The cars we loved.
As with any developing technology, a competing or intermediate technology often develops. In this case, it was hybrid cars. Hybrids use a gasoline engine assisted by electric motors, the best of both worlds. This system enhances the range of gasoline engines by shutting down the engine in low-speed maneuvers or assisting the engine under certain conditions.
Many current hybrids do not require charging because they use a kind of regenerative braking system that produces an electric charge to renew the electric motors. One of the first mainstream hybrids, the Honda Insight used this type system. The most popular of the current hybrids, the Toyota Prius has advanced this technology and entered it truly into the mainstream along with Fords Focus and Fusion based hybrids.
Like electric cars, hybrids are not new. One of the first was developed by Ferdian Porsche in the 1900’s. It was based on a carriage and used four electric motors at each wheel and had a centralized gasoline engine that powered a generator. The 4WD vehicle was called the Mixte, and was effectively the first SUV hybrid. The recent advancements made with hybrid technology almost guarantees that they will supplant electric cars in popularity (in the short-term).
The reasons for hybrid popularity revolve around price and connivance. Some of the same reasons that made electric cars popular with women more than 100 years ago are responsible for making Toyota’s Prius popular today. As a result, men shy away from the Prius, but may embrace a crop of sporty cars on their way to market soon. Electric cars currently have a limited range of a few hundred miles per charge and do not have a fully developed charging station infrastructure (just like the 1900’s). Electric cars are also expensive compared to gasoline or hybrid models, although new hybrids like GM’s $50k Volt (sold as an electric, but technically a hybrid) cost more than most cars the company offers. Hybrids have enjoyed a head start in the market place and don’t require any special maintainance beyond what a regular gasoline powered car would.
For the average motorist who‘s not concerned with routine maintenance, the hybrid offers the most convenient solution to saving the environment without having to always remember to charge your car before going to bed.
It may be some time before hybrids are supplanted by all-electric cars. With Chevy’s Volt and Nissan’s Leaf coming to market soon, buyers will have a choice between the competing technologies. Already, the market is beginning to splinter into a parallel of the traditional gasoline powered market. catering to high-end sports car enthusiast are models like Telsa’s all electric Roadster and Fisker’s sports sedan plug-in hybrid called the Karma. Fueled by tax credits for buyers and incentives from the government to businesses and communities to develop charging station infrastructure, the plug-in movement is expected to only grow in popularity.
Electric car development in the general market was halted due to corporate indifference to alternative fuels and the low price of gas. The public’s rejection of not quite ready for market (and often freakish looking) experimental cars was a big factor too. Rising fuel prices, a concern for the environment and the mandated CAFÉ regulations have forced manufactures to take hybrids and electric cars more seriously. No longer do alternative fuel cars have to look different from their gasoline powered counterparts. This may have delayed their acceptance, as early electric cars like the limited distribution Saturn EV1 looked too strange for the mainstream. Ford’s Fusion and Focus EV are great examples of how an electric car can look and drive
much like their gasoline counterparts. This is where the market will be heading in the future, as EV’s and hybrids gain universal acceptance. Just like the early 1900’s auto market, consumers will be presented with a growing list of small electric car choices from young startups. The number of hybrids will likely grow at a much faster pace, with large automakers Honda, Toyota and Ford leading the market.
New and exciting EV and hybrids like Honda’s CR-Z promise to push alternative powered cars into new segments of the market. It will still be decades before EVs could replace internal combustion engines, but hybrids might speed the transition until battery technology improves range and efficiency to gas tank fill up levels. Will gas-powered cars go away anytime soon? Not likely, as long as we still enjoy the rumble and power of a vintage HEMI or the wine or a well tuned VTEC, we are likely to keep internal combustion powered cars around, if not for parades and special boulevard cruises only.