Two advanced vehicle bills move ahead in Senate

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Two pieces of legislation aimed at boosting advanced technology vehicles moved ahead Thursday in the U.S. Senate.

The Vehicle Innovation Act, which promotes investments in research and development of cleaner vehicle and advanced safety technologies that will create more fuel-efficient vehicles, was included in the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The measure is sponsored by Sens. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing.

Separately, the six-year-highway bill that passed the Senate Thursday 65-34 includes a bill Peters introduced — the Vehicle-to-Infrastructure Safety Technology Investment Flexibility Act of 2015 in June, along with Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, and Stabenow. Both Peters and Stabenow voted in favor of the highway bill.

Stabenow said Tuesday that Congress must end the log jam and pass a long-term highway bill.

The Vehicle Innovation Act reauthorizes the Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Program, which promotes partnerships to conduct research and development to improve fuel efficiency in vehicles.

The legislation authorizes $313.6 million in funding for the next budget year, and a 4 percent increase annually through 2020, providing a consistent growth in funding to keep up with emerging technologies. But separately legislation must pass approving that budget.

The authority includes research and investment in vehicle power technologies like hybrid, battery, electric and natural gas.

The legislation includes provisions to include safety technologies like vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications systems, “which have the potential to dramatically reduce traffic accidents and traffic congestion by allowing cars to communicate with one another and recognize dangers beyond what a vehicle’s radar, cameras or other sensors can detect,” the senators said.

“The cars and trucks of the future will have clean vehicle and safety technologies along with the horsepower and torque we know so well, and we need to make sure that these cutting-edge technologies are developed here in the United States,” said Peters. “This important legislation will make critical investments in our advanced manufacturing industry to improve our vehicle fleet, create middle class jobs and support American auto manufacturers and suppliers.”

“Michigan has always been a leader in manufacturing, but we can only continue our success against companies on the other side of the world if we invest in new technologies,” said Stabenow “Our measure will help manufacturers and suppliers research and develop new and innovative technologies to make the next generation of fuel-efficient vehicles, which will reduce costs at the pump and our dependence on foreign oil.”

The bill is supported by the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association, the BlueGreen Alliance, the Auto Alliance, the United Auto Workers, the League of Conservation Voters, the Union of Concerned Scientists and others.

“The Auto Alliance welcomes passage of the Vehicle Innovation Act of 2015 by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee,” said Mitch Bainwol, Auto Alliance president & CEO. “Long-term efforts to address our nation’s energy security and environmental concerns will require the mass market commercialization of advanced technology and alternative fuel vehicles. Automakers and our suppliers are focused on the introduction and deployment of these fuel-efficient vehicles. This legislation will help support these ongoing efforts as well as the research and design of the next generation of fuel-efficient vehicle technologies.”

Peters’ provision authorizes states to use existing surface transportation funding from highway programs, including the National Highway Performance Program, the Surface Transportation Program and the Highway Safety Improvement Program, to invest in vehicle-to-infrastructure technology.

According to a 2013 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, up to 80 percent accidents involving drivers not impaired by alcohol could be eliminated a big issue because more than 32,000 people are killed in accidents on American roads and highways. NHTSA found that once V2I technologies are fully deployed along with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technologies, they will have the potential to reduce up to 80 percent of accidents involving non-impaired drivers.

Peters’ bill is backed by Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Association of Global Automakers, Cisco and ITS America among others.

The highway bill won’t be taken up by the House but both the Senate and House approved a three-month short-term extension so both chambers can again try after the August recess to pass a long-term bill.

The six-year bill also includes some auto safety provisions including tripling maximum delayed auto safety recall fines to $105 million and would bar the rental of unrepaired vehicles, but not the sale of unrepaired recalled used cars.