Two painful realities are becoming more and more apparent: The price of gas continues to climb, and cities are becoming more crowded. And, those trends are expected to continue.
But automakers, with an eye toward growing urban populations and environmentally-concerned consumers, are building eco-friendly alternatives: Ford has introduced economic fuel alternatives for nearly every car in its lineup;General Motors has focused development on this technology, Nissan has had success with the all electric Leaf, andToyota’s Prius has long captured both the mindshare and marketshare of concerned consumers.
The Skinny on Green Cars
The 2013 Chevrolet Volt’s can get 370 miles to a tank thanks to its plug in battery powerMost people don’t want a car that has to be plugged in to be driven: We just drive too much. And since most electric car batteries have only a 100-mile range and take 10 hours or more to charge, they are impractical. Also, early electric cars (called EV in the biz) didn’t accelerate well, were small, lightweight and didn’t deliver the responsiveness we expect from our cars. Even many of the auto manufacturers agree, pure plug-in cars are not really the future of the industry(though they will have a place).
The favored technologies right now are the hybrid engine and the plug-in hybrids. The hybrid (which just means it uses two different energy sources) engine typically:
Uses a large lithium-ion battery to store enough juice to operate a car at low speeds and to run the car’s electrical system while idling
Uses the gas engine to recharge the battery (the same way the standard 12 volt car battery is recharged)
Uses braking to recharge the battery (the friction drives energy back into the battery–very smart)
Relies on a gas engine for most of its performance.
The plug-in hybrid engine:
Has a larger battery that can be charged through a 120-volt (standard household) outlet
Can travel 20 to 35 miles on a charge
Takes up to 12 hours to fully charge
Costs .75 to $1.50 for that charge (on average)
Recharges the battery (slightly) during driving and braking
Relies on a gas engine when the battery’s charge is exhausted, and for acceleration or driving at high speeds.
The added advantages of a plug-in hybrid or a hybrid:
You’re never at the mercy of a dead battery when it runs out of juice
You have the power you need on the highway, in hilly areas or in challenging conditions like snow and ice.
Both are virtually silent when operating on battery power, and very quiet when operating on gas
Most use lightweight plastic parts such as bumpers and side panels to reduce the car’s weight
Many use recycled materials throughout the car
Most have reinvented instrument panels so you get all kinds of cool indicators of how much energy you are using and how much gas you are saving
Most have reduced emissions systems called ULEV, or Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle; being practically fume free, you can start the car in your garage on a cold day, turn on the heat to get it toasty warm and have no gas fumes in the garage or the car.
The Ford Fusion offers several different engine options: gas, EcoBoost, hybrid or plug in hybridThree Cars Worth Seeing
Recently we had the opportunity to drive three new entries in the eco-friendly car market: The Chevrolet Volt, the Ford Fusion and the Ford C-Max. All three are distinctly different, all three surprised us with details and design usually only found in luxury cars, and none of them has the boxy, geeky feel that you might expect from an eco-friendly car. And, all three have a solidly substantial feel behind the wheel–not like driving a golf cart at all!
A TravelingMom contributor since the site's early days, Scotty and TMOM founder Kim Orlando recently launched SheBuysCars, a community built to empower women to be smarter, happier car owners. Prior to SheBuysCars, Scotty was the founding editor-in-chief of Luxe magazine, and wrote for the New York Times, Town & Country, Entrepreneur and Adweek, among others. She is the co-author of Stew Leonard, My Story, a biography of the founder of the iconic grocery company Stew Leonard’s, and developed program content for American Express Publishing’s Luxury Summit, PRWeek magazine’s annual conference and selected Luxury Marketing Council events.