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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Rethinking the Car of the Future

  • Author(s): Sperling, Daniel
  • et al.

On September 29, 1993, President Clinton and the chief executive officers of Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors (the “Big Three”) announced the creation of what was to become known as the Partnership for a Generation of Vehicles (PNGV). The primary goal of the partnership was to develop a vehicle that achieves up to three times the fuel economy of today’s cars – about 80 miles per gallon (mpg) – with no sacrifice in performance, size, cost, emissions, or safety. The project would cost a billion dollars or more, split fifty-fifty between government and industry over a 10-year period. Engineers were to select the most promising technologies by 1997, create a concept prototype by 2000, and build a production prototype by 2004. As the first deadline approaches, PNGV shows signs of falling short of its ambitious goals. Little new funding has been devoted to the project. More important, the organization structure that seemed appropriate in 1993 – its design goals, deadlines, and funding strategies – may prove to be counterproductive. The program designed to accelerate the commercialization of revolutionary new technologies has focused instead on incremental refinement of technologies that are relatively familiar and not particularly beneficial for the environment. Major adjustments are needed in order to realize the full potential of this partnership. A reformed PNGV would be capable of efficiently directing funds toward the most promising technologies, the most aggressive companies, and the most innovative research centers. Now is the time to update the program by incorporating the lessons learned during its first few years.

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