Are Hybrids and Electric Cars the Automobiles of the Future?
One of this nation's goals is energy independence. With gas at $3.80 a gallon and a volatile world situation, it is imperative that we reduce our dependence on foreign oil. For the past 30 or so years, car makers both in the US and worldwide, have worked to increase miles per gallon (mpg), save gas and reduce emissions. They have been successful, but with gasoline combustion engines, there is only so far to go, and car manufacturers have just about reached that limit.
The last fifteen or so years has seen the advent of the gasoline/electric Hybrid vehicle. There are different types, but they all contain a small gasoline engine which charges the electric batteries. Most modern Hybrids can run efficiently on the electric motor alone. Toyota has been successful with it’s Prius line of Hybrids and Ford, Honda, Lexus, and GM are enjoying healthy sales with their gasoline/electric cars also.
The average mpg for a gasoline passenger car is about 22. The Prius c gets about 53 and the other Hybrids get well over 40. While this is an improvement, these cars still require petroleum to work.
While electric cars have been around as long as combustion engine cars, they have been mostly experimental models or oddities. However in the last few years, a couple of large car manufacturers have introduced models to the mass market. Chevrolet has been marketing it’s Volt since 2010 and Nissan has been selling it’s LEAF since 2011 and other manufacturers like Honda, Mazda and Ford are developing them also.
Environmentally friendly, or “Green” cars certainly contribute to the cleaning of the our world. By using less gas they spew less emissions into our atmosphere. And electric engines produce ozone which will contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gases. Hybrids and electric cars also have a much lower carbon footprint. The average gasoline powered, American passenger car creates 63 cubic tons of carbon in its 120,000 mile lifetime, while the Toyota Prius only will produce 44 and fully electric cars will produce less than that. In addition, since Hybrids get better mileage, they will reduce our dependence on oil. Electric cars will use no gas at all.
OK, so if Hybrids and electric cars are so great, why doesn’t everybody drive them? Well there are a few reasons. First America is a car culture. The fast, gasoline powered car is an icon. We grew up with them (especially men) and they are hard to give up. It is in our blood and there is something about a roaring engine ,and smoking tires that makes us happy. And they have become part of our culture. I could never imagine Bruce Springsteen writing songs about Hybrids. If I see a remake of Smokey and the Bandit where The Bandit drives a Volt, I will know that I have lived too long.
Politics are also involved. Hybrids, especially the Toyota Prius has become a status symbol for many liberals,who feel as if they are doing their part to save the world by driving this cleaner car. And while many Hybrids versions of cars like the Toyota Camry, Ford Escape or Honda Civic don’t look any different then their gasoline cousins, The Prius and the Honda Insight are two of the ugliest cars since AMC had the nerve to introduce the Pacer in 1975.
And while Hybrids have had ten or so years to work out the bugs and it’s seems that that technology is reliable, they are still more expensive than gasoline cars. For example, the Honda Civic Sedan, starts at about $16,000, while it’s Hybrid version is $24,200. If I owned a Hybrid, I would be confident in it’s ability to get me where I’m going, but that feeling would not be worth $8000.
I would not feel as confident with a straight electric car. Existing electric cars are hampered by problems of range. That is they run out of electrical power. The Nissan Leaf has a range of 109 miles. That’s ok if you have a short commute to work and don’t do a lot of driving. But it is hampering to many of us. The concern electric car drivers have for worrying about power is known as “range anxiety” But if companies continue to make electric cars, technology will improve over the next few years and “range anxiety” will become a thing of the past.
But there are concerns about these newer types of cars. The Prius for example is much dirtier to build than the gasoline Corolla (Several years ago there was a claim that the gas guzzling Hummer-the anti-Prius-was much cleaner to build than the Prius. It also claimed that the energy expended in manufacturing the Prius negated the energy efficiency of that car and that in the long run, the Hummer was a “greener” car than the Prius. This has been disproven as an urban myth. However in the long run, the Corolla is greener than the Prius.
Another point of contention was what was going to happen to the nickel cadmium batteries when they were worn out. Toyota has developed an environmentally friendly way to recycle old batteries and to encourage car owners to recycle They are offering $200 each for old batteries. Other manufacturers of electrics and hybrids offer similar programs. Toyota has stated that over 90% of the old batteries are recycled. But still that leaves 10% of these batteries not being recycled. They may end up in a land fill.
The rise of the automobile has raised some problems. Traffic jams, air pollution, roads, and how do we effectively dispose of old cars are a few examples. And autos gave rise to the suburbs, Interstate Highway System and roadside restaurants and motels. The new greener cars will not need to start from scratch, the automobile infrastructure is there. That does not mean that there wont be questions and issues that have to be tackled.
Electric cars will need power stations and there will be less gasoline sold. Since most gas sellers are small businesses, the little guy would be hurt. A smart businessperson would add a charging station to their business.
And what about the electric grid. In a few years, if there are many more electric cars, will our electric grids have to be upgraded? How much more energy would it take to make more electricity? How will that energy be produced? Are we simply trading our cost, and pollution, to make this energy from our cars to the electric companies? (who will pass the cost back to us)
As I mentioned earlier, the ozone that electric engines produce will reduce greenhouse gases. That seems like a good thing. I’m not an environmental expert, but is there a such thing as having too much ozone in the atmosphere. What will be the effects?
And what if we are successful? What if in 15 or so years, we are succeeded in implementing Hybrid, electric and other low emission technologies? If we and our allies have eliminated our dependence on foreign oil how is that going to affect the world situation, particularly in the Middle East.
As it stands now, the US produces about 38% of it’s own oil. The rest is imported from Canada, Mexico, Africa and South America. In addition 13% of our oil comes from the volatile Persian Gulf area. Other countries without the vast natural resources we have, must import all or nearly all of the oil they use. What would happen to the economies of those countries who export oil if the demand sharply decreased? More worrisome is how would the Middle East react?
It is no secret that most nations in the Middle East don’t like the West and they have not hidden their disdain. There is no democracy in the Middle East. Most countries are like Saudi Arabia where a very wealthy oligarchy rules with an iron hand. They will do anything to keep the flow of dollars and Euros into their pockets, including becoming “Allies” with the US. But if the money stopped would they be able to contain the bubbling cauldron of dissent from the masses toward the US? If oil production slowed there would be massive unemployment. A look at Germany in the 1920s shows hungry people are willing to believe anything that is told to them from someone who tells them they have an answer to their plight.
I’m not saying that energy independence will lead to World War III, but our politicians and diplomats must be careful. We still have to pursue Hybrid, Electric and other technologies that will help keep our planet cleaner. And in the process deal with the issues, problems and questions that come up. It is our future.
Anoither thought. What if any developoment is being made is being made for hybrid and electric trucks?
© 2012 billd01603