Jan 6, 2009

What Will Fuel Our Next Cars?

The future of the American automobile industry is uncertain, but the future for American drivers is clear: We’re going to need more fuel-efficient vehicles. “In the short term, hybrids are likely to be most popular,” says John O’Dell, editor of Green Car Advisor for Edmunds.com, a clearinghouse for information about the auto industry. “By 2015, full-fledged electric vehicles will start sharing the limelight.” Here are the most promising gas alternatives today.

BATTERY-POWERED ELECTRIC
• Environmental impact: Depends on whether the electricity comes from wind, nuclear, or coal. No tailpipe emissions.
• Cost to drive: 3 cents per mile based on today’s electricity prices.
• Price and availability: The Tesla Roadster costs $109,000. Other small companies make low-speed cars starting under $10,000.

NATURAL GAS
• Environmental impact: Emits 95% less smog-causing pollutants and 30% less greenhouse gases than gasoline.
• Cost to drive: A gallon ranges from 60 cents to more than $2. Honda’s Civic GX gets 24 mpg in the city, 36 on the highway.
• Price and availability: The Honda Civic GX costs $25,200. Conversion kits for vehicles like the Chevy Tahoe and Lincoln Town Car start at $1900.

ETHANOL/BIODIESEL
• Environmental impact: Lower emissions than gasoline, but critics say more energy is used to produce ethanol than is contained in the fuel itself.
• Cost to drive: Ethanol costs about $2 per gallon, biodiesel $4. Mileage is 10%-20% less in cars using E85, an 85% ethanol blend.
• Price and availability: Special models of vehicles like the Chrysler Sebring, Ford F-150, and GMC Yukon all can run on E85 and cost about the same as regular models of those cars.

HYBRID
• Environmental impact: Better gas mileage means lower emissions.
• Cost to drive: The Toyota Prius, the most-efficient and most-popular hybrid, gets 45 mpg.
• Price and availability: The Prius costs $22,000; Chevy’s plug-in hybrid Volt should be available in 2010 for $40,000.

HYDROGEN COMBUSTION
• Environmental impact: Virtually no tailpipe emissions. Some pollution is created converting natural gas into hydrogen.
• Cost to drive: When the market is established, a gallon should cost about $1.10.
• Price and availability: BMW and Ford are making test vehicles, but no car is commercially available.

Lyric Wallwork Winik
Parade Magazine
1/4/09

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