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Laboratory to Take Advanced Vehicles for a Spin

July 25, 2008

Photo of seven government officials, two women and five men, in business attire standing between two parked vehicles, a green car and a red car. The officials are jointly cutting a blue ribbon stretched in front of them with a large set of scissors

DOE Assistant Secretary Alexander Karsner, right, cuts the ribbon to officially launch NREL's advanced vehicle research and demonstration fleet. Helping with the ribbon cutting are, left to right, DOE Golden Field Office Manager Rita Wells, James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, NREL Director Dan Arvizu, DOE Vehicle Technologies Acting Program Manager Patrick Davis, and Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle.


Photo of a smiling woman driving a white SUV vehicle in a parking lot. The side panel reads: Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, powered at the plug. The Xcel Energy logo is on the door panel.

Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle drives a plug-in hybrid Ford Escape at the NREL demonstration fleet event. The plug-in hybrid recharges from the utility grid, so it can travel more miles on electricity alone than a conventional hybrid-electric car.


Photo of a light blue hatchback car parked outside in a parking lot. Onlookers and media watch as the driver, a man in a blue shirt and tie, reaches to the side for his safety belt. Text on the car side panel reads: driving the future, F-CELL.

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter buckles his seat belt before trying out a hydrogen fuel cell powered Mercedes prototype.

Ladies and gentlemen...Start your hydrogen fuel cells...and your batteries...and your biodiesels...and your hybrids.

The U.S. Department of Energy and NREL hosted a rally of 18 advanced vehicles from eight manufacturers on July 25. The cars and trucks offered an impressive preview of "Test Fleet NREL" — a variety of vehicles that will be cruising around the national laboratory's campus in the coming months and serve as an on-the-road test bed.

They also raised public awareness about the advanced vehicle technologies that are commercially available now or in development.

DOE Assistant Secretary Alexander Karsner said NREL, as the nation's premier laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research, is the ideal place to evaluate the vehicles. Researchers and regulators not only need to validate how electric, hydrogen and alternatively fueled vehicles will perform in everyday use on America's streets, but also determine their wider impact on communities' infrastructure.

Vehicle Research Enters a New Era

"This is a new era of our vehicle technology program," Karsner said in remarks at the rally. "What happens when you plug in vehicles in a community of this size? We have a wide variety of vehicles here that will show us."

The fleet of advanced vehicles was assembled near NREL's Thermal Test Facility. Assistant Secretary Karsner was joined by Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and NREL Director Dan Arvizu for an up-close look at the cars and trucks that were on display. It was the most diverse fleet of alternative vehicles assembled at the laboratory in its three-decade history.

Arvizu invited them to test-drive many of the cars, which included vehicles fueled by electricity, hydrogen, ethanol, and biodiesel.

Many of the vehicles featured promising technologies designed to increase efficiency without sacrificing safety or comfort. Some are commercially available now, but most are prototypes.

"These are the cars our children and grandchildren will drive," Gov. Ritter said. "Let's look at this as an opportunity to build our economy."

Over the next year, NREL will receive advanced vehicles, including some similar to those in the rally. Researchers will collect data on the vehicles' performance and assess the potential of the technologies. The vehicles in the fleet will be rotated regularly to ensure that both current and coming technologies are represented.

Advanced Vehicles at the NREL Rally

  • Compressed Natural Gas/Gasoline-fueled Ford F250 pickup truck
  • Compressed Natural Gas-fueled Honda Civic
  • Hydrogen Fuel Cell-powered Mercedes A-Class
  • Hydrogen Fuel Cell-powered Ford Focus
  • Hydrogen Fuel Cell-powered Hyundai Tucson
  • Hybrid Electric Toyota Highlander
  • Neighborhood Electric GEM car
  • Plug-in Hybrid Electric Ford Escape
  • Compressed Natural Gas-fueled GM van
  • E-85 Ethanol fueled Corvette dragster
  • All-electric Phoenix Motorcar
  • Hybrid Electric Denver RTD Bus
  • Hybrid Electric GM Tahoe
  • Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engine-powered Chevrolet Silverado
  • Plug-in Hybrid Electric Toyota Prius
  • Biodiesel powered Mercedes C-Class
  • Lightweight gasoline-powered SMART car
  • E-85 Ethanol-fueled Chevrolet Impala Flex Fuel Vehicle

Learn more about NREL's Advanced Vehicles & Fuels Research.