The Immediate Future of Alternative Fuel Vehicles

?The Immediate Future of Alternative Fuel Vehicles

Toyota is planning on introducing a new Prius for the 2009 model year. This will be the fourth generation of the now best-selling Prius line and by all predictions the best selling Prius by a long shot. The main reason they are selling so well, obviously, is that gas prices are at a historical all time high with no end in site. As you can imagine, nothing breeds competition like success, so, you can expect just about every automobile manufacture on the planet to start developing there own hybrid, or alternative energy vehicles.

One of the first companies to jump on the bandwagon is General Motors. GM, who famously delivered the EV1 electric vehicle for lease in the late 1990’s, is hard at work on a new electric vehicle called the Chevrolet Volt. The Volt is still in pre-production as of this writing and as such is far from a finished product. Not to fear though, since GM is pulling out all the stops to insure the car makes it into production by around 2010.

According to their website “”We have devoted significant resources to this project: Over 200 engineers and 50 designers are working on the Volt alone, and another 400 are working on related subsystems and electric components. That’s how important we think this is.”” Of course it is important to GM, because if they can somehow become the world leader in electric vehicles they have an opportunity to pull themselves out of the worst slump they’ve ever seen in there long, storied history.

Let’s face it, the SUV and full-size truck market (for non-commercial use) is pretty much dead in the water at this point, and considering that trucks sales provided the bulk of GM, and Ford’s, domestic profits it’s no wonder that GM is throwing so many resources at electric vehicle research and development. The good news about the Chevrolet Volt is that it’s guaranteed to be a winner, the bad news is that the estimated entry costs of the vehicle is expected to be north of forty thousand dollars, so it could take a decade before the technology trickles down into an entry level vehicle.

What about diesel technology? It’s been the mainstay in Europe for years now, where fuel efficient, relatively clean burning diesel cars are close to overtaking conventional gasoline models as high gas prices continue to eat away at consumer’s pocketbooks. So why don’t all the foreign automakers who import to the US sell diesel models? The reason was twofold.

For one, much of the existing diesel technology had to be modified in order to meet US emissions regulations, and the other reason was that the demand for diesel cars in the US was not high enough to justify the added expense of meeting said regulations. This may all change, however, as rising fuel costs in the United States is starting to make diesel powered vehicles look more attractive, even with diesel fuel costing more that gasoline in North America.

The renewed interest in diesel powered vehicles has prompted American manufactures, particularly GM and Chrysler, to start serious development of diesel hybrid vehicles. The primary emphasis will be on commercial trucks to try and get those over 30 miles per gallon on average; the technology is easily scalable to smaller trucks and cars as well.

As fuel costs continue to rise we can expect to see decreased demand for gasoline in the United States. Historically, this has had the impact of lowering fuel costs as demand dropped, but with China’s ever increasing fuel demands this has offset our decrease in fuel consumption, spiking fuel prices even higher. Will this ever stabilize?

Yes. But when will that happen, and at what price? I don’t think anyone has a clue at this point, but it’s safe to say that we are at the beginning of a consumer driven boom in alternative fuel vehicles that could possible spell the extinction of the purely gas driven vehicle.

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