involving not only the major auto manufacturers but also many suppliers and government labs. The program has three major goals: a vehicle with three times today's fuel efficiency, near-term spin-offs to standard vehicles, and major improvements in manufacturing costs and development times. All aspects of the vehicle require significant improvement—often abandoning old paradigms—to meet the overall goal. The criteria evolve over time, with the early emphasis on safety, economy, and emissions growing to a full set including marketability and commercial viability. Despite early reactions that the goal was impossible, it is likely that the concept of vehicles that get up to 80 miles per gallon will be revealed on schedule in early 2000.
Examination of the program reveals that many of the highly challenging technical problems are chemical in nature (e.g., lightweight materials, assembly, combustion, and batteries). The key technology directions were chosen in 1997, but in many cases, such as combustion-ignition engines and fuel cells, fundamental chemical understanding is lacking, so that basic research must continue in parallel with development.
In addition to the revolutionary technical challenges, complexity has been added by the inadequacy of communication among government agencies, which required the auto manufacturers to provide the linkage. Key factors for success in such a large partnership include having a significant societal goal, overcoming adversarial histories, and resolving different value schemes. Many relationships between competitors, suppliers and customers, and manufacturers and government had to be reinvented. The consensus is emerging that economic competitiveness and environmental benefits go together. Delivery as promised is a key to credibility. The commitment must be commensurate with the goal, in this case at the CEO level. It is crucial to recognize the effect of changing market forces and the need for customer acceptance—for instance, fuel economy was second among consumer references in 1980 but fifteenth in 1999.
Emerging realities of the partnership are that government is not monolithic, delay and budget creep must be expected, Congress cannot be expected to understand science and technology nor scientists and engineers to understand Washington, and agency missions are variable but important. Despite the problems, the program is on the route to success and delivering many benefits.
Discussion clarified that issues raised by the merger of Chrysler and Daimler were favorably resolved, because the new entity still conducts R&D and manufactures in the United States. Despite its origins, both political parties have now endorsed the program, so political risks are not severe. The public taste for gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles has to be considered, but the technologies under development can and will be transferred to larger vehicles. No single technology area is emerging as the primary key; all are essential. The Japanese pursuit of similar goals has stimulated Detroit's competitive spirit, especially because it must be kept in mind that the relevant market is not solely the United States but the world. It is not possible to say with certainty that PNGV has permanently altered the level of trust between General Motors and the federal government.