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THE FEDERAL ROLE IN ADVANCED AUTO R&D

The federal government has played an active role in the research and development (R&D) of advanced automotive technologies for more than 20 years. From the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 through the Energy Policy Act of 1992, Congress has used a combination of mandates and R&D finding to promote the development of cleaner, safer, and more fuel efficient cars.

With the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development, and Demonstration Act of 1976, Congress authorized DOE to support accelerated R&D on electric and hybrid vehicles. Cumulative government finding for the DOE Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Program since 1976 has been $583 million; 72 however, annual finding has been highly variable and about half of this total has been spent in the past five years.

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73 State governments have also played an important role in automotive R&D, especially relating to auto emissions and air quality. The California LEV program (and its proposed adoption in several northeastern states) has not only stimulated joint research by the Big Three on advanced batteries and EVs, it also spawned a myriad of small companies aiming to produce EVs to meet the 1998 requirements.

Japanese manufacturers interviewed by OTA indicated that they had largely abandoned EV research, until the California mandate forced them to renew it in earnest. 7lActually, the only significant areas of complaint about vehicular emissions control programs appear to be the inspection and maintenance programs and fuel requirements— not the onboard vehicular controls.

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To be fair, however, it is important to note that this acceptance was not immediately won. During the early years of the emissions control programs, when the new controls adversely affected vehicle performance, there were significant problems with consumer acceptance and disconnecting of control systems.

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72Industry contractors also provided cost sharing of contracts, typically in the range of 5 to 20 percent. 73DOE officials interviewed by OTA attribute this rapid increase in funding to the 1991 California Low Emission vehicle program (especially the zero emission vehicle requirements), which forced the major automakers around the world to accelerate the development of electric vehicles.

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