Senate bill to drive research in fuel-saving technologies

WASHINGTON — Senators from auto manufacturing states are trying again to pass legislation designed to encourage investment in zero-emissions vehicle r&d, and advanced fuel-reduction and safety technologies.

The Senate, during the last session of Congress, approved the Vehicle Innovation Act as part of a broader energy bill. The energy package died when the House and Senate could not reconcile separate versions of the bill.

“Michigan and the United States are leading the way in developing innovative technologies that will make the next-generation of cars and trucks safer and more efficient than ever before,” Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., the bill’s lead author, said in a statement. “This bipartisan bill will help ensure that American manufacturers remain internationally competitive by encouraging the development of cutting-edge vehicle technologies that improve fuel efficiency, save consumers money and help support American jobs.”

The bill offers added support to the Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office, which issues grants and promotes public-private partnerships in basic and applied research for technologies that improve fuel efficiency of light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. It also encourages the office to coordinate activities with other department offices and outside agencies engaged in similar research.

Examples of potential fuel-saving technologies include engine downspeeding — reducing an engine’s rpms, especially at highway cruising speeds, to reduce friction and increase fuel efficiency — as well as electric vehicle charging, hydrogen and natural gas refueling, aerodynamics and lightweight materials.

The legislation authorizes the Vehicle Technologies Office to be funded at $ 313.6 million in fiscal year 2018, up from $ 307 million in 2017, with annual increases of four percent each year through 2022.

Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., co-sponsored the Vehicle Innovation Act, which has the support of automakers and suppliers.

“Automakers are focused on the deployment of advanced technology and alternative fuel vehicles to help address our nation’s energy security and environmental concerns,” Mitch Bainwol, CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said in a statement. “The next generation of fuel-efficient technologies requires significant investments in research, design, development, testing and certification as they are developed and refined for use on the various types of vehicles needed by American consumers. This legislation will help ensure that our industry partners throughout the vast automotive supply chain are supported in the research on and development of these advanced technologies.”

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