To relieve American dependence on oil, the federal government invests in innovations to make vehicles more efficient and developing alternatives to oil, primarily through broad collaborative R&D partnerships between the federal government and U.S. automakers and fuel providers.
While the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (1993-2002), the FreedomCAR and Fuels partnership (2002-2011), and the U.S. DRIVE partnership (2011-present) are popularly thought of as three discrete efforts undertaken by different presidential administrations, they are more accurately described as a single, evolving and expanding partnership maintaining a diverse R&D portfolio in the four core vehicle technology areas. The partnerships have racked up for a steady increase in technological accomplishments and progress toward performance, reliability and cost targets for key enabling technologies for advanced light-duty vehicles, particularly automotive fuel cells and lithium-ion batteries. The “innovation ecosystem” that includes the vehicle technology R&D partnerships and the work carried on beyond them also has demonstrably increased the use of advanced technologies in the conventional light-duty fleet; for example, lightweight materials research and improvements in electric motors and power electronics have benefited conventional vehicles, in addition to alternatively-fueled vehicles. Moreover, the partnerships did so while fostering a healthy collaborative partnership between the government and automakers—in spite of a preexisting relationship that had been fairly antagonistic.
Today, AEIC staff release a case study on public-private partnerships in vehicle technology development, the fifth in a series of case studies that illustrate the various ways in which the federal government has played a productive and necessary role in energy technology innovation. Previously, AEIC staff released case studies on aeroderivative gas turbines, unconventional gas exploration & production, advanced diesel internal combustion engines, and low-emissivity windows. The series examines the various mechanisms that the federal government has used to successfully complement and enhance private sector energy technology innovation. In doing so, AEIC’s staff underscore how the federal government acts as a catalyst and instigator to private sector energy innovation.