DETROIT Abandoning a Clinton-era effort to boost gas mileage, the Bush administration announced a pact with the auto industry Wednesday to promote the development of pollution-free cars and trucks powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
It will probably take years to mass-produce such automobiles. But Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said the program will help reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil and clean up the air.
"The long-term results of this cooperative effort will be cars and trucks that are more efficient, cheaper to operate, pollution-free and competitive in the showroom," Abraham said at the North American International Auto Show.
The plan replaces the Partnership for a New Generation Vehicle program started by the Clinton administration to develop a vehicle with a fuel efficiency of 80 miles per gallon. Abraham said that plan was not cost-effective and did not result in affordable cars.
Just how much money the government will commit to the fuel cell project is undecided, Abraham said. Proposals for the 2003 budget are due in a few weeks.
Fuel cells produce electricity from the chemical reaction that happens when hydrogen is combined with oxygen. The only waste product is water. Fuel cells are already used to provide electricity on space shuttles.
The cells have gained favor because gasoline engines produce carbon dioxide, considered the primary cause of global warming, and other pollutants.
The cost of fuel cells has dropped sharply in recent years. Still, automakers have said 2010 is the earliest date that any sort of mass-market versions of such vehicles could be available.