Getting Easier To Be Green

Guest Opinion

For better than a century automobiles have been a “necessity.” From shuttling the kids to school or to show off one’s wealth, the auto industry has been there to fill every perceived gap.
As America boards the “Green” train so do the automakers. Fuel efficiency declined over the past decade or two as the big automakers waged a horsepower war not unlike the horsepower wars of the 60’s. With oil nudging $100 per barrel, many consumers are voicing their concerns over not only their pocket books but also for the planet they live on. The automakers actually seem to be listening.

We now have full sized, 8 passenger SUV’s that get 21 mpg city and highway and smaller passenger cars capable of 60 mpg. Even some 100 year old technology is making a strong comeback and not sacrificing performance for good mileage: diesels and full electric cars.

Diesel technology has been a part of our lives for over 100 years and it is making a huge resurgence worldwide. Mercedes, VW, GM, Chrysler/Dodge, Ford, GE and even Honda are bringing clean, green diesels to the US over the next 1-3 years that promise cars that get 50 mpg and will last for 300,000 miles.

Mercedes is being heralded for their patented Bluetec engines that are cleaner and more efficient than most 4 cylinder gas cars and while providing the performance of a modern V6. This technology has been shared with most of the European automakers and will be making its way into vehicles of every price point and capability. The only drawback is the urea (yes, it IS exactly what it sounds like) tank must be filled by the dealer on an annual basis to keep the emissions 50 state compliant–a minor inconvenience to keep the warranty valid.
Mercedes also builds the SMART line of cars coming to the US this year. These 2 seat cars are roughly half the size of a normal car. Four Smart cars will fit into a standard 2-car garage. These little statement makers can get 40-50 mpg while not sacrificing looks and personality. The European models even have a diesel hybrid capable of nearly 100 mpg. Lobby your congressmen for legislation to allow such cars to be shipped here, just don’t do any lobbying in the men’s room.

VW has a diesel SUV that gets 20 mpg hwy with performance that bests the less efficient V8. The Audi cousin is expected to get a diesel V12 capable of 0-60 times in 5.5 seconds while still providing 20 mpg. VW is also introducing the next generation of Jetta with a new 2.0L diesel this coming year that offers the same acceleration and top speed as its gasoline counterpart but doubles the fuel mileage (42/52+ city/hwy).

In other countries VW offers diesels, most notably the Polo & Lupo, which gets 70 mpg. Hopefully US will get some version of this new technology. Expect to see more diesels in every VW model. Perhaps Audi’s Les Mans winning diesel racecar technology will make it into a supercar for the road. A true car nut can only dream.

European automakers are not the only ones poised to introduce hybrid and diesel technology, the Detroit Big 3 are jumping on the diesel and hybrid bandwagon. From hybrid or diesel light-duty trucks in 2010 to possible diesel mini-vans and small cars like the Volt that use an internal combustion engine only as a generator for the more efficient electric motors. This kind of exciting technology hints at triple digit mpg’s with great performance not seen in today’s mild hybrids.

General Motors is working in tandem with H-Line Conversions to make fuel-efficient Hummers for the 2010 models. There are predictions of high horsepower and high mileage as well

Toyota is due to bring generation 3 of the award winning Prius in 2009. This car is expected to greatly increase fuel efficiency and also cut the cost by 20-30%. Toyota has also announced that they will be bringing hybrid technology to nearly its entire lineup over the next few years. This is exciting news not only from an ecological stand point but also from an economical standpoint in that the technology will cost less for consumers, a true win-win situation.

Plug-in electric cars pose some great benefits and unique challenges. One company aiming to shatter the negative image is Tesla Motors. They have a beautiful convertible sports car that can accelerate from 0-60 in 4 seconds or less and get the equivalent to 150 mpg. The draw backs are the relatively short range of 250 miles per charge, but for those who live in urban areas and take their car to the track as opposed to a cross-country cannon ball run this new, fully electric car will definitely fit the bill.

That’s the good news about cars. Now we just need to get the roads built for these “green rigs.”

Comments & Discussion

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  1. Mr. Howarth is absolutely correct in his evaluations. The only part he left out is the comparative costs to the consumer of going green.

    When the average consumer goes on the lot to buy a new car and the choice is a little sub-compact for $112.00 per month, or this shiny new hybrid that is $277.00 per month, Green be damned!

    When the “soccar mom” gets a new car that will haul 5-6 kids and all their gear, will she realistically pay $10-15,000 dollars more to go green? Not hardly!
    Until the price difference can be narrowed, the “green” segment will make no noticeable headway in market share.

  2. Soundin’ good!
    A few thoughts:
    Could someone who has a new or nearly new vehicle now get one of the more efficient engines installed (rathern than having to get a new car)?

    Re the plug-in electrics. Zero emissions, but how much electricity does the charging use? Will it hyperinflate your electric bill? And will the electric companies say they have to build more smoke-spewing coal-fired plants (or waste-creating nuke plants, or river-clogging hydro plants) to create the additional juice needed if thousand, then millions, of people start plugging their cars into the grid?

    Could light-weight solar panels on the roofs of these cars provide enough juice to extend their trip mileage?
    Just wondering.

  3. The Watcher
    Nov 24, 2007, 8:13 am

    Like the Guardian I am optimistic about the potential of more efficient cars. However, I am getting “Popular Mechanic’s of the 50’s” flashbacks reading this…people racing around in flying cars, nuclear power making electricity “too cheap to meter”.

    Like Gordon suggests, electricity is not clean…its simply a transfer, polluting at the point of production not necessarily at the point of ultimate use. (Then of course you have battery disposal/re-use issues…but don’t get me started) People in general don’t do a good job of considering externalities…out of sight, out of mind. People’s reliance on technology to solve problems would be humorous if it wasn’t so pathetic. Self-reliance is dead apparently…if not sucking on the tit of foreign oil then hoping and praying that some propeller head will preserve our ability to drive through the “big breakthrough”.

    Reality: no technological fix can skirt the laws of physics which is the problem we are facing…moving our fat a**es around while powering the AC, heating seats, watching movies, etc. etc. I believe the two most efficient (in terms of energy used per unit of work performed) forms of transportation are 1)train and 2)the bicycle.

    You want bang for your transportation $? Make those two forms of travel easy and convenient to use by building bike lanes/paths and by building more houses vertically where you can run a train to make rail or bus transportation efficient.

  4. I saw the Mercedes Smart Cars for sale on a lot near 27th and Fairview not long ago.

  5. shealyisnottheantichrist
    Nov 24, 2007, 1:52 pm

    An alternative answer is to live near your workplace and ride a bike or to work from home.

  6. [shealyisnottheantichrist] I could not agree more. And the crux of your statement is that individuals need to take personal responsibility to make changes in their lives so that their impact via transportation is reduced. No technology required, and none is going to help in the long run. Only individual action based on educated understanding will help, and we have all the technology we need already to make that happen.

  7. Gee, Ya’ll sound so pious and intelligent! The only problem is the 4 of you will be the only ones out there practising what you have preached.
    Do you really think you will ever see a significant number of young professional men and women working their way up the corporate ladder all “bunched” up in the bike lane at 7:30 on a February morning? Didn’t think so. So ya’ll get busy tellin’ the wind which way to blow! (You have just about the same chance getting the populace to change)

  8. Cyclops, $5-$6 dollahs for a gallon of gas is going to get more people on bikes and public transportation, like the rest of the world. Sure, the super rich will still drive their gas hog cars because they can afford it just like in Europe, The rest of us will have a better choice of small fuel efficient cars or bikes and public transit.
    Insurance will also be higher on these cars in the future. If the price of fuel doubles people will change.

    It is the same reason people in Idaho waste (use) more electricity per capita than just about anywhere else. It’s because power is so cheap here. We pay retail what many power companies pay for wholesale electricity to re-sell. That is the only reason conservation is expensive here.

  9. Dream on Dog! take a look at the web-cast of Black Friday at the mall and tell me if you see more than 3 or 4 of those people that would have ridden a bike down there. More importantly, how many hybrids did you see in the parking lot?
    My point is that it won’t matter when gas goes to 6-7 bucks a gallon. Sure, we will bitch about it, but we will still drive.

    You keep wanting to compare us with Europe. Why? Unless you want to populate the entire country like an inner city burrough, we have nothing in common with Europe!(unless you want to say we both walk upright).

    You keep harping about “mass transit”. At the very best, you will enlist 3-6% of the population to use it. That means that 94-97% of the people will not use it! When you figure out how to reverse that percentage, give me a call. Until then, you would be better served trying to get to the moon. I hear there isn’t much traffic there.

  10. I have a 1920’s car. It gets better mileage than many on the road today. So much for 75 years of “technology imprpvements” to improve gas mileage.

  11. I’ve been keeping and eye on the trend towards more eco-friendly cars for quite awhile but the manufactures so far have followed the desire of the consumers to go green with more hype than substance. One of my biggest gripes is about the so called Hybrids. More here: http://www.boiseweekly.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A2154

  12. Cyclops is right. He so eloquently reminded me of why we are fighting for democracy in Iraq. So we can shop, drive and bitch all we want. Thanks Cyclops, I’m with you. I feel more American already. My new motto is, Pavement is progress. Are you in?

  13. Boise Banker
    Nov 26, 2007, 8:42 am

    A lot has been said about shifting pollution from individual cars to more coal fired power plants.

    Yes, the electrical capacity will have to increase if there are more electric cars on the road and yes those power plants will be coal/nuclear but there are great increasing returns to scale for the power plants. On a per car basis the pollution will be significantly lower. The numbers I have seen in Popular Science/Mechanics and other sources say that the elctricity cost is somewhere in the pennies/nickles/dimes per gallon range.

    It may not be an end all solution but it is sure better than doing nothing for 30 more years waiting for something else to come along.

    BTW: Trains are only shown to be a viable, cost/environment saving measures in densely populated areas like the East coast/Europe/Japan. They work well for moving large volumes of people/cargo but when 2-5% ride you must have a huge population base to fill a good sized train. That said I’d love to see a wider spread use of mag-lev trains and GE’s newest hybrid train. GE claims that if all US based locomotives were as efficient as their new one it would cut the equivalent of over 1 million cars off the road.

  14. shealyisnottheantichrist
    Nov 26, 2007, 9:23 am

    Cyclops misses the point. It is unrealistic to think that in a generation we will give up our cars. We are not The Planet of the Apes.

    What we can do is to be thoughtful about how we live our daily lives. This concerns more than just our checkbooks, it also impacts the quality of the air we breathe. When I was a child, my parents chose a house based exclusively on the school district with a price determinant.

    In today’s world we need to make more informed and thoughtful choices as citizens who have to manage multiple priorities. In this case, what is good for the checkbook, is also good for the environment. We need to consider not just the purchase price of a house, but the proximity of the location to work, shopping, school and public transportation or infrastructure such as the Greenbelt which supports biking, as well.

    Thankfully, Cyclops does not represent the majority of the citizens of the Boise area.

  15. I agree with #5 and #6!

    And who cares what the “young professional men and women working their way up the corporate ladder” are doing? When they’re not engaging in Black Friday at the mall? LOSERS!!

    Cars are for the crippled and the weak! Bikes rule!

    (Yeah… I’m being deliberately provocative, so there’s really no point in composing a terse reply. But I gave car-transportation up, pretty much entirely, 20+ years ago, and I’d NEVER go back to that expensive, stress-laden, smelly mode of transportation. I agree with the author that ever-increasing gas prices will result in more efficient vehicles, and hopefully more socially-responsible vehicle use, as well.)

  16. I practice what I preach. I have been commuting SOLELY by bicycle for 17 months now. I no longer own a car. I make choices daily based on my decision to live a life closer to home, that is in turn wiser for the planet.

    I’m no saint. I just recognize my impact, and choose to reduce it. I don’t consider that amazing, just responsible.

    Sadly, I agree with Cyclops’ assertion that rising gas prices will have little or no impact on people’s choices. People will never give up the perceived freedom of their iron horses for economic reasons. Did anyone start driving because it was economical? No. We start driving because society tells us it makes us free, and every social force and implication reinforces that notion. Only education and intellectual maturity can change that.

  17. Poor folk shouldn’t be on the public roads, anyway, ‘cept with their oxcarts and wheelbarrows!

    At some point, the cost of fuel WILL have an impact on transportation choices. Obviously that point isn’t $3, at least for the general populace.

    (The economic talking-heads say that so far, holiday spending is holding steady or going up, especially in electronics, clothes, etc. However, the “bling” industry – jewelry and the like – is struggling. So people are making tough choices – choosing the necessities, like the new-model iPod, HDTV and Old Navy, over the luxuries like tennis bracelets.)

    Will people have to choose between fuel and food when gas is $4? $5? (As long as people are willing to keep paying whatever the oil companies decide to charge for their product, why would Big Oil EVER decide to hold their prices steady?)

    I pity the fool who lives on Heaven’s Half Acre out there in Kuna or Greenleaf, and commutes to Boise every day in his 12MPG Dodge Durango. But I’m glad to live in a country where fools can make such choices.

  18. SINTAC-(your name is just to long) and Bikeboy.
    Those “losers” constitute 95+% of the population!
    They make the buying decisions and lifestyle choices that we are forced to live with, or move.

    All the preaching and wishing simply won’t matter. They will continue to drive Durangos, or whatever the latest “cool” car is, and there is nothing we can do about it. It just is what it is!

    I applaud your passion, but I think we really are the planet of the apes!

  19. I applaud those of you who can ride a bike to work. When I was in my 40’s I thought I would be healthy forever. At that time I could run uphill for three miles without getting out of breath. Surprise! I now have trouble walking to my mailbox. I hope you all retain your good health until you are 100. Many times people have no choice over what happens to them.

    I am old and have only owned 4 cars in my life. One of them I drove, lightly, for 14 years. The car I have now is 15 years old and has 57000 miles on it. My rule of working was that I never worked more than a mile and a half from my home. That was so I could look after my children and parents. This was never a problem for me, although my house was old and shabby by today’s standards.

    I hope you folks will find a solution to the pollution problem – the bad air is an instant headache for many of us.

  20. Bemoan the larger vehicle if you will, but anyone with a family is being forced into an SUV or mini-van. Back in the ‘good old days’ your kids could ride with you in the front seat. Remember Mom throwing her arm across your chest so you wouldn’t hit the dash board during a quick stop? Well, we have carseats and air bags now. Air bags moved everyone under the age of 12 to the back seat. Carseats moved everyone under the age of 7 into a seat so wide barely anyone else could fit.

    The other day we visited friends who had a 5-passenger car. It was two adults and our 6-yr old so you’d think we’d all fit – right? Barely! The 6-yr old has to ride in a booster seat so it was a finely orchestrated adventure every time we had to buckle up.

    Funny, I remember growing up in a family with 2 adults and 4 kids and my parents never owned anything bigger than a Rambler station wagon (6 seats – 3 in the front and 3 in the back). Now because manuevering a 2-yr old in and out of a 5-point harness carseat is such a strain on my back, we ended up buying a mini-van because I was killing myself trying to get her in and out of the back of the sedan. Because we have a total of 5 children that we sometimes tote around (not in our household but in our family), the mini-van made sense. If some of them could sit in the front, we would have gotten away with a sedan.

    And I remember back in 1982 when I bought my Mazda B2000 – a small pick-up – the gas mileage was an awesome 30-something miles to the gallon. I can’t find any truck that gets that kind of mileage. All the gas is sacrificed for a transmission to engine ratio that is supposed to be delivering more power. I don’t need more power. All I want is a small, fuel efficient vehicle that I can haul a few things in if the mood strikes.

    Oh and public transportation – yeah, a bus that stops at any of the park and rides in Eagle and takes a body to downtown Eagle on a regular basis – perhaps once every 30 minutes – would be mighty useful.

  21. Let’s think about this. Big tax breaks for the smaller less poluting car’s? High tax’s for the big SUV’s like the one Butch drive’s. That alone might make someone pay attention. Butch you out there? Let this be something to consider this year to fight for.

  22. Perhaps we can do the same thing as the Germans did many years ago – fine people who do not turn off their cars when in line at the drive through and at long stop lights. We all know that the stop lights in Boise are a mess in that you have to stop at the light when no one is coming only to have it turn green when a car approaches.

    I don’t know how often I see a car left running while the driver “runs in” to get a coffee or into the store.

    Ok – since I know that we won’t do the above, could we at least put out the effort to raise awareness to “shut it off” so that we won’t HAVE to fine the people who are so unaware?

    Don’t raise sales tax. Create a high luxury tax on SUV’s, Hummers and expensive cars that do not get 25mpg (and that is generous).

    Then add a tax to households with more than 2 cars (there may be a way creative liars can get out of this, but liars always find a way).

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