Most of the article was about VW's fuel cell projects, and a dual-stage forced induction engine, the Twincharger, which uses a supercharger in series with a turbocharger to squeeze 177 lb.ft out of a 1.4L I4 at merely 1750RPM.
However, at some point, Bockelmann was asked about hybrid cars. In a surprising show of straight talk, he explained the real reason why hybrids are so fashionable: CARB and its Zero Emissions Vehicle rules. I nearly dropped the magazine when I read:
"Nobody would deal with hybrids if we did not have the "stupid" regulations in California that make them necessary," he said. "But we have to have one of these models on the market if we want to sell our cars there in 2008-9. With the right kind of driving cycle it will safe fuel in Tokyo or Paris, but not when it comes to typical U.S. driving habits, such as a 55 mile drive to work with just the last five in stop-and-go conditions. Even on I-75 in Detroit, it is a case of slow cruising at 30-40mph--and at that speed you are not saving much fuel in a hybrid."He speaks the truth. California law requires automaker to sell a certain number of ZEV's. However, since electric cars never really got off the ground, except for a few greenies, California amended the rules to give carmakers credits for PZEVs (Partial Zero Emission Vehicles) and AT-PZEVs (Advanced Technology PZEVs, or hybrids). Only to a California bureaucrat, by the way, does "partial zero" make any sense.
"Stupid" rules or not, no carmaker can afford to lose the business of California, or the several other states which have adopted their stringent emissions rules. These "green states" comprise about 30% of North American automotive volume. VW is in an especially sensitive spot with CARB, because California's emission rules keep VW's TDI diesels out.
I sometimes worry that GM and Ford have "drank the kool-aid", with the ecstatic pursuit of hybrid vehicles, but I think that they are too smart for that. Rather, it is a strategy to play environmental politics well, and pick up some electric powertrain knowledge along the way. If done right, it can generate lots of goodwill, good press, and government breaks. But if the hybrid fad doesn't pan out, it may turn out to be a very costly strategy.
*sorry, I couldn't resist.