SAN FRANCISCO, 11 NOVEMBER 2007
Weve all seen the current generation of hybrid cars, but what vehicles
do the automakers have coming out that are even greener?
Brian Smith, Seattle, WA
No longer just the domain of the Japanese, greener
cars are forthcoming from just about all of the major automakers. Toyota
will improve on its hot-selling Prius by adding a plug so owners can juice
up the batteries overnight and make it at least six miles
before switching over to the cars gasoline-powered internal combustion engine. Toyotas
president hinted that the plug-in hybrid, though still in the prototype
stage, could attain double the fuel efficiency of
the current Prius, which gets 46 miles per gallon.
While gas-electric hybrids are all the rage today, carmakers are also
looking at other technologies, though none are on the market yet.
Mitsubishis new concept car, the iMiEV, runs for more than 120 miles
exclusively on electricity stored in high-capacity lithium-ion batteries,
and sports small electric motors on each of the front wheels, as well as
another propelling both back wheels. Nissan is also getting into electrics
with its Mixim concept car, which can reportedly go 155 miles on a single
rapid-charge (20-40 minutes only). While Nissan says it has the technology
to mass-produce the Mixim today, costs remain too high to make feasible
from a marketplace perspective.
General Motors (GM) recently released a prototype of its futuristic
Chevrolet Volt. This concept car is designed to go 40 miles on just its
batteries, but it has an onboard gasoline-powered internal-combustion
engine (not connected to the wheels) that can recharge it on the fly. GM
hopes to make the Volt available to consumers within three years, but
because of slow lithium-ion battery development, competitors wonder if
such a timeline is too ambitious.
General Motors: Chevrolet Volt
On the fuel-cell front, Honda already has a few dozen of its
zero-emission hydrogen-powered 2007 FCX sedans on the road, and plans to
lease 100 or so more of the sleeker 2008 model. Honda will only lease the
vehicles to a few lucky individuals, since each FCX costs hundreds of
thousands of dollars to produce.
General Motors is launching a "test" fleet of a 100 fuel-cell powered
Chevrolet Equinox SUVs in select cities across the U.S. in 2008. The
company will also set up hydrogen refueling stations in the same locales.
The program will last two years and GM engineers hope to glean important
information on how to improve its fuel cells to perform better at lower
South Koreas Hyundai is also getting involved in fuel cells, launching
a U.S. test fleet of some 300 of its Tucson SUVs. The company also
recently unveiled its i-Blue concept car, a decidedly space-age vehicle
that reportedly can cover 372 miles before needing to refuel. The company
says that it will put fuel cells into mass production by 2015, if not
Automakers are responding to growing environmental concernsand
consumer demandby producing vehicles that our grandparents would not
recognize as cars. The dream of futuristic vehicles may just yet become a
CONTACTS: Toyota, www.toyota.com;
Nissan, www.nissanusa.com; General
Motors, www.gm.com; Honda, http://automobiles.honda.com;
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