Oct 6, 2006 (From the CalCars-News archive)
A good roundup, quoting many PHEV and EV advocates, in a publication that gets wide distribution -- probably worth seeing the print version!
OUR ANNUAL AUTO ISSUE
Issue Date: October 8, 2006
in this article:
Q&A on green cars
"Car and Driver:" Who said green can't be sexy?
Green car primer
Green is red hot
Everything you always wanted to know about the next wave of cars but
were afraid to ask
By Steve Pond
On the second floor of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, tucked away from the hot rods that dominate the exhibit space, some 20 vehicles sit in a large room. They range from 19th-century wooden contraptions to sleek Space Age prototypes. Some wouldn't draw a second glance on Wilshire Boulevard outside the museum, while others are bizarre enough to stop traffic, even in a city accustomed to flashy cars. Cover: Green cars Hybrid owners gain an average 9 miles per gallon.
"Alternative Power: Propulsion after Petroleum," a sign reads. The automobiles are powered by steam, electricity, vegetable oil, hydrogen fuel cells and a potpourri of other methods. "A hundred years ago, people were experimenting with a lot of these approaches, but most had insurmountable problems," says exhibit curator Leslie Kendall. "The difference today is that we can offer realistic alternatives."
In other words, cleaner, greener cars are hardly museum pieces these days. Interest in fuel-efficient cars has increased as gas prices topped $3 a gallon and as films like An Inconvenient Truth focused attention on the environment. Even President Bush, a former oilman, declared that "America is addicted to oil" in his 2006 State of the Union address, in which he pushed for increased research on alternative-fuel vehicles. There are now fuel-efficient cars that appeal to every market.
"The biggest question I used to hear when people saw my car was, 'How does it work?' " says Felix Kramer, founder of the California Cars Initiative. That non-profit was formed to press automakers to build plug-in hybrids such as Kramer's customized Prius, which is emblazoned on the driver's door with his gas mileage: 100+ MPG. "Now, the biggest question I get is, 'How can I get one?' "
There are 46 alternative-fuel vehicles already on the road, including hybrids like the Prius, which, for a while, had long waiting lists at dealerships. "There are options out there, but people have to develop a more realistic idea of what they need from a car," says Dan Neil, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times auto columnist. "We've got a culture based on these big steel boxes, and we need to change that."
Even aspiring green drivers, though, can have a variety of questions:
What exactly is a "green" car? There's no simple answer, except to say that a car becomes greener as its gas mileage increases and its harmful emissions decrease. The independent global marketing firm J.D. Power and Associates recently launched the Automotive Environmental Index (AEI), which combines information from the Environmental Protection Agency with customer satisfaction surveys. Eight of the top 30 performers in the study are hybrids (Ford, Honda, Lexus, Mercury and Toyota are represented), along with conventional gas-powered models from Acura, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Saturn, Scion and Volkswagen. In the EPA's ranking, which grades every car on fuel economy, air pollution and greenhouse gases, the top five cars all were hybrids: the two-seater Honda Insight, followed by the Prius, two versions of the Honda Civic Hybrid, and the Ford Escape Hybrid.
How much will I have to pay? Small, gas-powered cars that get high gas mileage tend to be on the inexpensive side. Hybrids, though, come at a premium: Standard 2007 Honda Civic sedans start at $15,010, while the hybrid version is $22,150. The Prius lists for $21,725. (Depending on the circumstances, tax credits may be available.) Flexible-fuel vehicles are available in many price ranges, but the difficulty of obtaining the fuel can make them less practical. As for electric cars, since the demise of General Motors' EV1 and similar vehicles, the field has become the province of niche companies whose products are out of reach for most drivers: The recent Tesla Roadster has drawn rave reviews for its style, speed and range, but it retails for $100,000.
Will I save money in the long run? A recent report found that hybrid owners cite an average improvement of only 9 mpg. For a driver who travels 12,000 miles in a year, boosting fuel economy from 20 to 30 mpg would result in annual savings of about $600 (assuming gas is $3 a gallon).
Will I really help the environment? Electric cars and plug-in hybrids occasionally have been criticized for tapping the U.S. power grid, which draws a significant amount of its energy from burning coal. In researching her upcoming book, "Plug-in Hybrids: The Cars that Will Recharge America," author Sherry Boschert compiled every available analysis of emissions from plug-in hybrids and their power sources. The clear consensus from more than 30 separate studies: Even with power coming from the U.S. grid, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly.
What are the new models for 2007? The usual array of hybrids will be available. Toyota continues to dominate the market with its Prius line, which will grow to include a sportier touring edition. The company also introduced a hybrid Camry. GM is planning hybrid versions of the Tahoe and Yukon SUVs, although the mileage still will be poor by green standards. In the 2007 model year, 31 types of flexible-fuel vehicles will be sold in the United States, according to the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition. (The problem lies in fueling those cars: In California, for instance, the organization says only four refueling stations exist for E85 -- the preferred 85% ethanol blend -- and three of the four are not open to the public.)
An array of upcoming green cars from small companies includes modifications of the fuel-efficient Smart car, a 60-mpg staple in Europe. Paul Scott, who is a co-founder of Plug In America, an advocacy group for electric cars and plug-in hybrids, is excited by the XS200 from Miles Automotive Group. Due to be unveiled in late 2007, the all-electric vehicle is projected to travel 200 miles on a single charge, have a top speed of 80 mph and, crucially, an MSRP of $28,500. "If it has any quality, which I'm sure it will, it will sell as fast as they can ship them over here," Scott says.
Given the uncertainty, should I wait? Certainly, greener cars are on the horizon. For example, GM, DaimlerChrysler and BMW have pooled resources to improve hybrid technology, and smaller companies are stepping into the electric car and electric conversion field. At the same time, substantial research continues into alternative fuels, including hydrogen.
But few green-car aficionados consider inactivity a worthwhile strategy. "We need to start now, and then we need to integrate all the options as they are becoming viable," says Chelsea Sexton, a former EV1 salesperson turned electric-car activist.
Adds actress Alexandra Paul, who has been driving electric cars since 1990: "It's difficult to give up our irrational ideas of what a car is, the power, the image of the car. But it's in the best interests of the country, not only for environmental reasons, but also for national security reasons."
Who said green can't be sexy?
Car & Driver Special Report
By Tony Quiroga
We asked the authorities at America'stop auto magazine to select models that are easy on the gas and easy on the eyes.
With the fear that $3 gas is here to stay, drivers soon may find themselves groping in a panic for fuel-efficient and eco-friendly cars that aren't penalty boxes. But we wanted to know, can so-called green cars be something we might actually want to be seen in? After all, going green doesn't have to mean dorky styling, poky acceleration and vehicular nerdiness, does it? To find out, we looked over the 2007 hybrid, electric and diesel models.
Lexus GS 450h Lexus is taking a different approach from rival Mercedes-Benz by offering a fuel-efficient gasoline-electric hybrid, the GS 450h. Lexus' luxury sedan eschews diesel power in favor of a pair of electric motors and a V-6 engine. The gas-electric combo provides the performance of a V-8 engine and the fuel economy of a V-6. It's a green car, for sure, but throw a set of custom rims on and viewers of BET's Rap City might never notice because it takes a trained eye to spot the hybrid version of the GS. (A couple of subtle badges and different wheels might give it away.) Furthermore, the maxim "there is no free lunch" applies here because the hybrid GS 450h is the most expensive ($55,595) of Lexus' midsize GS line.
Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec Diesel cars are required to be as clean as their gasoline counterparts in 2007, and the only diesel passenger car able to meet the new emission standards is the new Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec. To those who remember the dirty and often unreliable diesel cars of the early '80s, the E320 Bluetec will be a revelation. It's not as hot as a sports car, but the diesel Benz is a posh luxury sedan that will impress valets, clients and in-laws alike -- and they might never suspect you're saving the planet. Unfortunately, the price of entry for the diesel Benz is roughly $52,000.
Tesla Roadster Geeky-looking and often impractical because of their limited range, electric cars of the past have had about as much sex appeal as Al Gore. Tesla, an upstart automaker based in San Carlos, Calif., hopes to change that with its $100,000 Roadster. This is a sexy and sporty electric car, something your teenage kids certainly won't be embarrassed to see parked in the driveway when their friends visit. In place of a gas engine isa 248-horsepower electric motor that scoots the2,500-pound Roadster from 0 to 60 mph in about four seconds. Driven with more restraint, the Roadster'slithium-ion battery pack (the same type of battery that laptops use) has the potential to go 250 miles on asingle charge. Even granola-munching tree-huggers have to love that.
Saturn Vue Green line Sport-utility shoppers who have been scared off by soaring fuel prices might find solacein the 2007 Saturn Vue Green Line. Thismodel offers the practicality of a smallsport-utility vehicle with the fuel efficiencyof a small car. Starting at $22,995, this "mommy mobile" is the least expensivehybrid SUV available. Unlike other hybridssold today, the Saturn can't move without its gas engine, and it's pretty slow -- less hybrid for less money. And unless Saturnends up surprising us witha Victoria's Secret specialedition of the Vue Green Line, SUV shoppers who are inthe market for somethinggreen and racy may needto look elsewhere.
CAPTION: Country star Willie Nelson pumps up his own brand of biodiesel fuel that is made from vegetable oils.
A GREEN CAR PRIMER
Hybrid: a vehicle (like the Prius) that contains both an electric motor and a gas-powered internal-combustion engine
Plug-in hybrid: a hybrid that can be plugged in to an electrical outlet to charge the car's battery, greatly increasing gas mileage
Electric vehicle: a vehicle driven entirely by an electric motor, powered by a rechargeable battery
Flexible-fuel vehicle: a vehicle that can runon a blend of gasoline and alternative fuels,most often ethanol
Partial Zero Emission Vehicle: a designation awarded by the California Air Resources Board to vehicles that meet certain standards and are 90% cleaner than the average new automobile
Ethanol: a fuel that burns cleaner than gasoline and usually is produced from grains like corn, wheat and barley
Biodiesel: usually a mixtureof conventional diesel fuel with renewable resources like soybean or canola oil, or waste animal fat
Hydrogen: an element that can power fuel cells; touted as the zero-emission fuel of the future, it faces technical and distribution obstacles