By MATT HOWARTH
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.”
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