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UCS Shows Flex-Fuel Minivan Design That Could Meet California CO2 Limits

Automotive engineers at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) unveiled a minivan design intended to show that automakers could build affordable vehicles with existing technology that would meet or exceed the global warming pollution standards for cars and trucks that have been adopted by California and 10 other states. Automakers are currently fighting these standards in court.

The minivan—the UCS Vanguard—utilizes off-the-shelf engine, transmission and fueling systems and other technologies that would save consumers money, maintain vehicle safety and performance, and cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 40%. The Vanguard is not a hybrid.

Today’s announcement confirms that we already have the technology and the tools to combat climate change and that now it is simply a question of the political will. Oregon is committed to transitioning to a new generation of cleaner vehicles, and this project demonstrates a clear path forward. It is my hope this will encourage the rest of the nation to join Oregon and the other states already pledged to reduce auto emissions.

—Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski

California’s standard requires a 34-percent reduction in global warming pollution for cars and light trucks and a 25-percent reduction for larger trucks and SUVs within the next 10 years. Oregon and nine other states (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington) have adopted the California clean car standard.

Several other states, including Arizona, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Tennessee and Texas, are considering or about to adopt the standard.

California is the only state allowed under federal law to set air pollution standards higher than those imposed by the federal government. Other states have the authority to follow California’s lead.

The Vanguard minivan design has eight key components—including improvements in the engine, transmission, air conditioner, fuel system, tires and aerodynamic design—that can be found piecemeal in more than 100 vehicle models on the road today. The Vanguard uses conventional, non-hybrid technology to achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

  • The Vanguard’s six-cylinder engine features cylinder deactivation to shut down half the cylinders in a large engine when full power is not needed. Stoichiometric direct injection places the gasoline directly into the combustion chamber, thereby allowing better mixing of the fuel and air and improved control over the combustion process.

    Turbocharging uses the waste heat from the vehicle’s exhaust to compress the air entering the engine’s combustion chamber. This boosting of the inlet air pressure results in higher engine power output, which allows the vehicle designers to select a smaller engine with less global warming emissions.

    Variable valve lift and timing reduces engine losses by better controlling the flow of the air and fuel into the engine—leading to more efficient combustion and better performance.

  • Replacing mechanical components such as power steering with more energy-efficient electrical components can reduce engine load. When this electrification of components is coupled with a high-efficiency advanced alternator, global warming emissions can be reduced even further.

  • The minivan’s automated manual transmission electronically adjusts its six gears to increase performance and efficiency.

  • Stronger hoses and tighter connections in the Vanguard’s air conditioning system reduce the amount hydrofluorocarbon, which leak into the air. The minivan also uses HFC-152a, a refrigerant with a much lower global warming potential (120 times more potent than carbon dioxide) than HFC-134a (1,300 times more potent).

    Direct CO2-equivalent emissions of refrigerant from a 152a system can be reduced by 95% or more compared with a baseline 134a system because of the smaller amount of refrigerant needed, lower leak rate, and lower global warming potential. Indirect CO2–equivalent emissions can be reduced by up to 10%.

  • The Vanguard is designed to run on either pure gasoline or a mixture of gasoline and as much as 85% ethanol. Using 85% corn-based ethanol can reduce global warming pollution from 10% to 30%, according to UCS. Using cellulosic ethanol could cut global warming pollution by as much as 90 percent. There are currently 32 types of flex-fuel vehicles on the road.




The resaults and costs are only theoretical utill they actually build one. Good effort though.



A classic case of mental-masturbation. Where's the beef?


The real questions are: Would anyone want to buy it? Where are the pictures? What are the specs, exactly? Is this an actual physical vehicle? Have the considered tooling costs? What capital investment would be needed for production? And how much would the final vehicle cost?


I read what they say. And there doesn't seem to be much that is new. If anything.

E85, turbocharging, replace mechanical parts with electrical in steering, etc. Oh, and be more efficient.

Cylinder deactivation, variable valve lifting and timing, and six-speed automatics are hardly innovative.

The changes to AC I can't comment on.

And unless I missed it there is no standard cited. So when they speak of 30% or 45% improvements (and they do) what did that mean? Was it compared to all vehicles registered today? All those on the market today? What?


I just read through the technical report on the web site. They do make a very strong case. However, I'd like to see them modify existing vehicles with their Vanguard Package so comparisons can be made and some real world data gathered.


As always acedmemiacs showing off exactly why they never go hired by a company.

6 speed transmissions are alot more spendy and have higher maintenance then 4 and 3 speed models and also only show a small improvement. They also take up a fair amount of room and weigh alot more.

Cylinder decactvation.. works well in n engine with alot of mass and alot of sylinders flying around by your gona lose far more then half the power deactivating 3 out of 6 in a small engine. Also the engine itself winds up costing more.

In general for the minican crowd what they want to do is get a cheap mild hybrid design combined with a simply improved engine that just gets more power with less fuel so they can use a 4 cylinder engine to do the work of a 6.

Later when batteries get alot cheaper they want to make full hybrid cars using a 2-3-4 cylinder engine combined with a small motor capable of givig it the needed performance. This HSOULD be rather easy in a few tears because CHEAP supercaps in the 2-5 kwh range are being deved right now and they are light and compact and CHEAP. That combined with a cheap high speed 10-20 hp motor should do the trick.


It is not like this minivan is innovative. It is minivans automakers produce today are using terribly outdated technology and components.


Minivans also are being phased out for mid sized and compact suvs that get better milage and sell better and work better. They also dont make you feel OLD.


Unless you are planning on pulling a big load or going off road minivans are far more practical than suvs. You can get a lot of people and baggage in one of these that you would never get in an SUV.

The point of this exercise was never to show how clever they were or to be innovative. The point was to prove that greater mileage and lower emissions are possible with todays resources. They've compiled evidence that the auto manufacturers don't have a legal leg to stand on in their fight against higher standards. (In the past they have always fought against better cars with things like say ... seat belts in them).



One of the issues the technical report does not address are patent and IP issues. While all these technologies are off the shelf, are they freely available for the automakers to use and combine the way the scientists say? Licensing would significantly raise the costs.

Again, I want to see a real example of what these scientists have designed on the road, under real driving conditions. They've made a good case, but it's all just on paper.

They've compiled evidence that the auto manufacturers don't have a legal leg to stand on in their fight against higher standards.

Here I disagree with you. The automakers contend that these CO2 regulations create a de facto fuel efficiency standard, which only the EPA can set at a national level. This is why the current outstanding cases in this area have been put on hold until the Supreme Court rules on the matter of CO2 as a pollutant.



Correction. EPA (and CARB) according to Clean Air Act can legally regulate only emissions of substances dangerous to our health. Like NOx, CO, NMHC, PM, benzene, etc. CO2 is not on the list. The case currently under consideration in Supreme Court (already rejected by lower court and court of appeal) is whether CO2 is dangerous to our well-being and hence should be subject to EPA and CARB regulation.

Keep in mind that every human being exhales about one kg of CO2 daily just to keep us alive. If Supreme Court decides that CO2 is harmful pollutant, expect CAFÉ standards extended to bicyclists, carbon taxes slapped on joggers, and CO2 emissions caps for football players. Also expect US to pay for 25% damage (and 10 times punitive damage) for every disastrous hurricane, tsunami, or wildfire around the world. 25% is being amount of CO2 US emit in the atmosphere due to combustion of fossil fuels.

US is not Europe, and laws here are subject to enforcement regardless of their stupidity or disastrous implications.


Andrey, it is a bogus argument that Human Beings are also CO2 polluters by exhaling.
We are a closed system, The foods we eat are created by sunlight, and CO2 in the air.
With exhaling, our CO2 goes back into the air and the cycle repeats.
With fosils fuels, once we burn it,some of it remains in the air, thus causing Global Warming.



Every human being burns about 100 Watt of energy just for being alive. In order to being alive, we in western society consume about 10 000 Watt of energy per person, 80% of it supplied by combustion of fossil fuels. To put it to the prospective, every human being in western society consumes about 200 KWh of fossil fuel energy daily just for living activity, include for posting of junk science garbage on this blog.

Jack Rosebro

Those who complain that this concept proposes no new toys - er, technology - miss the point, I think. The intent appears to be an exercise in demonstrating that California's GHG limits can be attained with off-the-shelf solutions.

As for the lack of a working prototype, UCS is a non-profit, and whether or not they choose to make one, it costs very little to get the idea out to the public ASAP. Projects such as this, as well as PHEV conversions, simply add volume to the collective voice that seeks to show the automakers that it's time to be bold.


It's worse than that, Jack.  The entire purpose of the exercise was to demonstrate what could be done with off-the-shelf technology (stated in TFA), and the readers here are complaining that there's nothing new in it.

C'mon, people.  You're supposed to be smarter than that.

IP issues can be dealt with using a licensing scheme such as is used for music.  Set fee, no negotiations or discrimination.  All it takes is a paragraph in a bill.

Kit P.

I think interveners serve a useful purpose in a democratic society. IMO, UCS is one of the more reasonable and responsible environmental lobby group. However, they are otherwise totally irresponsible in that they are not responsible for anything except their own behavior.

Everyone and their brother want to tell engineers how to build things. Well fine go to college, take calculus and themo.

IIf the California legislature want to reduce ghg gas 25%, all they have to do is pass a law rationing the sale of fossil fuels. It could take effect immediately. No doubt that the voters would hold these people responsible. It much safer for job security to demand some else do it.


Um you do know a small sub is a minivan recombobulated into an sub dont you? The sub even can have better milage and more cargo and people room too. They are however a tad more spendy.

Now yes putting a bunch of spendy tech into a cheap car/minivan will make it better.. it will also make it not cheap wich happens to be one of the key points of the minivan.


Preface: The UCS is not one of my favorite organizations ...

This imaginary vehicle suffers from the same phenomena that the beginner hot-rodder suffers from when he says he'll get 10 horsepower from his cold-air intake, 15 from the camshaft, 5 from the exhaust, etc., but when you add up all the pieces, it doesn't add up in the real world.

I agree with some of what they're saying, but if they wanted to get maximum CO2 reduction benefit, then the REAL choice would require the UCS swallowing some of their past rhetoric: Turbodiesel engine (with DPF and de-NOx catalyst) running biodiesel, operating through what they call an automated manual gearbox! And if you REALLY want to cut down the CO2 emissions, feed the vehicle with biodiesel, which has a better net CO2 reduction than ethanol (which in my mind is a non-starter).

You will be able to buy that technology in 2008, in the form of a VW Jetta TDI with either the real manual gearbox or VW's DSG automatic. You can buy the same thing now, but without the extra emissions equipment, in today's VW Jetta TDI. You can buy biodiesel at an increasing number of filling stations.

Of course, "diesel" has been on UCS's blacklist for years, and given UCS's past position on diesels, they will probably never accept them no matter how many DPF's and de-NOx catalysts are applied.

And by the way, I put my money where my mouth is. Today, in my driveway, is a 2006 VW Jetta TDI with biodiesel blend in the fuel tank.

Stan Peterson

As a past UCS member, this is the juvenile exercise by the publicity hounds and lawyers who run the organization. There are few or ZERO real scientists or engineers there anymore. They were all pushed out by the cynical fundraisers. The only thing these PR flacks know how or to do, is cobble together a paper exercises,and issue publicity and Press releases.

As to whether they could afford to do it, I ask you to look at their annual budget and compare it to the spending of a single amateur Hot rodder building his hot rod.

Its ridiculous; a hot rodder spends a few thousands of his dollars. The UCS annual budget is millions of dollars. It wouldn't be hard to find a few thousands for a real exercise, if they had anyone who knew how to do it, or if it were really possible. They could do it if they wanted to do it, financially,without noticing the expenditure.

In the meantime it is not at all clear that they have actually met the CARB standards. The CARB proposed standards calls for a decrease of 24% from something, whatever that is, and they don't add up any of their cherry-picked technology except to say burning E85 or B?? or B-something would accomplish 10, 20 or 30% of something.

Big phony deal.

This is PR Bull excrement, and NOT any thing else.

If all that is necessary is to certify and put an E85 sticker on a car, then the CARB standard doesn't mean much does it? Half of Detroit's output meets the standard then, already.

In the real world the total ethanol available is less than 10% of the total fuel used today. using every once of the crops, it and will never get much more than 12-15% of present use. Oxygenated fuels such as "California gas" already have up to 10% Ethanol in them.


I just can't believe all the negative bitch#$# going on here. Here is a non-profit organization doing something useful for helping reduce CO2 emissions and this is the reaction and GCC! You can always poke holes at any effort to do anything useful but what's the point? Do you want to help or hinder Green technology? Do you actually think this concept vehicle is going to make the world worse off?

While its ok to point out some weaknesses in their argument why not keep the big picture in mind and congratulate them!


whoops, one too many letters in the exclamation above. Feel free to edit it, sorry!


Do something useful?

UCS has no skin in the game. If a major automotive group took their approach and spent 5 years and 5 billion trying to put it into practice only to see it fail technically to produce the predicted gains or fail to find market acceptance, UCS loses nothing. Instead they would have gained several years of positive press releases, with the increased funding that would come with such advertising.

UCS has no experience designing vehicles for successful market implementation. For a real reduction in CO2 emissions this is a necessity. Each toy they have on their list will increase cost and reduce reliability. But maybe that is baked into their numbers - an inoperative vehicle tends to have very low CO2 emissions!

Unless real world system integration has taken place, their idea remains as much a paper tiger as UCS is.


Harvey why are we to believe you over their costs estimates? You can always say its not proved until 100 000 have been sold but that will always be the case with any new car. That wasn't the point of the exersize. The point was to show that the car makers usual excuse that its not technically possible at low cost is not necessarily true. At least on paper they have made their point. Now its up to the automakers to show the courts otherwise.

Spokane Walt

I am in line with thier thinking... In fact one company comes to mind - General Motors. They have a lot of the technology already, and could likely build a minvan that gets good milage.

We have a 2000 Chev Venture Minivan in our drivway - it got 24 MPG on the freeway fully loaded with 6 people and thier luggage on a recent trip. It typically sees 19 to 20 around town. It has 100K on the odometer, but has been well maintained. I could see GM Boosting the MPG on this design with a few enhancements like Displacement on Demand, Turbo on a Smaller Engine, Electrically Driven Power Steering and A/C, 5 speed automatic, E85 capability, and some other reductions.

We got rid of our Subaru Outback because it only got slightly better milage (about 2 mpg on the freway and about 1 mpg better around town), only seated 5 people instead of 7, couldn't tow a 2100lb trailer, and had about one third the cargo capacity. Subaru make a very reliable vehicle, but thier milage numbers stink.

And to agree with another poster, GM could even do better it they sold their Vauxhall Brand designs for minivans in the US... In the UK you can buy a vary nice mini-van with a small diesel engine that is turbo charged. They even offer it with a manual transmission, if you wish. Run one of those on 20% or higher biodiesl blend with proper particulate filters in place and you've really got something. BTW - VW has a small minivan and a regular sized mini-van in Europe, both available with Diesel engines as well.

Full Disclosure: Our "other" vehicle is a a 2000 Jetta TDI - running on 90% or higher BioDiesl from April to October and never less than 20% in the winter, even in the minus degree F temperatures. The car has been left outside at -10deg F with 40% Biodiesl in the tank overnight- w/ properly treated fuel - no gelling issues.

BioDiesel is the "RIGHT NOW" solution as it reduces GHG from the biggest gross poluters - big Diesel engines in things like construction equipment, 18-wheelers, Trains, etc. BioDiesel can be made from so many natural oils, not just from plants. Animal fats are fair game as well. The other reason that it is the "RIGHT NOW" soution is that 99.9% or current Diesel Engines can run the fuel with NO vehicle modifications in at least a 5% mixture.

As biodiesl standards evolve in the next 2-3 years, and engine makers account more for the fuel, we will see most diesel engine mfgs approve 20% and higher blends. I think we will also see people doing curbside recycling of thier cooking grease... but that is just my own little prediction.

Even without Biodiesl, most modern Diesel engine designs emmit less GHG per mile than thier Gasoline counterparts. In Europe, they post the CO2 per mile (or KM) for new vehicles - the diesels do better. If you put just 5% biodiesel in the fuel tank, the numbers just get better, and up to about 20% Bio, the fuel efficiency increases over just straingt Diesel.

Do the research - BioDiesel is the answer - much more so than E85. E85 has way to many problems, like distribution, dispensing, poor yield per acre, etc. In many states, there are still no E85 Fuel stations open to the public. BioDiesel is already just about everywhere, and growing every day.


Nothing new under the sun.
If you northamericans are really involved on reducing emissions and consumes there are (of course) easy ways to do that.First forget big cars, pick-ups, SUVs, look at its european counterparts.Then think in less weight, less frontal area, good aerodynamic, low friction tires and... a wonderful little ICE motor with all the technical paraphernalia that we daily see in GCC,(hats off to the "VW 1 litre" and the "CLEVER" prototypes).
Be careful with biofuels, their energetic return rate is quite low and the need of land to produce them may cause conflicts like oilwars did.
Forgive my English.Chau.

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