As the future of the American automobile industry seems uncertain there has been a lot of talk about the cars of the future. Unfortunately, less and less people can afford a new car now, let alone a possibly more expensive car with green technology. But gas prices are edging up again, despite oil prices continuing to fall. There is doubt that Americans will experience the sudden gas hike of the summer of 2008 again anytime soon, but it’s not a bad idea to keep an eye on the gas alternatives that could be around the corner.
“In the short term, hybrids are likely to be most popular,” says John O’Dell, editor of Green Car Adviser for Edmunds.com, a clearinghouse for information about the auto industry, said in a recent Parade Intelligence Report. “By 2015, full-fledged electric vehicles will start sharing the limelight.”
Austin has its fair share of the sporty little Smart cars zipping around town. The electricity-powered Smart car is built for two and has a nice price tag under $12,000. But even at less than three cents per mile, it does not offer a one-size-fits all practicality.
At the height of last summer’s gas gouge, ethanol received a lot of press, both good and bad. Ethanol is a corn-derivative biodiesel fuel and is something that can be produced easily in the United States. However, Americans have spent the last 400 years coming up with many other uses for corn. Suddenly having corn crops going to fuel raised the prices on everything from eggs to steaks to packaged cookies.
As the demand for gas has plummeted in the last six months, so has the interest in ethanol. This has left many farmers holding the bag and entire ethanol producing plants standing unused, thus causing many to re-think the value of producing biodiesel fuels. VeraSun Energy Corporation is in the process of declaring bankruptcy and is trying to sell its South Dakota ethanol plant to Texas company, Valero.
Another alternative fuel is natural gas. The Honda Civic GX is already using natural gas, which emits 95 percent less pollutants and 30 percent less greenhouse gases than gasoline. There are also natural gas conversion kits available to the Chevy Tahoe and the Lincoln Town Car.
Hybrid is a word bandied about in the automotive industry. A hybrid, such as the Toyota Prius, is a vehicle that combines two more sources for power. Hybrids are better for the environment because they get better gas mileage. The Prius, for example, get 45 mpg. Chevy is developing the Volt, a plug-in hybrid, which should be available in 2010.
Another fuel of the future could be hydrogen combustion, which converts natural gas into hydrogen with virtually no emissions. BMW and Ford are both in the development stage on hydrogen combustion vehicles and it is estimated that the cost would be about $1.10 per gallon. But as energy expert Aaron Brady of Cambridge Energy Research Associates pointed out recently, the fuel of the future is something that is always five years away.