Hannes Richter

California: Governor Schwarzenegger Meets Austrian Automotive Experts

Hannes Richter

Austrian delegation visits alternative propulsion and sustainable mobility companies

by Margit Mills

Austrian companies have technological advantages in some areas, but have to improve in how they present their competencies” said Governor Schwarzenegger to a group of Austrian automotive executives whilst visiting in Sacramento. The state of California wants to position itself as a leader in the alternative propulsion race. In December 2010, twenty-two Austrian industry leaders went to California to experience firsthand how US carmakers plan to achieve lower emissions and higher fuel economy.


There is no silver bullet when it comes to the powertrain of the future. The outcome—electric, hybrid, hydrogen, or conventional--will depend on the individual requirement of the user, the available infrastructure and government funding and requirements. Opportunities for Austrian companies come from their competences in further developing conventional engines, automotive parts, e-cars and hydrogen vehicles.

The Austrian Trade Commission in Chicago sees future opportunities for lighter and new materials, complex production line support, expertise, instruments and software development for prototypes and test beds. By personally joining the trade mission, the US Ambassador in Austria, William C. Eacho III, showed a commitment from the United States to Austrian competency in developing alternative propulsion systems and alternative energy technologies.

Southern California - especially Silicon Valley - is a perfect testing ground for European companies such as BMW and Mercedes. This area has a wealth of innovative and unconventionally-minded users, corporations and investors. There are more early adaptors in California than anywhere else in the U.S. New kids on the block such as Tesla require more involvement from their vendors by demanding complete solutions rather than a single product. Austrian companies are running with the pack: AVL opened a test center in Southern California where they can simulate, for example, powertrain in the loop (PiL) and vehicle dynamics. Engine expert Professor Ernst Pucher, Vienna University of Technology Institute for Powertrains and Automotive Technology and visiting professor at the University of California in San Diego, is also active in fuel cell research and other critical propulsion topics.

E-cars, which have been around for many years, are best used in urban surroundings due to their limited range and charging needs. Tesla Motors, which purchased the New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI) factory in Fremont from Toyota, wants to build 10,000 “Model S” e-cars by the end of 2012. Starting in 2011, BMW will offer their 4 seater “ActiveE” to California and East Coast users on a lease-trial basis.

In 2011, Better Place, a firm which develops battery charging and swapping stations, will establish an infrastructure in the San Francisco-San Jose region for sixty taxis to run solely on battery power. Investors and the U.S. Government put a lot of faith in these new developments. Better Place alone received more than $500 million in funding. The electric bus manufacturer EBus developed fast charging station technology to charge a full-sized bus within five minutes. That charge will last for an hour and is perfectly suited for inner city transit.

Fuel cells are another technology that can help California achieve its zero emissions goal. Research and development in fuel cell technology is a major driver at the National Fuel Cell Research Center at the University of California in Irvine. The new B-Class fuel cell vehicle from Mercedes-Benz will soon be available in California on a lease basis for $849/month, which includes fuel and insurance. The new General Motors Chevy Equinox will soon run on hydrogen fuel. The car was developed on a three-year project called “Driveway,” which utilized user behavior and feedback metrics of one hundred prototype Equinox users.

California is certainly a forerunner for clean public transportation. The California Transit Authority in San Jose (Hybrid Technology from Allision Transmission), the Long Beach Transit Authority (ISE Corporation) and in San Francisco (BAE Systems) are already using a variety of clean technologies on an everyday basis.

On the forefront of U.S.-regulations, California´s Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway and Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced very strict changes for fuel efficiencies and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions for 2050. The new regulations will be implemented incrementally between 2017 and 2025. The state agencies California Air Resource Board and the California Energy Commission are concerned that OEM´s will not meet new regulations with conventional motor technology. Therefore, new technologies such as electric, hybrid and hydrogen vehicles must be introduced on a larger scale.

With the goal of achieving a better understanding of alternative propulsion systems and sustainable mobility, the Austrian delegation visited 14 companies and institutions in the state of California. This trade mission was organized by the Austrian Trade Commission in Chicago, the U.S. Embassy in Vienna/US Commercial Service and the Vienna University of Technology/Institute for Powertrains and Automotive Technology.

Margit Mills is the Automotive Industry Project manager at the Austrian Trade Commission in Chicago