?Could Hybrid Cars Solve The Fuel Crunch?
Today, there are over 230 million cars and trucks in the United States, of this number maybe 700,000 have some form of electric motor which helps drive the wheels. That’s roughly one-third of one percent, hardly the makings of the electric car revolution we have hoped for.
Major car manufacturers, whether they are focusing on hybrids, pure electrics, hydrogen, ethanol, clean diesel or other concepts are investing R&D dollars and betting that conventional powertrains will soon face real competition from more efficient and earth-friendly technologies.
The main selling point of today’s hybrid cars is fuel economy, utilizing technology that is already available. While hydrogen powered cars look promising, they would require a major investment in infrastructure on a huge scale. Pure PHEV’s (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles) rely on a conventional 110-volt home power outlet and regular pump gas.
To complete the picture, there are some pure electric vehicles (EVs) now on the market. The Tesla Roadster uses electricity from any outlet and then speeds from 0-60 mph in about 4 seconds. It can also run for 250 miles before needing to be recharged. That is a huge leap forward from earlier EVs, but it still doesn’t make an ideal road trip vehicle.
Other manufacturers are also working on their own new designs. Toyota announced in March that it was developing a plug-in technology vehicle which could be available in 2009. Nissan is also working on a PHEV that could be introduced within 5 years. This winter Ford introduced their PHEV concept vehicle, the Airstream and some of their engineers are tooling around Dearborn in a plug-in version of a Ford Edge. Ford also denied any plans for a production vehicle. DaimlerChrysler was also testing a fleet of plug-in Dodge Sprinter commercial vans, the electric motor was paired with either a small diesel or gasoline engine.
The major problem facing auto manufacturers today is how to adapt the current li-ion batteries for use in cars. There first issue is durability. Typically, current hybrid manufacturers guarantee their batteries for 8 years or 80,000 miles. Those are some high standards for li-ion batteries (just think how poorly a three year old laptop computer battery performs) and it’s really hard to predict how long newly developed battery units will last. Remeber the exploding laptop batteries that were in the headlines last year? In a computer a burning battery is very bad; in a car it is a complete disaster. The cost of the batteries is also a major concern, according to the industry rule of thumb, every kilowatt-hour of capacity adds an additional $1,000 to the cost of a battery. The current consensus among battery manufacturers is that prices could drop to $5,000 within a few years and eventually below $3,000.
Given all of these options we can count on a continuing influx of new vehicles from all the major auto manufacturers. Whatever we will be driving in the future, be it hybrids, pure electrics or other technologies, we can be assured that the technology, reliability and cost will always be getting better.