The highly touted government-industry program to design a "supercar" may be concentrating on something few drivers will be able to afford or even want. So warns a committee of the National Research Council in its latest annual review of the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV). Last year PNGV officials picked their best candidate for an affordable, mid-size vehicle that can get up to 80 mpg, yet meet prevailing emission standards. Their selection for a concept vehicle to be built in the year 2000 is an electric car that also has a small diesel engine. The committee's report, however, doubts that the proposed design will meet either the affordability or the emissions goal. It suggests lowering the target to 60 mpg. Hybrid-electric vehicles, it adds, would require complex and costly battery, power-conversion, and electronic-control systems. The panel further notes that nearly half the sales in the U.S. automotive market today is in sport utility vehicles, minivans, and light trucks. It proposes that PNGV also evaluate these vehicles.
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