Bush Touts Energy Goals — And Hybrids

President Bush, left, watches as Dan Elliott, president and chief executive officer of Phoenix Motorcars, Inc., explains a fully electric vehicle during a demonstration of alternative fuel automobiles, Friday, Feb. 23, 2007, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
President Bush peered under the hood of an all-electric sport utility truck parked at the White House Friday and said his goal of reducing gasoline use by 20 percent over the next decade is realistic.

"I firmly believe that the goal I laid out — that Americans will use 20 percent less gasoline over the next 10 years — is going to be achieved, and here's living proof of how we're going to get there," Mr. Bush said on the South Lawn after examining the truck and a car that had a battery tucked in its trunk.

The president's energy proposals, made in his State of the Union address last month, include ramping up the production of alternative fuels such as ethanol made from new, non-corn feedstocks. The proposal calls on Congress to require the annual use of 35 billion gallons of ethanol and other alternative fuels such as biodiesel by 2017, a fivefold increase over current requirements.

White House aides said the sharp increase in alternative fuels and technological changes, including the use of more gas-electric hybrid cars, will cut projected gasoline demand by 20 percent over the next decade.

"We're going to be driving our cars using all kinds of different fuels other than gasoline, and using batteries that will be able to be recharged in vehicles that don't have to look like golf carts," Mr. Bush said after meeting with business leaders and scientists who believe there is a market for automobiles that use high-tech batteries.

But CBS News correspondent Sandra Hughes reports that hybrids' mileage isn't as good as once thought, although they still get the best mileage on the road.

New Environmental Protection Agency testing shows that actual mileage is lower than what the numbers you see on the sticker. But it's not just hybrids: Under the new standards, every car gets dinged. You can find out your car's true mileage at the Web site www.fueleconomy.gov.

The new tests give the Toyota Prius a rating of 48 miles per gallon in the city, 20 percent less than the 60 mpg it originally had. Highway mileage dropped 12 percent, from 51 miles per gallon to 45.

The Honda Civic hybrid dropped from 49 mpg in the city to 40 and from 51 on the highway to 45.

Analysts say it is not the cars that have changed, but the test itself, which takes now takes into account the way real people drive with air conditioning, sudden stops and starts and faster cruising speeds.

"The old methodology, for example, used a top highway speed of 60 miles per hour and an average highway speed of 48 per hour. Obviously nobody drives that speed," says auto industry analyst Todd Turner.

The White House has called for reforms to the car system, which requires automakers to meet a fleetwide average of 27.5 miles a gallon, to provide more flexibility for automakers and take into account the vehicle's dimensions.

Kevin Curtis, senior vice president of the National Environmental Trust, said if Mr. Bush wants to meet his gasoline savings goal, he needs to include a mandatory, 4 percent annual increase in his fuel economy bill.

"Without that, everything else is just talk," Curtis said. "The best way to increase fuel efficiency is with a clear, enforceable mileage target, not a vague request for regulatory flexibility."

The hybrid car that Mr. Bush inspected had a high-power lithium-ion battery made by A123 Systems of Watertown, Mass. It can power the car for about 40 miles and recharge in five hours. The white truck, made by Phoenix Motorcars Inc. of Ontario, Calif., uses a different kind of high-powered battery made by Altair Nanotechnologies in Reno, Nev. The battery has a range of 130 miles and can be recharged in about 10 minutes with a rapid-charging unit or trickle-charged overnight with its onboard charger.

"It's the same thing you plug your electric dryer into," said Bryon Bliss, vice president of sales with Phoenix Motorcars.

"My wife, she gets out with our kids during the week and I swear she could drive all week on this vehicle on one charge. She goes to the grocery stores, go to the zoo with the kids and such, but she doesn't go that far," he said.