Cars of Tomorrow

What does the future hold for the cars of the future?

With the world’s supply of fossil fuels ever decreasing, the pressure is on for manufacturers to come up with a workable solution for transportation. Gas guzzling cars will soon be a distant memory as car manufacturers all jump on board the quest to deliver future proof vehicles that will run on alternative power supplies and keep the world’s car drivers motoring for years to come…

Ethanol, hydrogen, solar power and electricity are all possible sources for the next generation of vehicles – there are currently countless patents in place for alternative fuelled motor transport. We take a look at a few of the industry’s movers and shakers to see what’s currently on offer and in the pipelines…

Prius

Perhaps the most famous of all the alternate energy vehicles currently on the road is the Toyota Prius.
This hybrid vehicle first made waves when it hit the market in Japan in 1997 but didn’t really reach media saturation point until it was adopted by a number of Hollywood actors during the mid 2000s, causing the car to be labelled “Hollywood’s latest politically correct status” symbol by the Washington Post.

Released worldwide in 2001, the Prius now numbers over 1 million vehicles on the road with the majority of vehicles travelling the highways and byways of the US and Japan.

‘Bin Laden Hates This Car’.

Even former CIA chief R James Woolsey Jr drives a Prius – he was once famously quoted as saying that conventional fossil fuelled vehicles indirectly subsidise terrorism and his Prius reportedly sports a bumper sticker that says ‘Bin Laden Hates This Car’.

The technology for the Prius in layman’s terms is fairly simple. The vehicle sports a NiMH battery and can run on either petrol or electric power. The engine is used both to propel the vehicle and to recharge the batteries. Because of the availability of extra power from the electric motors for rapid acceleration the engine is sized smaller than usual for increased fuel efficiency and lowered emissions.

An EV mode (or stealth mode) allows drivers to operate on electric power only under low-power conditions for a limited amount of time – the feature recently came under fire from advocates for the blind who complained that the Prius was so quiet its was hazardous to blind pedestrians – they called for some kind of noise feature to be added to the motor.

In July 2007 the The New York Times published an article citing findings from CNW Marketing Research that found 57% of Prius buyers said their main reason for buying was that “it makes a statement about me.”, while just 36% cited fuel economy as a prime motivator… proving fashion ruled over fuel economy as a motivator for purchasers of the vehicle.

BMW

One of the main barriers in uptake for alternate fuelled cars, particularly hydrogen fuelled vehicles is the lack of refilling stations. In the US for example you can drive hundreds of miles before coming across a refuelling station. BMW have come up with a solution to this issue by developing a car that runs on both petrol and hydrogen. This duel tank system can be found on a modified version of the 760Li that BMW have dubbed the Hydrogen 7.

BMW boasts that the Hydrogen 7 is the world’s first production-ready hydrogen vehicle. Unlike other hydrogen powered vehicles, which use fuel cell technology, the Hydrogen 7 directly ignites the hydrogen via an internal combustion engine.

The hydrogen tank, is situated in the boot behind the rear passenger seats. It’s made of carbon fibre and insulated. The car gets about 140 miles on hydrogen alone, and when you run out, you simply press a button on the steering wheel and the car automatically switches to petrol. BMW have currently only rolled out around 100 of these prototypes to carefully selected ‘celebrity drivers’ with the aim of showing the naysayers that a dual fuelled car is a possibility…

Whilst BMW is at pains to promote the “sustainable mobility and sheer joy of driving” that the Hydrogen 7 embodies, at 50 litres liquid hydrogen per 100 km the car is nowhere near as economically or environmentally friendly as the manufacturer would like to maintain…

honda_crz_2
Honda

Despite the fact that the Prius has the most recognition and uptake in the hybrid car market it was another Japanese car manufacturer that first brought Hybrid vehicles to the attention of the US car market. Honda…

In 1999 Honda delivered the first hybrid car ( a two seater called the Insight) to the US market. Introduced with a price tag just below $20,000 the Insight proved that you could make a Hybrid vehicle without a high cost price tag. Previously it was thought that the cost and weight of two different motors would make vehicles impractical and expensive…Honda proved everyone wrong.

In 2002 they followed up their debut Hybrid vehicle with a hybrid version of one of their most popular cars, the Honda Civic. The larger Honda Civic soon became the vehicle of choice for green conscious Honda drivers and production on the Insight ceased in September 2006.

The Civic Hybrid’s engine won the International Engine of the Year “1 litre to 1.4 litre” size category award for three years straight from 2002 through 2004 as well as the Best Fuel Economy category for 2003 and 2004. It also picked up Motor Trend’s 2006 Car of the Year award, along with the rest of the Civic range.

Currently Honda are working on a new hybrid concept car. In May, Honda Australia announced that a
“global” low-cost light car powered by a petrol-electric engine would launch in Europe, Japan and the US by 2010.
Honda Australia managing director Lindsay Smalley said a five-door version of the global hybrid could go on sale in Australia as early as 2011, priced in the mid-$20,000 mark.
“Australia is seen as a highly desirable destination for these types of products,” Smalley said. “I’m sure that once demand is met . . . overseas we’ll see it here.”
Honda also announced an expansion of its hybrid technology, with an all-new petrol-electric Civic sedan, a hybrid version of the Jazz small hatch and an all-new sports hatch based on the CR-Z concept car expected to push worldwide sales to 500,000. Mr Smalley said the new volume hybrid was likely to borrow some styling cues from the CR-Z sport concept, unveiled at last year’s Tokyo motor show.

By Cec Busby

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