Horseless Carriage 2 – Electric Boogaloo

With gas prices skyrocketing and the economy riding the rollercoaster to oblivion, it’s no surprise that auto makers are looking at their products and redesigning their offerings. The public by and large doesn’t want the large, noisy, gas-hogs that have been the pride and joy of Detroit for the last half century or so. Everyone it thinking green because it’s the latest fad and people are trying to stretch their dollars like bungee cords. The result of all this is that we as consumers are about to be inundated with a multitude of options that promise to give us more mileage for the buck.

Take for instance General Motors. With the entire Hummer brand, large sedans, and Suburbans in their line-up, they have been one of the biggest offenders of green tech and oil conservation in the entire automotive industry. The company has been struggling to deal with huge losses now that nobody wants oversize plush versions of military vehicles that get single digits to the gallon and it looks like they’ve finally gotten the message. GM is working on a car called the Volt. Going on the information available thus far, it is probably their best chance to jump into a fledgling market and take control much like Apple did with the iPod. The Volt is touted to have roughly a 40 mile range on pure battery power which is backed up by a “range extender” gasoline/ethanol engine running an onboard generator. The 6-7 gallon gas tank in conjunction with the battery should provide an estimated 400 mile driving range before the need to refuel. Of course, for many of us 40 miles is more than enough to get us through our daily commute so we wouldn’t be burning any gasoline/ethanol. An enthusiast site, has a great deal more information.

Most every manufacturer has something planned. Toyota has been selling the Prius hybrid for years. Since it is probably the most popular new tech car on the market, I’m not going into detail on it. Honda will begin leasing in select SoCal areas their new FCX Clarity, a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. The select areas are locations that have fuel cell refueling centers. Honda claims that the FCX can run about 270 miles before refueling and then it is only a matter of a couple of minutes at a refueling station to fill back up. I’m pretty sure they’re working on getting more refueling stations in the wild. Of course, they’re also working on a home refueling station that will double as an electricity generator for the home.

These are some exciting times for the alternative fuel market but at the same time, the different technologies being employed have a chance at starting a standards war akin to HD-DVD/Blu-Ray or VHS/Beta. Why do I think this? Infrastructure. None of these technologies are going to get much use out of the run of the mill gas station you see every 2.5 meters when driving down the road. Hydrogen fuel cells, ethanol, and electrics all require different means of replenishing their energy supply and none of those use what we have in place today. However, I seriously doubt that any company is going to retool these stations with all of these technologies. The expense would be far too great. But to have widespread adoption, you have to have the infrastructure to support it. The classic chicken and the egg scenario. This is why I think if any electric car has a chance, it’s the Volt. With the ability to burn either gasoline or ethanol, the infrastructure is there. Add to that the range it should be capable of and I think you’ve got a winner. Oh, did I mention they think it should only run about $30k? Compare that to your dreams of the $106k Tesla.