FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
Rising gas prices are forcing consumers and the auto industry to make drastic changes. Today we wrap up our multimedia series Road Trippin' with a look at some solutions to the soaring fuel costs. Toyota and Honda have been making popular hybrid gas-electric cars and they generally get better mileage than gas-only engines and save some wear and tear on the environment. Pump prices have consumers dumping their SUVs and pickup trucks for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. Now the other major car companies are jumping onto the fuel efficiency bandwagon. With us to talk about some of those changes is BMW spokesperson Dave Buchko. Thanks for joining us.
Mr. DAVE BUCHKO (Spokesperson, BMW): Thank you.
CHIDEYA: So gas-electric hybrid cars have been on U.S. roads since Honda started selling the Insight in 2000. Companies like GM, Honda and BMW are looking now at developing hydrogen-powered cars. What does that mean, how do those work?
Mr. BUCHKO: Well, there are different approaches to how to - to hydrogen vehicles. We've been at this longer than anybody. We've been at this for more than 25 years. And so when we started looking at hydrogen, what we were looking for initially was an alternative to gasoline as a way of powering an internal combustion engine, which is normal - you know, in a normal car engine. So quite different from what we see with fuel cells. But we've continued to develop the internal combustion engine powered by hydrogen because we think that that has a lot of potential and a lot of relevance.
CHIDEYA: Where is it in terms of the consumer market?
Mr. BUCHKO: Well that's a little hard to say, because there are two aspects to this. One of course is the cars. And as you can see from work that we're doing and others, the cars themselves are well on their way in the development cycle. The other aspect of this, of course, is the fuel and the access to fuel in order to be able to refuel the vehicles. And those two things really do have to merge in order for hydrogen-powered vehicles to be fully viable.
CHIDEYA: Now I heard that the fuel can be dangerous, is that true?
Mr. BUCHKO: Well, I think people - hydrogen is such as a fuel is something that we most of us just don't know a lot about, and so it sounds kind of scary. I mean, we're powering our fleet of hydrogen-seven series cars with hydrogen in an internal combustion engine, which means that by its nature it has to be combustible just like gasoline. And so just as gasoline has risk potentials associated with it, so too in a sense does hydrogen. But the great thing about hydrogen as a fuel is that of course it - while it does combust, it's very clean and it's also very neutral from an environmental perspective. So, for example, if there's a hydrogen fuel leak, as opposed to a gasoline fuel leak, there's no impact to the environment whatsoever.
CHIDEYA: It will make water, basically.
Mr. BUCHKO: Basically. Well, what hydrogen does is at soon as it escapes into the atmosphere it starts bonding with whatever it can find. You know either hydrocarbons or oxygen to create water or whatever. It doesn't sit in the environment once it leaks out, for example, out of a tank or whatever. It doesn't sit there, you know, waiting for something to happen. It moves very quickly, where as something like gasoline by comparison, does not do that.
CHIDEYA: How do you compare in terms of, you know, environmental impact and cost these developing hydrogen cars to hybrids like the Toyota Prius?
Mr. BUCHKO: We'll, we're seeing things like the Prius that are already on the road and there are a number of other hybrids. We're developing a hybrid which will be on the road next year as well. Hydrogen is still in the development phase and so we're still a ways away from having vehicles on the road. So it's a little tough to make a direct cost comparison. I mean, the fleet of 100 hydrogen-powered seven series cars we've got on the road now were obviously very expensive to develop and to build just because of their very unique nature.
CHIDEYA: Who's your market? I mean, BMW is known a very quality brand, but that also means that your price point is probably above that of a lot of working folks who are commuters. So who do you find is your market?
Mr. BUCHKO: Well, when it comes to something like hydrogen and our hydrogen sevens, yes, we develop this fleet of cars, it's a version of our largest, most luxurious car in the fleet. But that was sort of the point. I mean we wanted people to see just exactly what potential we had here. I mean, because you would expect that in order to come up with a vehicle that's more fuel-efficient and that emits fewer greenhouse gases into the atmosphere would be small, whereas we figured this way, with a very large car it's almost a non-sequitor, you know. Here we have very large very luxurious car that emits water vapor, basically, when it's running. And so that was the point. But really, our goal here, along with a number of other manufacturers is to advance technology, to advance the concept of hydrogen as an alternative. And so we see out there the possibility of a broad palette of potential vehicles in all price ranges, not just as the very upper limit. But our goal first and foremost is to advance the technology and advance the hydrogen infrastructure.
CHIDEYA: Well Dave, great talking to you. Thanks.
Mr. BUCHKO: Thank you very much.
CHIDEYA: That was Dave Buchko. He's a spokesperson for BMW of America.