Advanced Vehicle Technologies: Energy, Environment, and Development Issues

Publication Date: December 2007

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service


Research Area: Energy; Transportation



Research and development of cleaner and more efficient vehicle technologies has been ongoing for the past few decades. Much of this research started in response to the oil shocks of the 1970s which triggered concerns about rising fuel costs and growing dependence on imported fuel. The urgency of those concerns was lost as fuel prices declined in the 1980s. At the same time, however, rising concerns about vehicle contributions to air pollution and global climate change added a new dimension to the issue. Recently, instability in world oil prices and political concerns have reawakened the energy dependence concerns of the 1970s. Meanwhile, research on new technologies continues, with a particular focus on commercialization. Despite widespread agreement in principle on the benefits of decreased dependence on petroleum and the internal combustion engine, the practical challenges posed by a transition to advanced vehicle technologies are formidable. Nonetheless, significant research and development progress has been made since the 1970s.

These new technologies have sparked more interest as some major auto manufacturers have introduced high-efficiency production vehicles to the American market, and others have plans to introduce similar vehicles in the future. Furthermore, interest has grown recently as a result of higher petroleum prices, and the announcement of new emission regulations for passenger vehicles.

In January 2002, the Bush Administration announced the FreedomCAR initiative, which focuses federal research on fuel cell vehicles. This initiative replaces the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV), which focused on hybrid technologies and the development of an 80 mile-per-gallon sedan. In conjunction with FreedomCAR, in January 2003, President Bush announced the Hydrogen Fuel Initiative, which focuses federal research on hydrogen fuel and fuel cells for stationary applications.

This report discusses three major vehicle technologies -- electric vehicles, hybrid electric vehicles, and fuel cell vehicles -- as well as advanced component technologies. Each technology is discussed in terms of cost, fueling and maintenance infrastructure, and performance. The report also discusses key legislation in Congress, as well as federal, state, and local activity relevant to these technologies. This report will be updated as events warrant.