The Bush administration is abandoning an eight-year, $1.5 billion program to produce highly fuel efficient cars in favor of a government-industry push to develop vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
The Energy Department said Secretary Spencer Abraham planned to announce details of the new program, dubbed “Freedom Car,” at a major auto show in Detroit on Wednesday. The Energy Department and senior White House policy officials in the Bush administration have all along been cool toward the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles, a program championed by the Clinton administration as the answer to improved automobile fuel economy.
Begun in 1993, the joint venture between the federal government and the Big Three domestic automakers was seen as a way to put family-size sedans that get 80 miles per gallon into showrooms by 2004. Using advanced aerodynamics, new engine technologies and lighter composite materials, the companies have produced prototype vehicles getting 70 mpg, but have not come near developing a fleet of such vehicles for mass production.
Instead, the administration intends to focus on speeding up development of hydrogen fuel-cell powered vehicles, a technology that has attracted intense interest in recent years, although probably a decade away from producing large numbers of cars.
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