

In London, where drivers have been charged traffic fees since 2003, residents complain about the ''parking lots'' that have formed outside the zone. Within it, traffic thinned by 20 percent and carbon emissions similarly decreased, Mayor Ken Livingstone said at a May environmental summit of mayors in New York.

The city health department says the number of New Yorkers with asthma has increased in the past two decades, although hospitalizations have declined. Among children, the hospitalization rate was 43 percent lower in 2005 than in 1997, with fewer than 9,000 compared with nearly 15,000. While it declined, the child hospitalization rate is still three times higher than the national rate, the health department said.

    Asthmatic Girl Used in NY Traffic - Fee Ad, NYT, 5.7.2007,






The road to nowhere:

Government urged

to stick with plans for road pricing

There are 33m cars in the UK,
a rise of 7m in ten years.
We suffer Europe's worst congestion,
and traffic accounts for 20 per cent
of our CO2 emissions.
But will ministers back away from plans
to clear the roads?


Published: 13 February 2007
The Independent
By Colin Brown, Deputy Political Editor


Environmental campaigners have urged ministers to stand firm over plans to introduce road pricing in the face of a protest petition signed by more than one million people.

Douglas Alexander, the Secretary of State for Transport, who is facing his first big test as a cabinet minister on the issue, was under pressure not to give way to the populist campaign backed by the motoring lobby and a number of national newspapers. He accused the protesters of spreading "myths" about road pricing.

Friends of the Earth warned that the protests threaten to undermine the Government's efforts to curb car use, which they say is a significant cause of carbon emissions. They urged ministers to do more to win the argument over road pricing.

Tony Bosworth, the campaign group's senior transport campaigner, said: "Road pricing is not a magic-bullet solution to Britain's transport problems, but it is part of the answer. The biggest transport problem we face is not congestion, it is climate change."

A total 1,183,988 people by last night had signed the petition on a Downing Street website to protest against the introduction of road pricing and the number was still climbing. More than 100,000 names were added at the weekend and some objectors claimed last night they had been unable to sign it because the website was overloaded.

Downing Street was desperate to shore up the Transport Secretary after reports that he was about to bow to pressure and "axe the toll tax". In a sideswipe at Mr Alexander, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "It is not a matter of numbers. We need to convince people of the merits of the policy."

Some ministers are furious at the way the Downing Street website - launched as part of Tony Blair's modernisation agenda - has backfired on the Transport Secretary. One minister said the idea of allowing an electronic petition to be signed on the No 10 site was produced by a "prat".

It was becoming a test of Tony Blair's commitment to tackling climate change, but Mr Douglas hit back at the protesters, saying: "If you look at the petition itself, there are a number of myths which have been perpetrated and that's why I welcome the opportunity to set some of the facts straight. There's no doubt that those people who initiated the petition had a particular point of view in mind.

"I think it's perfectly fair that people express an opinion. Ultimately the job of government is to try to reconcile what are often competing, even contradictory, opinions held by the public." He added: "In our country we don't have the luxury of doing nothing if we are not to see American-style gridlock on our roads."

The "myths" have included claims that it could cost motorists £1.50 a mile, although no figures have been worked out.

John Spellar, a former Labour transport minister, said that it was a tax on going to work. Some newspapers that have taken up the campaign compared road pricing to the poll tax under Margaret Thatcher, which led to riots in London, and her eventual downfall.

The petition claims that road pricing would require the state to spy on drivers. The "idea of tracking every vehicle at all times is sinister and wrong", it said. Similar protests have been mounted against congestion charging in London, which has been praised for reducing car use in the capital and making some areas safer and more pleasant for pedestrians. Road pricing could be applied to major motorways or minor roads, once the technology was available.

Mr Alexander's department is proposing a series of pilot schemes to test the feasibility of road pricing. It infuriated the protesters last week when it published a business case for local authorities across the country to support the scheme.

Briefing notes from the Department for Transport said the national scheme would not be implemented until the middle of the decade but councils did not have to wait to gain some of the benefits locally. It says road pricing could raise up to £28bn by 2025.

"A well-designed local road-pricing scheme has the potential to reduce congestion significantly in the local area. These areas can expect to see reduced journey times ... and significant improvements in public transport provision. This is good for all sectors of society whether they be shoppers, workers or business," said the notes.

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said he had strong civil liberties concerns about the plans. "There are very real concerns that the road pricing model that the Government is looking at will allow routine surveillance of every citizen in the country ... Clearly that is not acceptable," he said.

Paul Biggs,spokesman for the Association of British Drivers, said: "The only way road pricing can work is to actually price people off the roads ... It is Big Brother - and they [drivers] don't want that."




The case for (and against) charging

By Jonathan Brown



According to the Association of British Drivers, which has been at the forefront of the anti-road pricing petition, the UK's 33 million cars have "no measurable impact" on global CO2 levels. Claiming "overwhelming evidence" that climate change is "within natural limits", its website manifesto says taxes and duties currently imposed on vehicles, with the professed aim of combating global warming, should be scrapped. Green groups argue that motoring is a key source of CO2 and must be cut urgently.



As part of his report into the UK transport network published last year, the former British Airways boss Sir Rod Eddington said there was a need for road pricing. The Government accepted his figures that congestion will cost the UK economy £22bn in lost time by 2025, the equivalent of £900 per household. Road pricing would, by contrast, benefit the economy by £28bn. Friends of the Earth says the best way to cut car growth, alongside reducing need and offering a more attractive alternative, is to make it more expensive. The real cost of motoring has fallen in relation to public transport since 1997, it claims.


Civil Rights

Campaigners against the road-pricing plan argue that motorists are being discriminated against. They say that they already bear a heavy financial burden. It is argued that existing road taxes and duty on fuel provide the fairest way of making sure that those who use roads the most pay the most. Opponents object to the growing application of technology in the form of road cameras and satellites as infringements on civil liberties. They claim cameras have failed to reduce accidents and have instead become "stealth taxes" for the Government. Supporters of a national road-pricing scheme say technology provides the cheapest and most effective way to implement it.



All sides agree there is too much congestion in the UK. Britain is the most congested country in Europe, with journey times continuing to rise. There are seven million more cars on our roads than in 1997 and congestion in towns and cities is set to soar 25 per cent by 2015. The big question is how to cut it. Motoring groups such as the RAC welcome limited pricing at peak times to reduce traffic jams; others demand extensive road building beyond that laid out in the Government's 10-year plan. Supporters say road pricing should be one component of a more integrated transport system that reduces car reliance.

    The road to nowhere:
    Government urged to stick with plans for road pricing, I, 13.2.2007,






4x4 debate: Enemy of the people

Gas-guzzling, road-hogging,


and now even doctors have joined

the outcry over 4x4 cars


Published: 23 June 2006
The Independent
By Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor


Doctors have joined the chorus of attacks on 4x4 vehicles with a warning that owners are recklessly putting other road users at risk by flouting laws over the use of mobile phones and seat belts.

Researchers who studied the behaviour of drivers of the all-terrain vehicles say that they took more risks because they felt safer than drivers of smaller cars. Scornfully known as Chelsea tractors due to their increasing appearance on urban streets, few 4x4s have seen more mud than can be picked up on a private school sports field. Teachers have tried to ban them and politicians want to impose penal tax rates on them - up to £2,000 a year, 10 times the normal road tax, in the latest proposal from the Liberal Democrats. They have been widely condemned as gas-guzzling, road-hogging and environmentally damaging. And the new front opened by the medical profession is bound further to inflame the debate on Britain's most controversial vehicle.

Although passengers in a 4x4 are less likely to suffer harm in an accident than those in a smaller vehicle, their owners are increasing the risk of injury to themselves and others by their failure to observe common safety measures, according to research from Imperial College, London, which is published in the British Medical Journal.

The pattern is an example of "risk compensation", where the safer a person feels the riskier the behaviour they indulge in.

A record 187,000 4x4s were sold in Britain last year, double the number a decade ago. One in seven cars on the road is now a 4x4, according to the Department of Transport.

However, the Energy minister, Malcolm Wicks, hit out at the vehicles recently, saying: "There will come a time when it will be irresponsible for those [4x4s] to be on sale."

They have also incurred the wrath of the London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, who lambasted urban owners as "complete idiots". The presenter of BBC's Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson, described them as "clinically insane".

For the study by researchers from Imperial College, drivers of passenger cars were observed passing three different points in Hammersmith, west London, in February 2004.

The vehicles were monitored for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening during weekdays. More than 38,000 vehicles were studied, including almost 3,000 4x4s.

The researchers found drivers of 4x4s were almost four times more likely to be seen using hand-held mobiles. They were also less likely to use seat belts.

Those who broke one law, on using a mobile or not using a seat belt, were more likely also to break the other. Overall, one in six drivers (15.3 per cent) was not wearing a seat belt and one in 40 (2.5 per cent) was using a mobile.

Lesley Walker and colleagues say in the BMJ: "Our data show a worryingly high level of non-compliance with laws on seat belts and hand-held mobile phones by drivers in London. Our observation that almost one in six drivers was not wearing a seat belt is a public health concern."

Last October the BMJ published an American study showing that 4x4s were more dangerous to pedestrians than normal cars. Tests showed that people who were hit by the vehicles in accidents were four times more likely to die than those hit by other cars.

Previous studies have shown that drivers using mobile phones have four times the risk of an accident. On that basis, 4x4 drivers are at 16 times the risk of having an accident, given that they are four times more likely to use a mobile compared with other drivers.

Dr Walker said: "In general 4x4s reduce the risk for their occupants but increase the risk for everyone else. In using a 4x4, instead of a normal car, one's chance of death or serious injury falls by four in 1,000 but the chance of killing or injuring others rises by 11 in 1,000, with a resulting cost to the community."

Bruce Thompson, charity executive, 54: 'It uses no more space than a saloon'

"We own two vehicles, a Land Rover Discovery TD5, and a high performance four-wheel-drive saloon car. The Land Rover ferries my wife to work every day, takes the family on holiday and tows a two-ton horse trailer.

"The alternative, if we want to pursue our hobby, is to buy another vehicle, which would be more harmful as the more damaging effects on the environment come from manufacture, not usage.

"It uses up no more road space than a typical, largish saloon car, and it has an engine no bigger than a typical saloon car. My wife does a round trip of 50 miles a day to the school where she teaches and does not go off-road and I drive to central London with it when I occasionally visit.

"I get cross about uninformed critics of 4x4 users and people who jump on the bandwagon and think that by banning the 4x4 there will be salvation for the planet. I find that the Land Rover encourages a more relaxed, non-aggressive approach to driving.

"I accept that you can't see past it easily, and for other road users that's annoying. I don't have a lot of sympathy with people who only buy them for the school run and never put them to the use for which they were designed."



Counting the cost

Driving a 13mpg 4x4 rather than a 25mpg car for a year will waste more energy than leaving the fridge open for seven years, leaving the TV on for 32 years or leaving the light on for 34 years.

Alliance Against Urban 4x4s


Range Rovers with a 4.4-litre engine have an urban mpg of 12.2 and emit 389g carbon dioxide per kilometre. In contrast, a Ford Mondeo 2-litre fuel-injected saloon has an urban mpg of 25 and emits 190g carbon dioxide. A Smart car emits 138g carbon dioxide.

Alliance Against Urban 4x4s


Urban 4x4s are involved in 25 per cent more accidents than saloon cars and do far more damage.

Churchill Insurance


4x4 drivers are 27 per cent more likely to be at fault in the event of an accident than saloon car drivers.

Admiral Insurance


If a pedestrian is hit by a 4x4 they are twice as likely to be killed than if they were hit by a saloon car.

New Scientist


Only 5 per cent of 4x4s are ever taken off-road.

Alliance Against Urban 4x4s


Sales of 4x4s grew by 12.8 per cent in 2004, to 179,000, more than double the number sold a decade ago.

Department of Transport, 2005


Drivers of 4x4s are most likely to have been in an argument with traffic wardens (22 per cent), compared with 6 per cent of saloon car drivers.

RAC Foundation, 2004

The risk of a fatal roll-over crash
is twice as high for 4x4s as it is for a saloon car.

Alliance Against Urban 4x4s

    Gas-guzzling, road-hogging, air-polluting...
    and now even doctors have joined the outcry over 4x4 cars, I, 23.6.2006,






More than 30 million cars

– and nowhere to park them


April 18, 2005
The Times
By Ben Webster,
Transport Correspondent


THE number of cars on British roads has broken through the 30 million mark and is rising so fast that finding a place to park is becoming a daily ordeal for most people, a study has found.

Households with two or more cars now outnumber those with no car and there are more than a million homes with at least three.

There are 4.3 million more cars than when Labour came to power in 1997 with a pledge to reduce people’s dependence on private motoring.

John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, said after the 1997 election: “I will have failed if, in five years’ time, there are not many more people using public transport and far fewer journeys by car.”

The extra cars introduced since then would fill a 40-lane motorway between London and Edinburgh. The national fleet of cars has doubled since 1975 and is rising by more than 600,000 a year.













Despite the growth, Britain still falls short of car ownership levels in Italy and Germany. In 2003, there were 494 cars per 1,000 people in Britain, compared with 591 per 1,000 in Italy. The RAC Foundation has concluded that the greatest transport challenge is not congestion but creating enough parking spaces to accommodate all the extra cars.

A third of drivers have abandoned a journey and gone home after being unable to find a parking space at their destination, according to a survey commissioned by the foundation.

The lack of spaces contributes to congestion because up to 80 per cent of traffic in city centres is made up of drivers searching for somewhere to park.

Some 20 per cent of motorists are regularly unable to find a parking space outside their home and one in ten has had a row with a parking warden.

The foundation believes that the only solution is to tunnel under residential streets and shopping areas to create underground car parks.

This idea was favoured by 73 per cent of the 500 drivers questioned by NOP, the market research firm, on behalf of the foundation.

Only a quarter supported tougher restrictions on car ownership, such as banning new homes from having more than one parking space.

Local authorities are cashing in on the lack of spaces by making residents pay for permits to park outside their homes. Drivers paid almost £1 billion in parking fees and fines in England in the year to March 2003, up more than 50 per cent since 1998.

Edmund King, the foundation’s director, said that the parking problem had been overlooked by all the parties in their election manifestos.

“The focus has been on congestion, but parking is an even worse problem. Every car journey ends with the need to park and failing to provide enough spaces is like running a train that doesn’t stop at any stations.”

Mr King urged the Government to revise planning guidance, which restricts new developments to a maximum of 1.5 spaces per dwelling.

“That should be a minimum, not a maximum. It’s no use hoping people won’t buy cars, because all the evidence shows they will. The solution is to build parking spaces under homes and streets.”

Stephen Joseph, director of the environmental group Transport 2000, said that creating more spaces would only encourage people to use cars for short journeys that could have been made on foot or by bike.

A quarter of all car journeys are over distances of less than two miles.

Mr Joseph said: “We need less parking in cities, not more. We must wean people off their dependence on cars and get them to base their lives closer to home, walking to local shops rather than driving to shopping centres.”

The annual total distance travelled by car since 1997 has increased by 9 per cent, or about 20 billion miles. The Department for Transport has forecast that traffic in this country will grow by 40 per cent by 2025.

    More than 30 million cars – and nowhere to park them, Times, 18.4.2005,





On This Day - May 23, 1992


From The Times Archive


Since the fitting of catalytic converters in cars,

the incidence of suicide by breathing exhaust fumes

has fallen sharply


A MAN who tried to take his life by breathing car exhaust fumes for five hours was unsuccessful because his car was fitted with a catalytic converter. Doctors believe the converters could bring about the first drop in male suicides for almost 20 years.

The man, aged 43, who had run a hosepipe from the exhaust into the car, sat with the engine running for five hours before being discovered semi-conscious. He was taken to hospital and made a complete recovery, according to a letter in the British Medical Journal.

Carbon monoxide poisoning normally causes loss of consciousness within a few minutes and death within half an hour. Its use as a means of suicide by young men has been rising sharply, from 795 deaths in 1985 to more than 1,000 in 1990.

From next January all new cars sold in Britain must be fitted with a catalytic converter which cuts carbon monoxide emissions by 90 per cent.

Suicide rates among men aged 15-44 rose by a third between 1980 and 1990, and poisoning by car exhaust was the commonest method. By 2000, when most cars will have converters, suicide rates could fall by 10-20 per cent.

Experts have long known that suicide rates depend on the availability of a method. Although some people find other means of taking their lives, many do not. In the 1960s, when breathing gas from domestic ovens was the commonest method of suicide, the lowering of carbon monoxide levels in town gas led to a fall of a third in the overall suicide rate.

    From The Times Archives > On This Day -
    May 23, 1992, The Times, 23.5.2005,






On This Day - August 4, 1983


From The Times Archive


With the M25 motorway nearing completion,

there were plans to develop mainline stations

just off the orbital highway which, it was thought,

many passengers might use

instead of London termini


BRITISH RAIL plans a ring of Inter-City stations around London to combat the effect of the M25 orbital motorway on rail travel. Nearly two thirds of BR’s £450m Inter-City business originates in the London area and it could be greatly reduced when the M25 is completed in three years.

Business and commuter travellers will soon get into the habit of using the M25 for local journeys, and once in the car they may use one of the radial motorways to their provincial destination rather than go into London to catch an Inter-City train.

To provide a rival attraction British Rail plans a series of park and ride stations on or near the M25 that will tempt businessmen to leave their cars and travel by rail.

Likely sites are Stevenage on the Newcastle and Edinburgh line; Luton for Nottingham and Sheffield; Watford for Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow; Slough for Bristol and South Wales; and Woking for Southampton and the south coast.

The perimeter stations will feature greatly expanded car parks similar to the successful Bristol Parkway on the M4. Many more high-speed trains will stop at the stations which will be refurbished.

The plan is part of a new BR strategy to sell Inter-City into the next century in the face of the widespread population exodus from the centre to the periphery of London and other cities.

From The Times Archives > On This Day
- August 4, 1983, The Times, 4.8.2005,






February 22, 1954


Letter from a proud old body


From the Guardian archive


Monday February 22, 1954



Sir - My attention has been drawn (somewhat belatedly) to the letter from Mr W. K. Parker in your columns of February 8. He says: "If garaged wet, a car will collapse in a heap after five to seven years' use."

Really, sir! This is nonsense - unless Mr Parker excepts Austin 7s from his remark. I am an Austin 7, 23 years old, and proud of it, and not only have I never been dried "underneath" (wherever that may mean) but have never been dried anywhere! (or cleaned or polished, for that matter, though I will say, in justice to my owner, who paid £40 for me 20 years ago, that I am always kept oiled and greased and in good mechanical condition).

Still, in a "posh" garage like this, the other cars (sleek creatures) make one feel a little of a pariah. Nevertheless, I am no "heap". This I can easily prove to Mr P., should we ever meet. He will find me remarkably agile and spry - and good for another 23 years.

Yours &c., Austin 7 (GW 6840).

The Garage beneath Park West, Marble Arch, London W2



Sir - Having enjoyed your recent correspondence on dependable old cars, may I put in a word for the London taxi, which I have found to be the ideal family car? For £50 I bought a 1935 Morris commercial cab just as it came off the rank. Last summer it took the family on a tour of Cornwall, carrying two adults, three children, two trunks, one cot, one pushchair, three surfboards, two fishing rods, and enough toys and games' to occupy the children for 200 miles.

Throughout the holiday the two larger children slept in the taxi, a mattress being spread across the back and tip-up seats. The taxi has no garage, and its only protection is anti-freeze and a tarpaulin over the bonnet. The engine fires at the third throw of the handle, even during this last spell of frost and snow.

To anyone thinking of buying an ex-London taxicab, the following suggestions might be useful:

(1) Look for heavy wear in the expected places, namely steering and braking.

(2) No attempt should be made to collapse the leather hood, which will probably have become brittle.

Finally don't be frightened of the draught out in front. The windscreen does its work well, and it's only when the wind blows from the side that a balaclava helmet is needed. Every mechanic who has examined this vehicle has congratulated me on my purchase.

Stephen Russ
29 Shaw Hill, Melksham, Wilts

Letter from a proud old body, G, 22.2.1954,
republished 22.2.2005






May 25, 1822


Yet another dreadful coach disaster


From the Guardian archive


Saturday May 25, 1822



To the editor

Oldham, May 15, 1822

Sir - It is a lamentable fact that one can scarcely take up a newspaper without the pain of meeting with an accident that has arisen from a stage coach. So frequently do these happen, that with catastrophes of this dreadful kind we are almost familiarized.

It is only by contiguous occurrences, that our sympathetic feelings are really awakened to the magnitude of the evil in question. The overturning of the Commercial Union Coach, at Hollinwood, was caused by a circumstance so trifling in itself, that it is surprising the public attention has not been directed to the subject of safety.

Is it rational to trust the lives of 14 or 15 human beings to the mercy of a leather strap, not more than an inch broad? Is it necessary?

A practical, and, I believe, safe method is already known; and ought to be immediately adopted, viz. wheels constructed on the plan of the mail coaches. I fear the cause of humanity would not be in the best of hands, if confided to the care of the public's obedient servants, the coach proprietors.

In 1820, the Society of Arts offered a gold medal or 30 guineas for the best method of preventing accidents arising from stage coaches. In addition to which I should propose that a premium of 500 guineas should be given for the best practical methods of preventing all possible accidents.

Should any one object to the proposed sum, be it remembered that the admirable society which offered 30 guineas, offers annually upwards of 1,000 guineas for the encouragement of genius in various ways, but here the interest of the community at large is so intimately concerned that an ample premium should be given.

Yours, Z.

PS, May 22 - If anything were wanted to convince of the necessity for some efficacious means being adopted, in order to render travelling by coach more safe than at present, it will be found in the following successive accident, which happened on Friday ,the 17th, to the True Briton Coach, before it had left the office in Manchester three quarters of an hour.

One of the lynch-pins having come out from the near fore-wheel upon Newton Heath, another came out nearly opposite the Wheat Sheaf public-house, in Failsworth, when the coach fell, and the consequence was that one female had her thigh and another her arm broken! Several other passengers were considerably injured.- Any further comment would be needless.

From the Guardian archive,
May 25, 1822,
Yet another dreadful coach disaster,
Republished 25.5.2006,










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