The clean car dream is alive and kicking, and getting sexier by the second. The Toyota Prius transformed the landscape forever by making the first desirable, cost-efficient, profitable 4-seater hybrid car, the Prius. Toyota had the foresight in the early 90s that fuel economy was going to become increasingly important to drivers in the future. This insight came at a time when SUVs were selling like hotcakes. Toyota originally built the Prius on the existing Echo platform. Very smart move to gain economies of scale and avoid the custom death spiral suffered by our friend the EV1.
As of October 2006, the Prius is still the best hybrid on the market in terms of practicality, fuel economy and high tech gadgets. The 2006 Prius has a stated 60 mpg city and 51 mpg highway. It is more efficient in the city because the electric motor starts the car and operates at low speeds and short distances. Hopefully, Toyota will expand the Prius’ ability to utilize the electric motor in the near future, thereby moving beyond gas dependence.
For green-friendly people shopping for a new car, I might suggest looking first at fuel economy, regardless of “hybrid”. Hybrid is just a tool to deliver high fuel economy and lower Co2 emissions. If a non-hybrid car trumps a hybrid with its mpg, then so be it. May the highest miles per gallon win.
Celebrating Clean Car Successes
Let’s celebrate the most recent clean car successes, the sexiest ones:
Tesla Motors: Like Justin Timberlake, Tesla is bringing sexy back to clean cars. The Tesla Roadster is a showstopper in looks and performance. “Burn rubber, not gasoline” is their apt slogan. Its gas mileage is an impressive, well, infinite mpg. It runs on thousands of Li-On batteries. Its stats are impressive: 250 miles per charge, 135 mpg equivalent, and 0-60 mph in 4 seconds.
Tesla has busted through the EVs as golf carts myth and presented electric cars as the ultimate in eco-desirable. I attended their grand launch party in Los Angeles and the line for a ride was around the block. Their Signature 100 program (the waiting list for the first 100 cars at $100,000 each) is already closed, sold-out, snapped up by the lucky few. Tesla is taking names for the next 100 cars. Don’t delay. Huge kudos to Martin Eberhard, Marc Tarpenning, and Elon Musk for making the dream happen! Tesla Motors
Calcars Plug-In Hybrids (PHEVs): So you’ve had a Prius…what’s next for people on the cutting-edge? Just another regular Prius? Boring...! The nonprofit CalCars.org promotes plug-in hybrid Prius conversions that get 100+ mpg. PRIUS+ is the official name of the wonder car. It is led by the intelligent and assiduous Felix Kramer. With a plug-in hybrid, your local travel is electric. If you want to drive to Vegas, you have the gas tank as a back up.
In Europe and Asia, the Prius had an enviable pure-EV button. In the U.S., this option was stripped because Toyota thought Americans would be too leary of plugging in. When the Prius first came out, they proclaimed loudly, “and you don’t need to plug it in, ever!” This is backlash from the disastrous decision in favor of proprietary paddle chargers in the early EV days, rather than the ubiquitous wall socket or 30 Amp garage socket. PRIUS+ brings back the pure-EV button and more.
I can tell you as someone who drove an early prototype of a flex
gas-electric car, it is amazing. I was stuck in massive traffic on the 405 in
LA, and I switched the car into pure-EV mode. Ahhhhhhhhh, silence. No noise. No
gas being used. No emissions. Just coasting along peacefully. The EnergyCS plug-in conversions now switch to electric automatically!
A question I hear frequently is, “well, if you are plugging the PHEV into a wall socket that gets energy from a dirty coal-fired power plant, how is this better?” A very good question. The good news is that when you drive a PHEV, you produce 45% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a gas-only car according to Felix. This positive % will only increase as utilities switch to more renewable energy sources.
All of the positive attention CalCars PHEVs has received has
gotten the attention of Toyota and potentially some other automakers like GM. CalCars’ mission is to spark car-makers to manufacture plug-in hybrids for the marketplace. When will this happen? There is momentum but Toyota needs to hear from people who would be willing to buy one. If this is you,
please visit Plug-In Partners and let them know of your interest. I'm in. You can also sign up for CalCars news and support their PRIUS+ program. Bottom line, there are so many
Priuses in San Francisco now. A great thing! But what car is there for people who want to be different and even
Automotive X PRIZE: Revolution through competition is their humanitarian mantra. The X PRIZE Foundation shook up the atmosphere with its first $10 million Ansari X Prize for private spaceflight. The winner was SpaceShipOne. Now they are poised to do it again on the road with the Automotive X Prize. Their goal is to reduce oil consumption and global warming emissions, and stimulate a plethora of marketable clean car innovations in the process. Let the race begin.
Other exciting developments include the rumored new Smart fortwo EV and return of the Th!nk, probably the cutest electric car ever made.
A shout out to the popular Ozocar, the hip high-tech hybrid town car service in New York founded by former EV1 driver and Virgin Records executive Jordan Harris. Say goodbye to the old school black town car. Ozocar please come to San Francisco soon so that we can order sleek black Priuses, rather than a Hummer limo.
The holy grail is to install (efficient) solar panels and then use them to charge your electric or plug-in hybrid car. You are then harnessing the pure renewable, non-polluting power of the sun. Cities could manage fleets of plug-in hybrids that recharge from solar panels. Batteries in vehicles could even store energy and deliver it back into the grid. This is called V2G, Vehicle To Grid. Why build dangerous nuclear power plants when we have the greatest source of nuclear energy available? The sun.
With sexy electric cars, practical plug-in hybrids, new clean biodiesel, and flex fuel cars with cellulosic (not corn-based) ethanol on the horizon, the clean car future is a bright shade of green. And not a minute too soon.