WASHINGTON - As General Motors vied with Toyota over who sold more cars during 2007, U.S. environmental activists were sending a different sort of sales message to automakers gathered at the Washington Auto Show: "Increase fuel efficiency."
Noting that consumer demand for fuel-efficient, plug-in hybrid vehicles is rising in the United States, Co-Op America spokesperson Yochanan Zakai called on domestic automakers to "keep their assembly lines open and meet consumer demand by mass-producing plug-in hybrids before 2010."
Some 10,000 consumers signed a petition designed by Co-Op America urging Ford and General Motors to devote more resources to producing a car capable of running 100 miles or more on a single gallon of gasoline -- for which the technology is already available.
Environmental innovator Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, agrees: "The United States could easily cut its gasoline use in half simply by converting the U.S. automobile fleet to highly efficient hybrid cars. No change in the number of vehicles. No change in the miles driven. Just doing it with the most efficient propulsion technology on the market," writes Brown in his new book Plan B 3.0.
Hybrids run mainly on electricity, using batteries that can be plugged in at home or at the workplace. Producing more cars of this type would greatly reduce consumers' cost at the pump and U.S. reliance on imported oil.
But instead of gearing up to mass-produce cars using these new technologies, American automakers are promoting corn-based ethanol as a primary solution to energy security, charges Co-Op America.
The amount of corn required to produce the huge quantities of ethanol needed to meet U.S. demand means that vast amounts of water, energy, and land are devoted to corn for cars, instead of corn for people.
Corn is a staple crop consumed by the poor in many developing countries. Conversion of cropland to ethanol production robs people of a life-sustaining resource.
The United States, Brazil, China, and other countries are increasingly converting land previously devoted to grain crops -- such as corn, sugar, and wheat -- for use in producing alternative fuels. In addition to contributing to food insecurity for the poor, this practice is likely to increase food prices for everyone, writes Lester Brown.
Together, Ford and GM account for more than half the carbon emissions from U.S. cars, yet they resist a rise in fuel economy standards, charges Co-op America. The two behemoths could better compete for consumer dollars by looking to the future and producing fewer SUVs and more fuel-efficient hybrids, the group says.
Co-Op America is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that seeks to harness the economic power of consumers and others "to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society."
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