Eric Mayne's Blog

Treasured Memories from SAE World Congress

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Journalism won’t make you rich. (Excluding Ariana Huffington and the two Montreal Gazette scribes who invented Trivial Pursuit.)

But the profession can leave you with a wealth of memories.

This week I discovered, deep in the digital recesses of my laptop, some buried treasure: notes and recordings from a 2006 interview with Dave Hermance.

Dave led the environmental engineering efforts at Toyota’s technical center in California. Best known as the auto maker’s hybrid-technology ambassador, he was glibly described by some as the “American father” of the Prius.

Certainly, Dave can be credited with demystifying HEVs for a confused and conflicted public.

According to my notes, the interview occurred 04/04/2006 at the SAE World Congress in Detroit. And it lasted just over 23 minutes.

I don’t recall those details. But I definitely remember the man.

Whenever Dave walked into a room, he was the smartest guy there. At least he was when the room was full of journalists.

He would take questions patiently. His answers were insightful and clever.

On the availability of corn-based E85, forecast in 2006 to skyrocket, Dave said: “It can’t go up as dramatically as some of the talk suggests. Cellulosic is the long-term answer. Because some people like to eat corn.”

And, despite his obvious affinity for hybrid technology, Dave loudly trumpeted warnings against fanaticism while encouraging a multifaceted approach to energy conservation.

“I’m fairly convinced there aren’t any silver bullets out there,” he told me. “There’s a bunch of lead bullets and we need to use them all.”

Dave also spoke wistfully, as only an engineer can, about nickel-metal hydride batteries.

“We’ve got lab data for a 180,000-mile drive cycle with no deterioration. Not a little deterioration, NO deterioration.”

And he eagerly awaited the day when lithium-ion chemistries were “ready for prime time.”

Seven months and a few days after our chat, Dave was killed in a plane crash.

He would have been inspired by this year’s World Congress, where Li-ion was on everyone’s lips.

Informed by his passion for the auto industry, which he shared freely and eloquently, I left the event richer than when I arrived.

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