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Steve Parker

Steve Parker

Posted March 10, 2009 | 03:03 AM (EST)

ExxonMobil -- Their "Hydrogen Plan" for Us


Have you seen the latest ExxonMobil TV spot promoting how the corporation is "advancing hydrogen technology" for the cars of the future?

Visually, the spot is typical - boring, even - of what you'd expect from a super-conservative politically-motivated multi-billion dollar quasi-governmental conglomerate using 19th-century ad agency techniques.

But if viewers not just watch, but also listen to the audio track, they're more than likely to be offended; to be perhaps surprised, but certainly not shocked.

On-screen are lush, green, leafy trees, fancy computer-generated schematics of these proposed "hydrogen cars" of ExxonMobil's future and of course beakers, burners and other laboratory equipment.

A somewhat corporate-though-casually-clad (loose tie, suit jacket open, dorky glasses, some facial hair) non-threatening, male, friendly-looking engineering-type (identified as one "Nazeer Bhore, Engineer") in dulcet and just-oh-so-Indian-accented-tones sings the praises of ExxonMobil's apparently very sincere desire (trust us) to save us from ourselves and our history.
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(Hey! It's the Cadillac Converj concept car from January's Detroit Auto Show! GM says it uses the same "extended-range hybrid technology" slated for the Chevrolet Volt. Both cars are "kind-of" EVs ... they use "on-board generators" to make electricity powering electric motors in the wheels. What does the generator run on? Gasoline. Oh)

While ExxonMobil tells us of the bright hydrogen future (always a nebulous, undefined "future"), we find that, although hydrogen is the most plentiful element in the universe and can be hydrolyzed (separated) and retrieved from almost anything, including water and natural gas, ExxonMobil's plan is for the fuel-cell cars of the future to get their hydrogen fuel from ... gasoline.

Here's a transcript of the spot:

We see the words: "ExxonMobil on advancing hydrogen technology"

Then a Mr. Nazeer Bhore, ID'd as "Engineer."

And Mr. Bhore says, in a bit of a stilted, halting fashion and with not the best grammar (can you imagine the hours ExxonMobil's lawyers billed for this spot's script?):

"Most people think ExxonMobil is a company that supplies gasoline to the gas station around the street corner. But we also are working with partners to develop a new energy-saving technology for future decades that takes gasoline and converts it into hydrogen on-board a car with significant lower greenhouse gas emissions. Our on-board hydrogen system on a fuel cell car could enable about 80% better fuel economy than the car you and I drive today."
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Then we see these titles:

"More efficiency. Fewer emissions. ExxonMobil. Taking on the world's toughest energy challenges"

See, ExxonMobil's hydrogen-fueled fuel cell system depends on gasoline, so the world can continue to lead lives blackmailed for everything from money to blood for as long as possible. Maybe Charlie Rose bows and scrapes to oil company execs because his show needs their financial support, like he throws softballs to Wal-Mart's top guy a few times a year, but I wish he'd ask an ExxonMobil exec about this the next time he has one on.

They don't even pretend to tell us that their company's plan calls not for a future of full-on hydrogen-fueled fuel cell electric vehicles, but vehicles which "could enable 80% better fuel economy than the car you and I drive today."

Oh, we silly humans! We should just let technology be ... well, technology! Just like we let money be money for the past eight years, with no hindrances or pesky regulations as the free market allowed it to seek its own godly, righteous level throughout the world. And look how great that all worked out!
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(Chevy's existing Malibu gas/electric hybrid and Ford's soon-on-sale Fusion hybrid offer reasonably good mileage but still run on - gasoline; ExxonMobil would have us believe all the money and technology which will go into hydrogen-fueled fuel cell pure EVs "could offer (only) 80%" improvements in fuel economy. And shockingly, ExxonMobil wants us to get our hydrogen from - gasoline)

Having seen the riots in Chicago's Grant Park during the 1968 Democratic Convention (and you political junkies would want to know I worked for Allard Lowenstein then, too), 40 years before President Barack Obama's victory speech there, I am still confounded that millions of Americans aren't in the streets demanding to know where that first $350 billion in TARP money went, W's last public gift to "his boys."

We know some of it allowed (Chicago-based) Northern Trust Bank to hire Sheryl Crow and Earth, Wind and Fire to entertain clients and employees at the recent Los Angeles Open (it's a golf match) at LA's swank Riviera Country Club (maybe this aspect of Crow's often-impeccable progressive politics was one reason Lance Armstrong dumped her; hey, just asking).

And TARP money helped pay to fly hundreds of Northern Trust clients and workers from around the world to California and to put some of them up at hotels including the Ritz Carlton during the festive stop on the PGA tour (ah, for the good old days, when Nissan could afford to sponsor the LA Open, which they did for some 20 years).
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(An EV concept version of the Nissan Cube; a gasoline-powered 2009 model is on-sale in the US; Scion's xB, 2004 iteration, from Toyota - Can someone tell me why there are still not hybrid or EV versions of these cars? And don't use the "high cost of hybrid" excuse; car companies lose money every day on most of the hybrids sold now)

Now, to be fair, Northern Trust, which received $1.5 billion in TARP funds in November, then in December laid off some 450 of its US workers, about 4 percent of its work force, has since pointed out that it received less money than many other large institutions in the TARP program and hasn't returned to ask for more money from the government, not like those greasy, smokestack, brick-and-mortar car companies, which actually make something. And they want to pay all the money back, too, and real fast. Check's in the mail, Congressman Barney Frank.

Between Wall Street and the banks and the oil companies, and saving Detroit, which has been going out of business on a daily basis for 35 years, is there some way we aren't getting screwed?

But am I bitter? Nah.