How to create micro-hybrid magic

The European Union mandates a cut in carbon dioxide emissions for new cars, and innovation flourishes. When California tried to play the same game, Bush said no

By Andrew Leonard

Published January 15, 2009 5:03PM (EST)

I just read a press release about a new development in "micro-hybrid" automotive technology and it made me mad.

The innovation in question is a further refinement of a so-called "starter alternator reversible system" (StARS) originally pioneered by the French automotive supplier Valeo. The first generation belt-driven alternator technology allowed a car engine to shut down immediately when idle and then restart silently on request. The technology has been incorporated in Smart Cars, several models of Mercedes automobiles and other European brands.

The second generation technology, with the help of some custom-designed semiconductors, assembles the alternator along with required power and control electronics into a "a single integrated package" that can be plugged into existing car engine designs.

A marketing director at Valeo claims the new technology will result in 6 percent fuel savings.

So why am I mad?

The research and development into the new micro-hybrid technology is a direct consequence of European Union legislation requiring a reduction of "average carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions for new cars from the current 160 g/km to 130 g/km in 2012."

This second-generation starter alternator reversible system (StARS) is intended to enable the European automotive industry to meet new EU emissions legislation and significantly reduce fuel consumption without needing to redesign the engine.

Here in California, the state government has been eager to mandate lower carbon dioxide emissions for new cars for years, but we've been stymied by the opposition of the U.S. automotive industry and the Bush administration's troglodyte EPA. So instead of providing incentives for domestic automakers and automotive suppliers to come up with technology refinements that increase fuel economy, we've handed the market over to the Europeans and Japanese. Our stupidity is phenomenal.

Never mind the endless debate over carbon taxes versus cap-and-trade systems. Just follow Europe (and California's would-be) example and require lower emissions on new cars. Then sit back, watch and enjoy as the car companies suddenly come up with a bunch of bright new ideas.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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