The Department of Transportation yesterday outlined its plan to reinvent the automobile through the cooperative efforts of the auto industry, private inventors, researchers, and the federal government.
Transportation Secretary Brock Adams said the auto industry has "agreed in principle" to support broad public research efforts with both money and expertise.
The agreement to proceed with the government research effort, which will involve a federal investment of at least $50 million annually beginning in 1981, and will be run out of DOT's Transportation Systems Center research facility in Cambridge, Mass., comes after Friday's "summit" meeting between President Carter and top officials of the major U.S. auto makers.
That meeting was a culmination of several months of public and private conversations and meetings between Adams and industry officials concerning new research efforts.
In an interview yesterday Adams said the kind of basic research called for in his new initiative was different from what the auto companies are doing now.
"They are not doing basic research," he said. "They are all in the production chain and the applied technology field." He said virtually all auto industry research money goes toward short-term changes in cars. The industry claims that it must spend its money to meet federal safety, pollution and fuel economy standards.
He said that the type of research that is needed is that which will make the automobile safer and more economical.
Adams said DOT is in the process of scheduling a series of hearings around the country to hear from private inventors and the general public about their needs for and thoughts on future cars.
"We want to take this program out of Washington," Adams said, "because there are very good ideas out there that just need a little funding to get moving."
He particulatly noted recent research gains involving new engines that could be increased even more with the infusion of public funds.
Adams said inventors will be protected under patent laws, and thus receive proper rewards for their efforts even if they are government funded. "But," he added, "the important thing is to get this research out into the open, like scientific research should be."
Major auto companies are compelled to cooperate, he said, "because if they don't they will be left behind."
Adams said he is going to Europe later this month with National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator Joan Claybrook to talk about the research efforts with foreign governments and auto makers. They will first meet with European transportation ministers at a conference in Yugoslavia, where Adams is delivering a paper on U.S. government efforts to facilitate auto research. Following that, Claybrook will deliver similar remarks to a world conference on the auto in Paris.
Adams said the project will be coordinated with other federal auto research efforts including the Department of Energy's electric vehicle program, where he says, "They just keep building vehicles and they look nice, which I think is good - but until we break the battery problem there is no breakthrough with the electric car."
"We are going to do research into the battery," he said.