Part VII of the Auto Saving Series. If you missed a segment, start at the beginning.
In the wake of record high gasoline prices in 2008, the automakers introduced more hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles in 2009 than any other year. Before jumping on the bandwagon, know the pros and cons.
Hybrids have gasoline engines with electric motors. The electric motors take over during city driving, allowing the gasoline engine to run less. Select hybrids also turn off cylinders not in use to reduce fuel consumption. Less gasoline is a definite pro.
Another pro is the limited carbon emissions. By burning less gasoline, the vehicles produce far less carbon monoxide than gasoline-only vehicles.
Cons include failure to meet mileage expectations and a very large price tag at the dealer. This is a double whammy: You will pay more for the car thinking it will save more money on gas, only to find out you are spending more on gasoline than originally promised.
Diesels have gotten a “dirty” reputation from their European makers failure to met US emissions standards. As of 2008, diesels only represented 4% of the cars on American roads. “Why?” is a good question. They routinely get 25% to 35% better mileage than gasoline cousins.
European auto manufacturers have successfully met the US emission standards. Research into bio-fuels are now producing diesel from plant and crop based oils. Researchers say they are only a few years from a bio-diesel using chicken fat. Be on the look out for more diesel cars.
Many models are designed to run on ethanol blended gasoline, since it burns cleaner and increases mileage, definite pro. Con is it takes more energy to produce than ethanol produces when it burns.
Ethanol was originally made of corn. Burning it in cars drove the food-corn price through the roof. Research into substituting switchgrass, sugar cane residue and other cellulosic biomasses are not yet feasible.
The majority of auto manufacturers have been testing the technology of all electric cars, with Ford and Chevrolet producing concept cars. Saturn’s 2010 model was the first of the production models to be offered for public sale. A complete departure from gasoline means minimal carbon emissions, inarguable pro.
The cons include expensive batteries and long battery charging times. One long term, far-reaching con is the possibility of overloading power grids. Arguers for all-electrics claim computers can modulate charge times for off-peak hours.
They are not concerned with driver need times in this argument. What if you need to charge your car during peak demand because you have an appointment with the heart surgeon at noon?
As one of the best alternatives to gasoline engines, hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles are hitting the road in California. $20 worth of hydrogen can take a driver 270 miles with its 68 mpg estimate. It only emission: Water vapor. Big pros.
Cons: Very few fueling stations, fuel-cell costs, hydrogen handling regulations and safety, and the costs of hydrogen production.
India has been trying an air car. BMW is researching steam power over a century after steam cars went out of production. Hydraulics researchers are making headway in making heavyweight commercial vehicles more fuel efficient in heavy traffic.
Before you jump in with both feet, find out what the long term costs (in money and environmental impact) really are.
Do you or would you drive an alternative fuel car? Why or why not?
(c) Ann Marie Dwyer 2011
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