Pros and Cons of Owning an Electric Car

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Everyone around the world is doing research on the pros and cons of owning an electric cars.

Before taking a leap of faith and investing in either a hybrid or electric car, drivers should weigh the pros and cons of owning an electric or hybrid car.

Millions of people have discovered there are many pros to owning electric cars.

In addition to helping the environment, people who own electric cars can save a tremendous amount of money on gas and car insurance.

The Pros of Owning an Electric or Hybrid Car

– Electric Cars Can Help Save the Environment –

One of the main benefits of going green and purchasing a hybrid or electric vehicle is that these cars help the environment in so many ways.

In addition to reducing our dependence on fuel, these vehicles also help decrease pollution levels everywhere.

– Electric and Hybrid Cars Help People Save Money on Gas –

Another benefit of owning an electric car is that these cars help people save money on fuel.

Whether you purchase an electric or hybrid car, these vehicles help people save a significant amount of money on fuel each year.

– Owners of Hybrid and Electric Cars Save Money on Car Insurance –

In addition to saving money on gas, people who purchase either an electric or hybrid car will also save money on car insurance.

Insurance companies always extend additional savings to people who own electric and hybrid cars because owners of hybrids and electric cars are considered a better risk than owners of traditional cars.

Cons of Owning an Electric Car

Even with all the benefits of owning an electric or hybrid car, there are some cons that should be considered.

owning an electric car
owning an electric car

– Electric and Hybrid Cars Can Only be Driven Short Distances –

One of the major drawbacks of owning an electric or hybrid car is that these cars can only be operated for very short distances before their battery needs to be recharged.

For people who drive their car a lot each day, buying an electric or hybrid car may not be the best choice.

Since these vehicles need recharging frequently, people may find recharging their vehicle extremely inconvenient.

This is especially true for people who have to use their cars throughout the day and do not have access to a place where they can charge their electric or hybrid car conveniently.

– Electric and Hybrid Cars Are Costly to Maintain and Repair –

Although hybrids and electric cars help owners save money on fuel and car insurance, people who own electric and hybrid cars may find that owning a green car is actually more costly to maintain and repair than a traditional car.

Since hybrid and electric cars are in a class of their own, owners may wind up paying more on repairs and maintenance because not every mechanic is trained to repair and maintain hybrid and electric cars.

– Electric and Hybrid Car Battery Replacement May be Costly –

In addition to the cost of maintaining and repairing an electric and hybrid car, prospective owners need to factor in all the additional costs of owning a hybrid or electric car.

Since hybrid and electric car batteries have a limited shelf life, owners need to factor the cost of replacing these batteries into their overall cost of owning an electric and hybrid vehicle.

– Electric and Hybrid Cars Damage the Environment in Other Ways –

In addition to the cost of replacing hybrid and electric car batteries, environmentalists are also concerned about how much damage hybrid and electric car battery disposal will have on the environment.

Even though these car batteries can be recycled, millions of these batteries will be thrown out around the world each year.

While hybrid and electric cars are definitely a great way to reduce harmful emissions and control pollution, owning an electric or hybrid car can have a harmful impact on the environment.

When considering the pros and cons of electric cars, it is clear that there are some major advantages and disadvantages of owning hybrid and electric cars.

At the end, if these cars help people save a tremendous amount of money and help the environment, the pros of owning a hybrid or electric car will outweigh all of the cons.

Electric Vehicle Buyer´s Guide

The Electric Vehicle Buyer’s Guide can help you to avoid costly mistakes (avoiding household debt) when buying your first green car.

Many consumers are unfamiliar with the specifics of green cars, so deciding which one to purchase can be challenging.

This guide will help you understand more about electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles, and when it comes time to selecting one, you’ll know what to look for, know the right questions to ask, and how to determine the right car for you.

By reading this guide, you’ll learn the characteristics of green cars and be better informed when considering different cars and models.

With this knowledge, you’ll purchase a car that you’ll enjoy for years to come.

To go to the Electric Vehicle Buyer´s guide click here.

How Green are E-Vehicles? Electric Mobility is Still in its Infancy

Governments on both sides of the Atlantic must make their transport sectors cleaner and more sustainable in order to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

With 1,590 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year emitted in the U.S., 145 million tons in Germany, and 5,470 million tons worldwide, transportation is one of the major contributors to global warming.

In relative numbers, cars, trucks, buses, planes, trains etc. generate a third of the United States’, 17 percent of Germany’s and 23 percent of the world’s total CO2 emissions.

There are multiple ways to reduce the sector’s emissions, such as encouraging people to use public transportation, convincing industry to switch from road to rail, or by making current transportation technologies and fuels less polluting.

Regarding the latter, the efficiency of petroleum-based engines in cars has improved considerably, particularly in periods of high oil prices such as 1975-1987 and the last few years.

However, in the future it is a new technology, electric vehicles, that is seen as the route to a low-carbon transportation system.

If charged with electricity from renewable energy, these cars have the potential to make individual transportation almost carbon-free.

Yet in 2011 there are few electric cars on the road.

A look into most car manufacturers’ showrooms reveals that they are either not yet available or hardly affordable.

Thus, what environmental benefit can we really expect from e-mobility?

What is the current status of electric vehicle technology, and when will we be able to buy these cars?

The event “Opportunities and Challenges: The Future of E-mobility in Germany and the US,” hosted by the German Embassy and The Representative of German Industry and Trade in late March in Washington D.C., aimed at providing  answers to these questions.

Panelists from the automobile and energy industries and German and US policy-makers offered insight into the progress electric car technology is making and the policies currently in place to support e-mobility. They also discussed some of the key barriers to the further advancement of e-vehicles and their dissemination.

The German and U.S. governments both have public incentives to promote the dissemination of electric vehicles. Germany has allocated EUR500 billion for the next ten years and created a National Development Plan with the aim to transform the country into the leading market for electric cars with 1 million e-vehicles by 2020.

The United States is even more ambitious, planning to have 1 million e-cars on its roads by 2015. The U.S. goal is backed by a bundle of grants, loans and other incentives worth several billion dollars, and available to the car industry and other customers.

Despite of all the past and future investment, however, electric car technology is still in its infancy. As a BMW representative reported, his company is at the moment only conducting field testing with some 450 cars in the U.S. and a smaller additional fleet in Europe.

Most other automobile manufacturers are still testing prototypes and do not plan to release their first electric cars for a few years. Nissan, one of the front-runners, released its first mid-size electric car, the LEAF, in late 2010. Some other manufacturers, such as Mitsubishi or Th!nk Global, offer small-size e-cars.

Problems with batteries are mentioned as the main reason for the slow diffusion of e-cars, as they cannot store enough energy to allow for long distance trips. As a result, without improvements in battery technology manufacturers would need to rely on additional batteries which make the car heavier, less efficient, more expensive – and thus not market-ready.

Also, a lack of standardization among car manufacturers and countries are causing problems when it comes to infrastructure such as charging stations. This is particularly acute in Europe, where only little cooperation in the area of e-mobility exists between EU member states.

The industry claims that improvements in technology are developing quickly and that costs will decrease soon as well.   Some car manufacturers promise that they will be able to deliver e-cars to market in the near future.

However there is another important issue that needs to be addressed – one which seems to be hardly discussed, and when so, only reluctantly: the environmental aspect of e-vehicles. While e-vehicles do not emit pollutants and other greenhouse gases themselves, they are not necessarily environmentally friendlier than conventional, petroleum-powered cars.

If exclusively charged with electricity from fossil-fuels, for instance, electric automobiles generate a comparably high amount of CO2 emissions to that of those running on oil. In some cases, their climate performance can be even worse – caused by energy losses in electricity production, transmission and conversion – and an energy-mix dominated by coal.

Although e-vehicles can be somewhat less polluting than conventional cars if they are charged with electricity from a well-balanced mix of sources, only by utilizing electricity from renewable energy will e-vehicles significantly lower CO2 emissions.

Otherwise transport emissions are simply shifted to the power sector. Therefore, stronger cooperation between the car industry and the electricity industry, policies that foster renewable energy in the national energy mixes, and the availability of 100 percent renewable electricity plans to e-vehicles drivers are necessary components to really make e-vehicles “green vehicles.”

E-mobility then can not only be a fashionable trend but a real and sustainable solution for clean transportation.

Measuring the Green Value of Electric Vehicles

A question that may not receive the attention it merits is the true environmental value of an electric vehicle (EV)–namely, the carbon and climate impacts of an EV over the course of its full lifecycle. Could it be the case that hybrid vehicles–widely considered a transitional technology to full-fledged EVs–may in fact have less of a carbon footprint?

This question has important implications for consumers, auto manufacturers, and policy makers, particularly at a time when hybrid sales continue to rise while those of EVs have not grown as quickly as once anticipated, and for broader debates about whether or not public incentives to encourage EV are effective.

The answer to this question may be more context-dependent than at first glance. Taking into account the “what” and “how” of the EV and its manufacturing process, and how the vehicle is used (long distance versus short distance drives), another important factor is the “where”:  where the vehicle is used, and how the electricity powering it is generated.

new report by the organization Climate Central tackles this question, examining at a state-by-state level the carbon footprints and climate impact of EVs, plug-in hybrid EVs, and gas-powered hybrids.  In particular, the study focuses on three major criteria:  where you live (and the carbon-intensity of the electricity source); how far you drive (which incorporates both the carbon footprint of the manufacturing process as well as that incurred in driving the vehicle); and what you drive (as every EV and hybrid on the market have different levels of efficiency in converting energy into mileage).

The answers to these questions depend significantly (though not exclusively) on the sources of the electricity powering the vehicle in any given location. For example, the report found that in 11 states, the best EVs had less of a climate impact than any gasoline-powered hybrid vehicles.

A characteristic shared by these states is an electricity grid reliant on hydro power (e.g. Washington, Oregon, and Idaho) and/or nuclear power (e.g. Vermont), along with renewable resources. In 18 states (including several heavily dependent on coal for electricity), gasoline-powered hybrid vehicles were more climate-friendly than EVs.

It is noteworthy that these figures are dynamic in nature–and changing as new, cleaner energy sources become more widely used and vehicle technologies continue to mature.

For example, the report found that, between 2010 and 2012, the reduction of the carbon footprint of electricity generation (such as through the increase of natural gas and decrease of coal) doubled the number of states from 13 to 32 where EV’s had less of a climate impact than gasoline-powered vehicles. These shifts also changed where certain types of EVs performed more effectively than others in producing fewer emissions.

For example, driving an all-electric Nissan Leaf was found to generate fewer emissions (excluding manufacturing emissions) than a hybrid Toyota Prius in 32 states in 2012. At the same time, when total lifecycle emissions (including manufacturing) are considered, this number drops to 13 states.

It also found that no EV currently on the market outperformed a gasoline-powered hybrid vehicle in having a lower climate impact over a 50,000 mile driving lifetime, and that over 100,000 miles EVs only outperformed gas-powered hybrid vehicles in four states: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Vermont.

What are the implications? One is that the green “value” of an EV rises where the electricity grid is also green. Where EVs perform best, their numbers are spectacular.

Not all states have the hydro power resources of some of the best performers, and the future of nuclear energy (also a contributing factor for some states that rate highly) is uncertain.  On the other hand, the rising use of natural gas and renewables appears to be greening the grid in some states, thus improving the environmental value of EVs.

A second consideration is that improved EV technologies that more efficiently convert electricity into mileage, and more energy and resource-efficient manufacturing processes, will also increase the green quotient of EVs.

Though offering somewhat sobering findings of EV performance, this report and its holistic approach are a valuable resource for benchmarking and considering broader strategies for tackling climate challenges.

Top Fuel Efficient Electric Vehicle on EPA’s List?

The what? Mitsubishi might have chosen a name that is a little easier to remember; that aside, I guess they are hoping the efficiency of the car makes it memorable.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s 2012 Fuel Economy Guide, North American-spec i-MiEV an all-electric vehicle (EV) produced by Mitsubishi Motors North America (MMNA), has been named the most fuel-efficient EV. MMNA is responsible for manufacturing and marketing operations for Mitsubishi Motors in the United States. Fleet and retail customer deliveries in the U.S. began in December 2011.

The yearly Fuel Economy Guide features information relating to the fuel economies of automobiles in the US market, providing fuel economy rankings as well as information on the fuel economy labels required on window stickers at dealerships. The North American-spec i-MiEV drives 112 miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) in combined city and highway driving, 126 MPGe in the city, and 99 MPGe on the highway.

Norwegian Study Environmental Impact of Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicles (EVs) have been accepted as greener alternatives to traditional vehicles, but since EV technology is so new, their comparative environmental impact is not fully understood. In an attempt to shed light on this issue, a study from Norway set out to compare the life cycle analysis (that is, production, use, and end of life impacts) of EVs and internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs), as directly as possible.

Their results have sparked debate over the idea of “problem shifting” and the rationality of widely promoting EV technology.

Production: The authors estimate that during production, EVs produce approximately twice the amount of greenhouse gases compared to ICEVs. Battery production (35-41 percent) and powertrain components (16-18 percent) account for the majority of this increase. It would therefore be very detrimental to replace the batteries in an EV.

Human toxicity potential (HTP) is another startling area for EVs. Depending on the type of batteries used, the authors estimate that EV production causes between 180 and 290 percent greater HTP—the biggest sources of which can include copper, nickel, and other mining practices throughout the battery production process.

The authors note, however, that significant efficiencies are likely to be found given the rapid expansion of the industry.

Use: One of the main criticisms of EVs is that they are only as green as their source of electricity. While this is true to a large extent, the study found that, assuming a 150,000km (93,000 mile) lifetime, EVs have lower global warming potential (GWP) than gasoline vehicles by roughly 27 percent if powered by coal, 22 percent if powered by “average” European electricity, and 12 percent for natural gas.

The study also adjusted GWP reductions based on vehicle lifetimes of 100,000km (9-14 percent) and 200,000km (28 percent) for “average” European electricity. Under more extreme scenarios, the authors estimate that wind power would lead to a “life cycle carbon footprint” of just 106g of carbon dioxide per kilometer, whereas using electricity produced by lignite would lead to 352g of carbon dioxide per kilometer.

This means that if you added the carbon dioxide produced in all 3 life cycle phases of an electric vehicle and divided it into its lifetime mileage (resulting in 106g per kilometer), it would be lower than the carbon dioxide level of 130g per kilometer mandated by the European Union in 2009 for all new vehicles. If an EV is running on lignite, however, the study says it would be much higher than ICEVs.

End of Life: Surprisingly, the study found that end-of-life treatment, which includes material recovery and disposal, adds only a small contribution across the impact categories.

Though some have criticized the study as being biased against EVs, it nonetheless offers a thought-provoking life cycle analysis of EVs and ICEVs. The authors conclude that while EV technology is a crucial component in reducing vehicles’ footprints, it cannot be “harnessed everywhere and in every condition.”

So, is your EV greener than a traditional vehicle? Almost certainly, but just be mindful of where you’re filling up.

The Health Impacts of Driverless Cars

I feel like we keep talking about sustainability and how to solve the sustainability issue as a society but we aren’t really getting it. For example, I was listening to my local NPR station as I often do and they had a story about climate change and how we as humans are going to see the biggest climate change yet.

Not necessarily a new idea but research keeps proving that it will indeed happen in the near future. This story was followed by a story about automated cars, which focused on who would be liable if these automated cars were in a wreck.  These clashing articles get to the heart of the issue about our thinking with sustainability.

We know climate change is an issue (even though some groups may still be denying it), but we just are so debilitated by these unknown possibilities that we can’t change anything about our lives.  For example, we are still putting funding into the creation of automated cars, instead of other sustainable transportation sources.

The more I think about it the more I believe that single cars are not sustainable even if they are powered by solar or electricity, because no matter what the source of energy for a car, they still use massive amounts of resources and do not have a long-term lifespan (the average being 8 years).

My husband is currently reading a book that referenced Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity by Ulrich Beck which discussed humans knowing too much and the probabilities of risk that are associated with knowing so much.

The interesting part is that instead of taking action by knowing the probabilities of risk, we are instead paralyzed by this and don’t take any action.  I think this is a big problem when dealing with climate change.  We don’t know exactly what is going to happen and how drastic it is going to be, scientists have ideas and models, but we know nothing until it actually happens.

We can’t let this fear of climate change paralyze us.  We have to get past that fear and try to make changes now that will lessen the overall change down the road.

The Health Impacts of Driverless Cars

Ah, the driverless car. As Google and other companies are beginning in earnest to develop driverless cars, much has been written on the subject. The cars are hailed for their potential to reduce accidents and congestion and to provide a means of travel for the disabled and the elderly (not too different from a bus or train, but I digress).

The discussion everyone seems to be having is, how will the driverless car impact the design of cities? Will there be more empty parking spots? Will more people move to the exurbs because they will be able to work during their commute?

But there’s a driverless car topic that has yet to enter the conversation but could have huge implications for the public’s health: with rising rates of obesity and diabetes, do we really want the way of the future to be a sedentary one?

Today, many transportation advocates are working to design cities and streets such that they promote walking and biking. Numerous cities across the country have passed Complete Street policies, which require that all new streets be built for all users.

That is, cities are slowly but surely moving away from the car as dominant model; bikes, pedestrians and buses are starting to earn a real place at the “dinner table” (the city street), if you will. Why?

Because there are tremendous economic, social and health benefits to encouraging and facilitating the use of modes of transportation other than the car. For example, something as simple as walking to the bus or the train is a great way to meet the recommended levels of daily physical activity.

But no one seems to be talking about the fact that if we’re re-idolizing the car, in the form of a driverless one, that is, what happens to encouraging biking and walking to destinations and to designing communities that support these behaviors? What happens to all that exercise?

Health typically enters the driverless car conversation when the talk is about how removing humans from behind the wheel should reduce car accidents. Ezra Klein, in the Washington Post, offered that full adoption of driverless cars could cut the number of car accidents in half, which would lead to a significant reduction in health care costs.

This is huge, but health is a lot more than just avoiding accidents. It’s biking. It’s walking. It’s exercise. It’s talking to your neighbors. It’s the cast of characters you meet on the bus. It’s all the things you don’t get when a driverless car picks you up at your door and takes you directly to your destination.

What’s more, experts are predicting that because so much can be accomplished on the journey in a driverless car from Point A to Point B, the commute will no longer be a burden so people will move to the exurbs.

Longer commutes mean more sitting (not to mention, an increase in gas and electricity used). And when you add that to the sitting (and electricity and gas use) we do all day at work, well, that’s a lot of sitting when what we really need to be doing is moving, exercising and socializing.

Driverless cars won’t hit the road for a while and they could be great for the environment. Regardless of their many benefits, it’s important that we think about how we’re framing the conversation around them, and, specifically, where health fits in.

It’s imperative that health- in its most broad sense- be a part of the discussion. Transportation decisions impact health. Promoting the car, whether it’s a driverless car or a regular old man-operated motor vehicle, at the expense of exercise will have health consequences.

The public health community needs to enter into the conversation about driverless cars before the cars hit the road without them.

Four Strange Fuel Alternatives for Vehicles

Most people are aware there are hybrid and electric cars on top of their traditional gasoline-fueled counterparts. But you may not be aware of how many other, lesser known fuel alternatives there are when it comes to powering vehicles. Here are just a few of the strangest fuel alternatives we’ve come across so far.

  • Chocolate – According to an article in the New York Times, in 2009, there was a team from the Warwick Innovative Manufacturing Research Center at the University of Warwick in Britain that built a Formula 3 car that is said to run on 30 percent biodiesel derived from chocolate waste. James Meredith, who was heading up the project said, “Anything with a fat in it can be turned into diesel, and that’s what we’ve managed to do.” Reportedly, the chocolate used was Cadbury’s, a popular British brand.
  • Dirty diapers – Luciano Piciacchia, vice-president of Quebec operations for global engineering giant AMEC PLC is in the business of turning dirty diapers into diesel using a process called pyrolysis, which “chemically breaks down organic materials, literally cracking their molecules, by heating them up in an oxygen-starved chamber,” instead of through burning.
  • Animal bi-products – Whether it’s utilizing the innards of the 45 million turkeys consumed at Thanksgiving, duck fat from French restaurants or transforming the methane gas produced by cattle, companies from Missouri to Vermont and beyond have come up with ways to turn animal bi-products into natural gas and fuel.
  • Coffee – Now your morning cappuccino is not only fueling your day, but also could soon be fueling your car. Susanta Mohapatra, a chemical engineer at the University of Nevada, Reno has found a way to keep coffee grounds out of crowded landfills by separating the coffee’s oil in order to create usable energy.

Many people aren’t aware that cars can run on everything from chocolate to coffee. From the most delicious sweets to the wackiest waste products, creative engineers across the globe are finding alternative methods to fuel automobiles.

Whether your car runs on gasoline, electricity or both, there are numerous ways to save money as you drive your more popularly fueled vehicle. One way to save money is to consider an auto loan refinance to lower your interest rate or give you the flexible terms you need on the car you already own.

But if you are in the market for a new (or new-to-you) car, find the auto loans you need, like a new or used auto loan to make your next car purchase a reality – even if it isn’t a coffee fueled ride.

Outlook for Batteries in Electric Vehicles
Outlook for Batteries in Electric Vehicles

Hurdles and Outlook for Batteries in Electric Vehicles

Even if you’re not much of a car buff, you probably have the sense that traditional, internal combustion vehicles generally have the edge in cost over electric vehicles (EVs). And you’d be right.

As Stephanie Yin notes in her article, “The Long, Winding Road to Advanced Batteries for Electric Cars,” battery technology has come a long way, but still faces several major obstacles before it can truly compete with oil. Several of these obstacles cited by Yin and others are described below.

Obviously, the biggest impediment to any form of alternative energy is cost. A 2011 Stanford University study states that the general cost target for 40-mile range battery packs by 2012 was $500 per kWh, whereas the current cost hovers between $800 and $1,000 per kWh.

The corresponding cost objective for 2016 is $300 per kWh. Prices of battery packs may be reduced with the continued development of advanced software that can better predict battery life and safety, and perhaps lead to scientific breakthroughs (one such example mentioned by Yin is the development of lithium-oxygen batteries).

Energy density is the next biggest stumbling block for prolific battery use. According to a 2011 study by Yuan Zhong (also from Stanford), doubling the target range of EVs to 310 miles in the next decade is a generally accepted goal by most automakers.

Compared to gasoline, the energy density of lithium-ion batteries is very low–180 Watt-hours (Wh)/kg for lithium-ions versus 3,000 Wh/L for gasoline (one kilogram weighs roughly the same as one liter).

However, even if cost and energy density are resolved, the inconvenience of lengthy charging times will always be a turnoff to consumers. Currently, 30 minutes is about the fastest an EV can be topped off.  To further reduce charging time, enhanced cooling systems and issues regarding battery damage from high-voltage charging must be addressed.

Car makers must also focus on reducing battery degradation. According to a National Renewable Energy Laboratory presentation, EVs and plug-in hybrid batteries retain on average 80 percent of their charge after eight years of use.

However, as Zhong notes that a battery’s lifespan ends at 70 percent capacity, EVs would probably need new battery packs after about 10 years. Uncertainty over long-term battery life is one reason why leasing companies give EVs low residual values after only a few years.

With staunch government support in several countries and growing consumer demand, many are hopeful these issues will addressed in the next decade. However, the mingling of sustainability with battery design may have to wait until future generations.

Why aren’t there more natural gas powered cars on the road?
Why aren’t there more natural gas powered cars on the road?

Why aren’t there more natural gas powered cars on the road?

With natural gas prices near historic lows I have been wondering if this will lead to an increase in the number of natural gas powered vehicles on the road.  While the numbers have increased, as noted in a recent article, will this lead to a new paradigm in motor vehicle transportation?

Natural gas is the cleanest of all the fossil fuels. Composed primarily of methane, the main products of the combustion of natural gas are carbon dioxide and water vapor, the same compounds we exhale when we breathe.

As the cleanest-burning fossil fuel, natural gas creates less greenhouse gas emissions than heating oil, or electricity generated from coal.

Natural gas prices have fallen precipitously since 2008 from over $12 per thousand cubic feet to around $2 per thousand cubic feet. This price drop has occurred for a couple of reasons.

The main one is the advances in natural gas extraction technology (i.e. fracking) which has greatly increased the natural gas that can be retrieved from U.S. deposits.

Another reason is that, unlike oil markets, the natural gas markets are local so natural gas produced in the U.S. generally stays in the United States.  This is due to the need for large and expensive shipping and containment facilities as well as gas export licenses, which are hard to obtain, and helps explain why natural gas is $16 per thousand cubic feet in Japan but cheap in the United States.

A final reason is that demand for natural gas in the United States has not kept up with supply.

Natural gas comes in two varieties; liquefied natural gas (LNG) and compressed natural gas (CNG). To liquefy natural gas requires that it be stored at -260 degrees Fahrenheit. CNG is stored and distributed in hard containers at a very high pressure 2900–3600 psi, usually in cylindrical or spherical shapes.

CNG powered vehicles have been around for decades and currently account for about 2% of all vehicles in the U.S. with almost 60% being public buses. LNG powered vehicles are a relatively new technology and are thus far less prevalent.

So does this mean that we will soon all be driving natural gas powered cars? The short answer is
probably not.

Several major drawbacks exist to using natural gas to power vehicles.  First off, natural gas is not as energy dense or efficient as gasoline. For instance, CNG contains nearly 70 percent less energy per gallon equivalent than gasoline or diesel.

LNG is more energy dense than CNG but still less so than gasoline.  As a result you cannot drive as far on a tank and numerous natural gas filling stations must be built if widespread use of natural gas powered cars is to occur.

There would be a significant costs involved to build out this infrastructure.  Also, given that natural gas must either be stored at very low temperatures for LNG or very high pressure for CNG, car fuel tanks must have specially constructed to meet those requirements.

These special fuel tanks average almost 200 lbs compared to 10 lbs for a normal gasoline tank, adding vehicle weight, reducing cargo space and cutting gas mileage.

Furthermore, costs for natural gas powered cars are currently 25% higher than gas-powered cars, though that would probably come down a bit with government subsidies and efficiencies of scale.

All these items point to the fact that a large fleet of natural gas powered cars is not likely even though the price of natural gas may stay relatively low into the near future.  I do believe that there will be an increased use of LNG and CNG powered commercial and municipal driving fleets and buses that are used for limited driving distances and have access to centralized natural gas refueling stations.

It may be that the natural gas share gain in transportation will not necessarily be reflected in an increased number of CNG or LNG fueled vehicles, but will rather be seen in producing lower-cost electricity that supports the electric vehicle fleet.

Three Questions to Determine If Your Rental Housing Is Electric Car Friendly

As electric and hybrid cars become a more popular and mainstream transportation choice, those who live in rental housing have a few conundrums to consider before heading home with an electric car.

Whether you live in a rental house, condo or apartment, think about these factors if you are wondering if an electric or hybrid car could work with your living situation.

Do you have a garage spot?

If you do, does it have an outlet nearby?

If not, you must think about how and where you will plug in your car to recharge it.

It takes approximately eight to 10 hours to fully charge most electric car batteries.

This is most convenient to do overnight so you aren’t sacrificing your days to get a fully charged battery.

So if you simply park in a lot or on the street an electric car may not be the easiest car for your current lifestyle.

Do you pay your own electricity?

Many renters pay their own electric bill.

Other times a landlord will simply split the electric bill between all the tenants in the building/house.

If you fall in with the latter, it wouldn’t really be fair to the other tenants in the building to be paying for you to charge your car.

Even if you do pay your own electricity, it may not cover the electricity in the garage.

Whichever situation your electric bill falls under, be sure to find out the rules before you bring an electric car home.

Does your landlord know or mind that you’ll be plugging in your car every night?

If electricity isn’t included in your rent (or even if it is) be sure to check with your landlord before you buy a car that must be plugged in and charged on a nightly basis.

Keep the lines of communication open and be willing to compensate for the electricity you are asking to use.

If you come to the table ready and willing to take financial responsibility for the electricity you plan on using, it can only help soften your landlord’s response to your request.

If you think any of these factors may be an issue with your new car purchase, be sure to overly communicate with your landlord before purchasing a new electric or hybrid car.

There would be nothing worse than to buy a new car, simply to find there is a problem with your rental housing and your car coinciding.

You may also consider the purchase of a home charging dock or using public charging stations if you’re still set on driving an electric car.

But be aware that these can come with costly price tags and usage charges.

In the end, if you do decide that an electric or hybrid car is the right car solution for your lifestyle and your living situation, shop around for the auto loan that offers you the attractive rates and flexible terms you need.

Whether you’re looking to secure a new or used auto loan, there are lenders that want to help you find the borrowing solution that’s right for you.

And, if you decide that an electric car would be better suited for you sometime in the future, refinance your auto loan to save money on the car you already own.

Tips for Getting Rental Deposit Back

Moving house is stressful enough as it is – packing up, organizing removals people, getting rid of years’ worth of clutter – but to add to it, if you’re moving from a rental property you’ll need to make sure you get your security deposit back.

To make it easy for yourself, make it hard for your landlord to dispute the property’s good condition and cleanliness when you leave.

Leaving your property in a clean condition is of upmost importance, you don’t want your landlord to take out excessive cleaning fees because they feel you have not done a good enough job.

The easiest way to ensure there’s no room for argument is to hire a professional tenancy clean service.

If you have receipt of their work, you can ask your landlord to take it up with them if the standard if not high enough.

It can be expensive (anywhere between £100-300 for a 1-2 bed flat) but will save you slaving on your hands and knees for hours scrubbing and washing the place within cheap cleaning solutions.

A professional cleaner will know exactly how to make the place sparkle!

The kitchen is particularly tough area to clean yourself, so if you can’t afford to get your whole home cleaned by a professional, consider getting them round to scrub your oven and bring that back to good condition.

If you are paying a cleaner, there are ways to cut costs in other areas.

If you’re expected to get the carpets and curtains cleaned, invest in handheld steam cleaners that you can use time and time again.

Purchasing your own cleaner will be cheaper than getting multiple curtains and carpets cleaned by a pro.

When renting, your landlord must leave room for wear and tear in line with the length of time that you have been in the property.

This allows for general wear and tear of carpets – but not burns or stains – as well as mild scuffs on the walls and doors.

Holes in the walls are one of the biggest reasons for money being deducted from your deposit.

If you’ve put up picture frames and shelving and are now left with drill holes or pin marks, take the time to fill these in.

You can purchase putty from any local hardware shop and cover up with matching paint color.

Make sure that the paint really is matching however, large splodges of mismatched paint can be even more detrimental.

Once you feel your property is at an adequate standard, make sure you document exactly how you left it.

Go round and take pictures of each room, along with close up detail on imperfections that could come under question.

This way your landlord will not be able to exaggerate the state of the property if you are left to dispute any money withheld from your deposit.

Remember, it’s illegal for your landlord to hold back your money without a good reason.

So don’t get pressured into letting it go if you know you have been a responsible tenant.

If you have any queries about the money your landlord wishes to take, you can make a dispute with your tenancy deposit scheme.

Marketing Electric Cars

These are exciting times for the automotive industry.

The dominance of cars with internal combustion engines (ICE) is being challenged by electric cars. In many leading markets like Germany, Japan and North America electric cars are entering the playing field.

In the first edition of our text book “Sustainability Marketing: A Global Perspective” we have already presented the cases of the Tesla Roadster (a full electric car) and the Toyota Prius (a hybrid car).

In the upcoming months during summer 2012 we will describe and discuss the marketing of electric cars in a series of posts on our sustainability marketing blog. We will see that electric cars raise interesting questions for sustainability marketers all over the world. Electric cars are radical and disruptive technologies, which will (probably) change the way cars are perceived, sold and used.

In the first present post we will define electric cars: What do we mean, when we talk about “electric cars”? In spring 2012 there are all kinds of electric cars available on international markets, including hybrids with electric engines as well as electric cars with and without range extenders. So, how do we define “electric cars”? Where do we draw the line between hybrid and electric cars?

Most of the leading automotive companies pursue a hybrid strategy of electrification without abandoning ICEs. A first step on this road is the use of small electric engines and batteries, which support the start-up process of the car and which recovers energy during the braking of the car (“mild hybrid”).

The second step towards electrification is the employment of larger batteries and electric engines, which are more powerful (and usually more expensive!). The “full hybrid” allows driving short distances at low speed with the electric engine only (e.g. Toyota Prius). Similar to the mild hybrid, energy is recovered during the braking process.

“Plug in-hybrids” are full hybrids, which use rechargeable batteries that can be charged by connecting a plug to an external power source (e.g. Chevrolet Volt). Electric Cars with a range extender mainly rely on large, powerful batteries and electric engines. In the case of longer distances a conventional engine is used as a range extender (e.g. Opel Ampera).

Similar to the plug-in hybrid, the battery is recharged by connecting the plug to an external source. Full electric cars abandon ICEs altogether (e.g. BYD e6, Mia electric, Mitsibushi iMIEV, Nissan LEAF, Peugeot iOn, Renault Z.E., Smart ED, Tesla Roadster).

The following exhibit shows conventional cars with ICEs and electric cars without ICEs as the two extreme poles. The importance of ICEs diminishes from the left to the right hand side (or vice versa: The relevance of electric engines increases from the left to the right hand side). Mild and full hybrids are on the left hand side, because they still rely on ICEs.

Plug-in hybrids and electric cars with range extender are positioned on the right hand side, because they mainly rely on powerful electric engines and externally rechargeable batteries. In accordance with nationaldevelopment plan “Electromobility 2020” by the German government we draw the line in the middle and characterize electric cars as cars employing powerful electric engines and larger batteries, which can be recharged by plugging it to an external energy source.

Marketing Electric Cars
Exhibit: Conventional, Hybrid and Electric Cars. Source: Adapted from Helms, H. et al (2011): Umweltbilanzen Elektronmobilität, p. 9

In the next article we will discuss the ‘nature’ of electric cars: How ecological are they? What are the major factors influencing the environmental performance of electric cars?

What do the latest Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) say about electric cars in comparison to conventional cars with ICEs? As emphasized in chapter 3 of our text book “Sustainability Marketing”, LCA is a very important instrument for sustainability marketing.

Understanding the main socio-ecological issues involved with conventional and electric cars is crucial for credible automotive marketing. Making a (false) claim like “zero emissions” may easily be exposed as “greenwashing” and backfire.

As said in the beginning: These are interesting and exciting times … Stay tuned!

More Resources here:
Growing Efficiency Of Green Solar Power
Greener Cars and Social Media
Tesla Selling More than Just Cars
Growing Up in LA
10 Best Green Eco-Inventions
True Cost of Electric Vehicle Driving

Are Biofuels the Answer to America’s Energy Challenges?
Ethanol stored in Brazil: Raízen, the featured facility, will produce 2 billion litres of ethanol a year (Photo via Flickr, by Shell).

Are Biofuels the Answer to America’s Energy Challenges?

Last summer, announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Energy and Navy would invest up to $510 million in order to spur the biofuels industry and enhance U.S. energy security. As a result of government support through tax breaks and subsidies, both ethanol and biodiesel have been successfully integrated into the U.S. energy market.

However, while biofuels are generally perceived as more “sustainable” than regular gasoline, controversy remains over the environmental costs of their production, as well as their impact on food prices.

At the most basic level, biofuels are simply material from living or recently living organisms that is converted into fuel. Ethanol is derived from the starches and sugars in plants, and biodiesel is derived from sources such as animal fats, vegetable oil, and cooking grease. To reduce emissions of carbon monoxide and other pollutants during fuel burning, ethanol is typically blended with gasoline, and biodiesel is blended with diesel or used in its pure form.

In theory, the carbon emissions released from the burning of biofuels are offset during feedstock cultivation, when the plants photosynthesize carbon dioxide and store it in their biomass. However, the many other phases of the biofuel life cycle—including the farming and refining processes, and the transport of the fuels from producer to consumer—may result in a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

Growing ethanol feedstocks such as corn and sugar cane requires huge amounts of land, increasing the global demand on already limited farmland. To boost agricultural productivity, growers apply vast quantities of fertilizer during farming, which releases nitrogen dioxide, a powerful greenhouse gas. Corn, in particular, generally requires more fertilizer than most other biofuel feedstocks.

In light of these and other challenges, including rising food prices, rampant deforestation, and widespread water shortages, biofuel does not appear to be the solution to U.S. energy needs. As ethanol production increases, and as more corn is required for fuel production, it is clear that biofuels in their current form are not a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. They will only make the country dependent on corn, as it is now dependent on oil.

To address the shortcomings of current biofuel production, scientists are developing new techniques and feedstocks to enhance sustainable production. Switchgrass, a North American perennial tallgrass, sequesters far more carbon dioxide than corn and other row crops, and is drought tolerant, making it a promising alternative feedstock.

It requires little fertilization and can grow well on marginal land. Moreover, switchgrass cultivation would not compete with food cultivation, although some farmers may eventually switch to growing switchgrass instead of food crops if it were profitable to do so.

Biofuels America’s Energy Challenges?
A specialist in algae science researches biofuel production in Los Alamos National Laboratory (Photo via Flickr, by LANL).

The use of switchgrass for ethanol production is becoming increasingly viable. Until recently, scientists had struggled to release the polysaccharides from the plant’s tough lignin. To reduce these complex carbohydrates into fermentable sugars, researchers introduced a corn gene into switchgrass’s DNA, which increases its starch content, making it easier to extract the sugars.

While this discovery makes switchgrass an appealing alternative to corn, more research is needed before this grassy feedstock will be widely adopted. Switchgrass has been planted in a monoculture for only a few decades, so the long-term effects on land use and carbon sequestration are uncertain.

In addition, an energy-using pre-treatment is necessary to efficiently release the polysaccharides. Despite these early uncertainties, switchgrass offers a potentially cheap and efficient way to produce clean fuel for the future.

Another promising biofuel contender is algae, which brings similar benefits to switchgrass in terms of both carbon sequestration and ease of production. Although it is too early to know if biofuel is the sustainable solution to U.S. gasoline demand, the government must support continued scientific and economic research into these and other approaches to sustainable biofuel production.

Car Culture
Photo by JMR Photography, reproduced under the Creative Commons License.

Car Culture

What a stretch of events we have had recently. The facebook IPO – what a rich field day for business ethics, to which thankfully other voices have added thoughtful reflection.

Or the ongoing ‘American Idol AKA Republican Primary’-show, where even a lunatic like Mitt Romney – who as a Mormon Bishop among many other things believes in baptism of the deceased – appears the sanest option; what a rich field of exploring ethical issues in the public sphere.

Next to travelling and a busy work schedule there are a few domestic issues which have kept us busy these days. One of which was thinking about buying a car. Starting a family in North America obviously seems to equate with starting to become a car owner.

In Canada, there is always the weather to blame, of course. But with public transport being what it is, trips to the supermarket, the doctor or the daycare just ultimately suggest you need a car.

Buying a car in North America exposes the potential customer to a number of issues we regularly discuss here from a more scholarly perspective. Let me throw in a couple of observations. To begin with, it is rather striking to see how fuel inefficient cars by and large still are over here.

This is even more startling as most of the companies which offer cars here are multinationals which in other parts of the world are very well capable of offering fuel efficient vehicles. Be it GM through their Opel or Vauxhall brands in Europe, Ford in their German and British subsidiaries or Chrysler through their Fiat brand in Italy – they would not need to re-invent the wheel to offer cars that use significantly less than, say, 10 litres per 100kms. But you have a hard time to find these cars here, certainly in the affordable segment.

This observation in itself is worth pondering. How often do we hear, not at least from the American President, that the road to less dependency on oil is long and complicated. In fact though, in the short term, we could reduce car fuel consumption by roughly a third if only we found ways for these companies to offer in North America what they successfully sell in other parts of the world. The technology exists, its something else that prevents it from being used.

Mind you, this does not just apply to American auto makers. Checking the offerings of European car companies over here it is striking to see, that they just offer their largest, gaz guzzling versions over here. In Germany, I can buy a BMW X3 (mid size SUV) as a small Diesel (with ample performance) which just needs a little more than 5l/100km, whereas in Canada, the smallest option is a 240hp muscle man which roughly drinks double of the German option.

And don’t forget we are talking about the company that prides itself on being the leader in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for seven consecutive years!

Our readers might by now have raised the odd eyebrow about me mentioning the anathema of ‘SUV’ on an ethics blog. But yes, that’s what I am looking for. Mind you, in the beginning I just thought I might get a mid size car in the ‘wagon’ or ‘estate’ version.

Like the proverbial Volkswagen Passat ‘Kombi’, in which a generation of German kids over the last decades has been raised. No such luck over here though. As soon as you are looking for a mid-size car with some trunk and loading space your only option with most manufacturers are small/mid size SUVs.

Again, even if Volkswagen offers a nice Passat Wagon in Europe – here they send you towards their ‘Tiguan’ SUV  which starts with the modest, baby friendly engine power of 200hp!

Pretty much all car companies now serve you an SUV-only diet if you are looking for a practical and spacious car. With some exceptions from the Far East, all the offerings are over-motorized and loaded with gadgets such as four wheel drive, monster tires and racing gear which no one will ever really make use of.

Now one can argue that companies just cater for a certain taste of consumers. But my short experience as consumer in Canada so far has shown me that there is little choice beyond just some budget utilitarian options to drive a nicely designed, luxurious, practical car that is fuel efficient. Given that all the companies I checked have those on offer in other parts of the world points the finger in another direction.

While shopping around, I took this week’s New Yorker with me and found the article on ExxonMobil’s approach to governmental relationship in a funny way elucidating. It looks to me that my experience in the showroom of car dealers is maybe more the result of years of targeted lobbying by automakers and oil companies.

The reason why GM or Mercedes offer fuel efficient cars in Europe has little to do with the fact that the consumers over there are so much more enlightened. It is more the result of stricter governmental control over fleet consumptions of car manufacturers and generally higher taxed gas/petrol.

In the US – as evidenced in detail by the mentioned article –  big oil&auto have been quite successful in keeping gas prices low and fuel consumption high. Even with stricter regulation around fuel consumption for cars, the exemptions for trucks have just created this loophole and in some ways motivated companies to move more of their offerings into the SUV category.

All this political power of industry is nothing new though. Stan Luger has published his brilliant historical analysis years ago, and it still seems to hold true today. It is just interesting to experience what this really means for everyday life from a consumer’s perspective.

North America and its ‘Car Culture’, i.e. its total dependency on the car for normal work, family and social life is a rather bleak reality. Americans now spend an average of 100 hours a year commuting by car – more than the average two weeks of vacation for most people here.

Test driving one of those over-motorized SUVs this week also elucidated the Foucaultian nature of driving over here: just playing a little with the gas nozzle gets you into speed regions far beyond the ridiculous 100km/h which represent the limit here in Canada. All that money spent on such a car – and it is just good to show you yet another barrier, another rule by which our lives are constrained, restricted and domesticated…

Solar Power and the Transition to Electric Vehicles
Source: 2nd Green Revolution

Solar Power and the Transition to Electric Vehicles

This may sound counter intuitive, but there’s a great opportunity for solar power to work with gasoline stations. Several months ago I wrote a piece titled “An Argument for Government Mandated Solar Power.”

Not too long afterward, I noticed a photovoltaic array on top of the gas station covering at a nearby Conoco station. My point in the previous piece was that the vast expanses of flat roofing with an unobstructed (i.e. no buildings or trees to block sunlight) sight line offered a prime opportunity to install solar power.

Every time I drive by the Conoco station I try to sneak a peek at the array on top and the price of gas. Across the street (on the north side of the road) is another Conoco station, same flat roof, but without solar panels as far as I can tell.

Whenever I catch the price of gas at the station on the east side of the road – the one with the solar panels – I quickly look over at the Conoco on the west side of the road. While there may be other factors in the price of gas between the two, the location, company, and product offers a number of constants in my little experiment.

Different owners may have different pricing structure, but never in the 5 months since I noticed the array, has the Conoco with the panels had gas that is more expensive. As a corollary, the prices at the station with the photovoltaic array were 6 cents cheaper than their counterpart.

Also, the marquee which displays the prices at the “solar powered” station is changed manually, whereas the adjacent station is electronic. Just a curious observation.

I cannot say with certainty that the panels subsidize the gas or allow the station to charge less than the Conoco on the west side of the road. However, here is a long, flat roof that is on the north side of a major street, which creates an unobstructed path for the sun, that is generating electricity for the station to use or sell back to the grid.

After accounting for the upfront cost, the panels generate another source of income for the owners. This station is taking advantage of previous untapped resources, namely the expanse on top of the structure that covers cars as they fill up.

Now imagine a situation where electric vehicles can charge up or swap out their battery for a fresh one at a traditional gas station that has generated its own electricity from a renewable resource. Herein lies the opportunity for a transition to renewable (and hopefully sustainable) fuels.

Currently, one of the major knocks on electric vehicles has nothing to do with the cars themselves. The issue has to do with the generation of electricity to power the car in the first place. With much of the country’s electricity coming from nonrenewable resources (and many of those generating pollutants and/or greenhouse gases), the argument goes that electric vehicles are not sustainable.

This alleviates that part of the equation. The next step would be to build batteries that use non-toxic chemicals and eventually renewable materials.

Greener Cars and Social Media

Automakers are seeing the value of social media to promote greener cars. Toyota, Tesla, Nissan and Ford are all using new media to pitch their hybrid and fully electric cars. The interactive format provided by social media give these companies the ability to communicate information and interact with consumers. Toyota announced a line of new Priuses using social media and Toyota executives answered questions about the new models of Priuses via Twitter. The company also made announcements via livestream on the company’s website. In 2010, Toyota announced the release of six new hybrids with a tweet.

Greener Cars and Social Media
Source: The Green Market

Nissan has a Twitter feed for its electric Leaf and electric car company Tesla used its blog to announce the completion of a working prototype of the company’s 2012 all-electric Model S sedan. Instead of more traditional marketing, Tesla used three high-quality videos that showed a walk-through of the car’s engineering.

Ford has established itself as a leader in social media marketing. With more than 20,000 Twitter followers, Ford has four times the number of GM’s Twitter followers. Ford’s new Fiesta, introduced contests for YouTube, which drew thousands of submissions, gained Twitter followers and generated a healthy dose of blog and news coverage. Ford has almost 250,000 videos on YouTube, while GM has a bit more than 13,000. Ford’s presence on YouTube has also carried over into Flickr.

Ford was also recognized as an automotive leader by marketing research firm Virtue. They published their annual list known as the Virtue 100, which covers the 100 most-discussed brands in America compiled using these five criteria:

Social networking (which brands are being shared)
Video sharing (which videos from which brands are being viewed and shared)
Status updates (which brands are being tweeted and included in updates — and how strong is each sharer’s influence)
Photo sharing (which photos are being passed around)
Blogs (general mentions in the blogsphere, including comments)

Ford is at the top of this list because Scott Monty (Head of Social Media for Ford) is working hard to give the company a dominant social media presence. However, Ford is followed closely by prestige brands Mercedes and BMW. With its line-up of fuel efficient and hybrid vehicles, Ford jumped 13 places over last year, while the ratings of gas guzzling Ferrari, fell.

Social media is a powerful form of interactive marketing that can spike awareness and help build brand affinities in a more cost effective way. Social media is clearly an increasingly integral part of car marketing that is garnering considerable attention, particularly for auto brands that have a green focus.

Toyota is Planning to Retain its Lead Over its Rivals with a New Fleet of Electric Vehicles

Toyota Motor Corp. has been a leader in hybrid cars ever since the first Prius rolled off assembly lines in 1997. Worldwide Toyota has sold more than 3 million hybrid cars, but competition is growing from cars like Nissan’s all-electric Leaf, GM’s Volt, Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV, Subaru’s Plug-in Stella, and Ford’s electric Focus. In total there are 13 different car brands now offering 30 different hybrid models.

Despite all the new entrants in the hybrid market Toyota still sells about half of all hybrid vehicles on the road. According to a Consumer Reports survey, Toyota also holds a big lead as the most environmental car maker.

Source: The Green Market

To help retain that lead, Toyota’s President Akio Toyoda unveiled the company’s strategy. Toyoda reaffirmed the traditional objectives of the company founded by his grandfather to develop safe, reliable cars and clean technologies. Toyoda’s objectives also include increased sales in the smaller margin but fast-growing emerging markets.

An important part of Toyota’s strategy include the launch of 10 new environmentally friendly hybrids by 2015 including new Prius hybrids like a plug-in version, a larger wagon and sleek little sports cars like the Prius c concept, all of which were unveiled at the Detroit auto show on March 8, 2011.

Toyota plans to introduce six new hybrid models, two of which will be in the Lexus luxury brand, and four as Toyota models.The two new Lexus hybrids will join four Lexus hybrids already on the market. The four Toyota hybrid models are the Sienna, Yaris, Corolla and Rav4.

The Rav4 will also be available as an all-electric vehicle, it will be designed and built in partnership with California-based Tesla Motors. The electric version of the Rav4 will be unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Toyota’s new generation of vehicles are intended to retain the company’s global leadership in greener cars.

 Are Green Vehicles Safe?

The number of hybrid vehicles on America’s roads has been increasing steadily since the first models were introduced in the early 2000s. This trend is only likely to increase as states such as California continue to tighten their emission standards.

There is absolutely no doubt that hybrid vehicles have had a positive impact on the environment compared to those powered purely by internal combustion engines, but are there any significant downsides to the growth of green motoring?

Are Green Vehicles Safe
Are Green Vehicles Safe?

It seems there may be. Back in 2009, the US Department of Transportation, in conjunction with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, issued a report that looked at the incidence of pedestrian and bicycle crashes that involved hybrid vehicles.

What that study showed at the time was quite astounding – hybrid vehicles were twice as likely to strike a cyclist or pedestrian when compared to traditional vehicles.

An updated version of the study was issued in 2011, which expanded the number of states covered by the study to 16, and also extended the time period over which the study was conducted.

It should be noted that the states included were a representative mix across the nation, but did not include the top two states in terms of traffic fatalities – California and Texas.

It would be particularly interesting to see the results for Texas, which has an overall traffic fatality rate that is 16% above the national average. This includes major urban areas such as Dallas, home to Textrial.

The updated study shows that the safety issues reported in the original study were in fact valid, although the effect was somewhat smaller than had been previously estimated.

The report found that hybrid vehicles were 1.35 times more likely to be involved in a crash with a pedestrian, and 1.57 times more likely to hit a cyclist. Although the study did not cover the entire United States, the results were statistically significant, with p-values of less than 0.01% – a widely used benchmark for reliability.

The study was unable to identify which crash scenarios were most dangerous for cyclists, but it did manage to clearly show when pedestrians are at most risk. The biggest differences in pedestrian crash rates happen when the hybrid vehicle is executing low-speed maneuvers – in this case, hybrid vehicles were 66% more likely to hit a pedestrian.

Furthermore, some models were affected more than others. For instance, a hybrid Prius was 1.54 times more likely to hit a pedestrian when executing low-speed maneuvers, while a hybrid Civic was 2.14 times more likely when compared to a traditional Civic.

green vehicles safe
green vehicles safe

While the study does not specifically identify the underlying cause of this disparity between hybrid and traditional vehicles, it is interesting to note that the rate only seems to be significantly affected when there are changes to the direction of the vehicle – for instance, when vehicles move in a straight line, there is no statistically significant gap.

Taking this into consideration, one of the most likely reasons is that pedestrians do not hear the same audible cues with hybrid vehicles that they do with traditional ones – and therefore do not detect that the vehicle has altered course.

Should I Abandon My Car for a Rideshare Program

Is that old clunker you’ve been driving around since you turned 16 on its last legs and requiring too much money to keep it going? If your car is a clunker, you may be in the market for a new vehicle. But why not save some money, and the environment, by going a different direction?

No, your bicycle might not get you everywhere you need to go, but there is another option: a rideshare program. Rideshare programs are popping up all over the United States in major cities, and becoming a cheap and eco-friendly way to abandon owning a vehicle.

The rideshare program in your area might even have a cool car from Sport Durst Mazda, you never know! If you’re thinking of getting rid of your car, check out these benefits to joining a rideshare program.

Rideshare Program

Everything’s Included

As gas prices continue to rise with no end in site, that clunker might cost you more and more to get to work each week. With a rideshare program, everything is included in the upfront cost you pay to rent the car. Many rideshare programs have a gas card in the glove box so you can always refill whenever you may be low on gas, without taking a dime out of your pocket.

Additionally, insurance is also covered meaning you won’t have to pay your insurance company high premiums just to drive around town. With a rideshare program, you usually get a set number of miles you can drive each day, and can pay more for additional miles. Or, if you need to rent the car for an hour to run an errand, you can do that too.

No Maintenance

If your clunker breaks down, you might be forced to pay high costs just to get it towed to your mechanic. Once it’s at the mechanic, it could cost thousands of dollars to get your car up and running again! With a rideshare program, you don’t have to worry about that.

Most cars in rideshare programs are fairly new, so the chance that something will go wrong while you’re driving it is small. If something does go wrong however, you’ll be taken care of by customer service immediately.

Green Living

Abandoning your car for a rideshare program means you’re doing a lot to help the planet. You’ll find that only getting a car when you absolutely need ones means you’re driving a lot less and using a lot less gas. You’ll also probably see that you’re taking public transportation much more often, which is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.

No matter your reasoning for choosing a rideshare program, knowing that you’re doing your part doesn’t hurt.

No Cleaning

This one might not that be too important to you, but it’s worth mentioning regardless. Your old clunker might be full of fast food wrappers and nasty garbage, but with a rideshare program you won’t have to worry about that.

Many rideshare programs have cleaning crews that clean the inside and outside of the vehicle on a daily basis, so you won’t have to worry about embarrassing your neighbors with your dirty car parked outside.

Drive Clean: Tips for eco-friendly journeys

Fortunately people are becoming more aware about how their actions are impacting on the sustainability of the environment. Businesses and households are becoming more efficient by choosing better eco-friendly alternatives for many well used products.

Unfortunately after all the positive actions some things are going without a thought. Many individuals feel that purchasing an environmentally friendly vehicle is the only choice to make car journeys greener when in actual fact there are many things that can be done also.

Car

With the current growth of the eco-friendly car market there are numerous options when thinking about a new car purchase. Electric and hybrid vehicles are becoming more popular but unfortunately most are unable to afford these new models. Instead it is wise to research the power-consumption and emission data of any speculative choices.

It is possible to make a journey greener by switching to a smaller vehicle that allows more miles to the gallon. From a large saloon to a small hatchback, the reduction in petrol consumption can be as large as 70%. Another idea is to move away from a petrol powered car to a diesel. Not only does this help towards a greener environment but is must cheaper in fuel costs.

Fuel

Changing you choice at the filling station can make a big difference by opting for green fuel where available. Cars running on diesel can hold a mixture of regular mineral diesel and up to 5% biodiesel, which is a renewable fuel that burns cleanly. In some cases these can run on pure biodiesel.

Petrol powered vehicles can hold a mixture of 10% bioethanol, which is a clean alcohol-based fuel made from corn or sugar. Flexible fuel vehicles can run on E85, which is a mixture of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. It is always suggested that drivers consult a cars RON rating as too little octane will make the engine run inefficiently and too much will lead to unburned fuel passing through the exhaust pipe.

Habits

If a new purchase is not possible there are things that can be done to increase efficiency and reduce carbon emissions without the need for electric alternatives. Changing driving habits will make an impact on consumption. Sharp braking and acceleration uses much more fuel than steady driving, also it is wise to stick to the speed limits, not only for safety but for fuel economy.

Engaging cruise control allows efficient power for the engine and transmission and does not waste fuel by a driver accelerating to increase speed.

Car maintenance is another area involved in the cleaner running of your car. Keeping tyre pressure filled up can reduce consumption by 10%. Carrying out regular checks on vehicles can increase the use in the long term while ensuring clean and efficient running.

Planning routes ahead of schedule or using GPS software can help to create a more efficient journey. GPS can be particularly helpful when negotiating the quickest and most efficient routes.

What is Flex Fuel?

Flex fuel is a term used to describe a mixture of ethanol alcohol and gasoline. Of the alternative fuels that could potentially replace gasoline, ethanol alcohol is among the most widely used today. Corn is the primary source of ethanol, which is extracted by industrial fermentation and distillation.

This technology may eventually lead to the renewable production of automotive fuel, but for now, flex fuel comes with a few challenges.

How flex fuel works

Alcohol, like gasoline, is combustible, which makes it easily adaptable to the type of internal combustion engine in use today. Most flex fuel vehicles run on a specific fuel blend called E85, which is a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

This ratio allows a flex fuel vehicle to run primarily on ethanol alcohol, a renewable source of energy.

Since ethanol behaves similarly to gasoline when burned, the mechanics of a flex fuel vehicle are almost identical to that of a traditional automobile. The only difference can be found in a flex fuel vehicle’s onboard computer system.

Using a sensor near the vehicle’s catalytic converter, the computer can determine when flex fuel is being used. Since ethanol alcohol burns at a different rate than gasoline, the computer automatically adjusts spark plug timing to compensate.

Advantages of flex fuel

Since ethanol alcohol is derived from fermented plant matter (usually corn), it has an advantage over fossil fuels, which exist in limited quantities. In addition to sustainability, ethanol burns cleaner and emits fewer pollutants into the air than gasoline. Flex fuel is currently less expensive than gasoline, which may save money for the driver.

Challenges of flex fuel

Gasoline is a popular automotive fuel for several reasons, once of which is its high energy density. Ethanol alcohol is less energy dense than gasoline, which, in automotive terms, means that a car will travel further on a gallon of gasoline than it will on a gallon of ethanol. Ethanol also may not be as sustainable as it appears. Significant energy goes into the cultivation of corn and the production of ethanol, and much of that energy is derived from fossil fuels.

Whether you’d like to support the advancement of renewable energy, or would just like to reduce your gas bill, flex fuel may be the answer. But no matter which vehicle you decide to drive, make sure to protect it with automotive insurance. And if your flex fuel vehicle is new, full coverage auto insurance is a good way to guard against unexpected events.

Servicing Your Green Car 101

There are more alternative fuel vehicles on the market than ever before, which means the traditional automobile with its internal combustion engine may be on its way out. But with so many options, it can be difficult to keep track of each green car’s recommended service requirements.

Vehicle maintenance will vary depending on which alternative fuel vehicle you own, so take note of the primary service needs of each green car on the market today.

Servicing Your Hybrid electric vehicles:

Hybrid vehicles operate on a relatively complex mechanism that combines a small internal combustion engine with an electric motor. But despite the differences in design, maintenance for these vehicles (including oil changes and air filter replacement) will be very similar to that of a traditional gas-powered vehicle.

A few special service concerns for these green cars will involve the transmission and onboard electrical systems, whose designs are unique to hybrid vehicles. Because of the complexity of these systems, repairs are best left to trained professionals.

Servicing Your Electric vehicles:

Despite the perception that electric vehicles are highly complex and will require increased maintenance, the opposite is generally true. Electric car motors are mechanically simpler than internal combustion engines, and should be relatively easy for a trained mechanic to service.

Vehicle components that are unrelated to the power train, such as suspension and brakes, will likely require standard maintenance; however, according to alternative fuel site oilio.org, service of the motor itself should cost as little as one third of standard gas-powered car.

Servicing Your Flex-fuel vehicles:

These vehicles are almost identical to standard internal combustion engine vehicles, with the exception being the alternative fuel used. Flex-fuel vehicles, often called E85 vehicles, run on a fuel mixture that contains up to 85 percent ethanol alcohol. Most of the maintenance differences arise from the presence of alcohol in the vehicle, which can break down or erode certain materials.

For that reason, it’s important to use only E85 compliant parts, such as seals and gaskets made from synthetic materials, when servicing a flex-fuel vehicle.

When shopping for a green car or standard gas-powered vehicle, don’t forget to compare auto insurance companies by requesting more than one insurance quote. To simplify your search, gather several online insurance quotes from provider websites, and then call the companies that provide the best options.

Incentives for Buying an Electric Car

Even if electric cars are the way of the future, the truth is they’re currently too expensive for most people to afford. That’s why state and local governments are offering incentives to buy electric vehicles, hoping to spur the adoption of cars that run on alternative fuels. Here are a few of the programs, and information on how to participate.

Federal tax credit for Buying an Electric Car:

The federal government issued a tax credit for the purchase of new hybrid vehicles. That tax credit was effectively replaced in 2010, when the government discontinued the hybrid tax credit, and instead offered an electric car tax credit. The credit is worth $7,500 and applies to any vehicle bought in or after 2010.

State incentives for Buying an Electric Car:

Nearly 25 states have plans to offer some form of incentive to electric car owners. Benefits include state rebates that range from $1,500 to $6,000 and access to carpool lanes. California offered a similar hybrid incentive when it distributed carpool stickers to hybrid vehicle owners.

Environmental incentives for Buying an Electric Car:

Though widely used, gasoline has detrimental environmental effects when burned. Electric cars emit no pollution when driven, although the energy isn’t completely clean yet. The electricity stored in an electric vehicle must be generated somewhere, and a significant percentage of U.S. electrical energy production still comes from coal plants. Still, electric cars are a stepping stone on the way to a greener vehicle that runs entirely on renewable electricity.

Financial incentive for Buying an Electric Car:

The federal tax and state rebate incentives bring the price of electric cars down significantly, but the savings don’t end there. Since electric motors are much less complex than an internal combustion engine, they are easier and cheaper to maintain. That means less money spent at the mechanic.

Opponents of electric vehicles suggest that replacing electric car batteries is necessary after a few years of vehicle ownership, and that this cost negates the federal and state government savings. Electric car manufacturers argue that the car battery should last the lifetime of the vehicle.

It’ll be a few years until enough data is available to determine one way or the other, and by then engineers hope to have produced a smaller, cheaper, more efficient electric car battery.

If saving money is a priority when looking for an alternative fuel vehicle, remember that there are other ways to save. Comparing several car insurance quotes before selecting a provider can save you hundreds of dollars a year—especially if you ask about discount auto insurance rates. Many insurance companies offer lower premiums for good driving or low yearly mileage.

Back to the Future: When a Classic Car Goes Electric!

The thing is, I may be a science and technology enthusiast, but I’m far from being an expert in electric motors, batteries and automotive electronics! That’s the reason why I proposed my idea to the University of Brussels, more specifically to the electro-mechanical department of the Polytechnic School. And luckily enough, my proposal was accepted and two students were eventually chosen to carry out this work for their master thesis!

I am the happy owner of a classic car: a 1973 Fiat 500, the car that most represents the Italian economic and social boom of the 1950s. The Fiat 500 is actually the first car I’ve ever driven, back when I was only 12 years old, on private roads of course!

The problem with my Fiat 500 was that in the last years it spent more time taking dust and rust in the darkness of my cold and wet garage than happily driving on the road. Being someone particularly mindful when it comes to squandering resources, I thought that my little car deserved to have a new usefulness.

Being also a science journalist and technology enthusiast, I had the idea of converting my little Fiat 500 to electricity and, thanks to my profession, of using it as a communication tool to raise awareness of the broad public on sustainable mobility issues.

The thing is, I may be a science and technology enthusiast, but I’m far from being an expert in electric motors, batteries and automotive electronics! That’s the reason why I proposed my idea to the University of Brussels, more specifically to the electro-mechanical department of the Polytechnic School. And luckily enough, my proposal was accepted and two students were eventually chosen to carry out this work for their master thesis!

Let’s face the truth: technically speaking, the conversion of a petrol car to electric propulsion is not very difficult, and you can find many DIY examples on the web. Nevertheless, our approach is, let’s say, more scientific: the students are applying a very strict methodology and they need to take into consideration all the possible issues before starting the actual conversion.

For example, they need to make a theoretical model of the car: its original performance, its aerodynamics, its weight distribution, its handling, etc. Then, they have to calculate the necessary power to accelerate and cruise at different speeds and on different slopes, in order to have a good driving experience in urban traffic.

This step will allow them to determine the characteristics of the electric motor. Then, in order to make this motor work properly and have a range of approximately 100km, they need to calculate the size and power of the battery pack: big enough to reach the pre-established performance and range, but small enough to fit in the small Fiat 500, both in terms of weight and volume of course! What a challenge…

The many DIY conversion that can be found on the web look more like MacGyverisms than research projects: some take motors from dismantled elevators or fork-lifts, others get their lead acid batteries from golf karts. For our Fiat 500, we aim at using high-end technological components, such as switched reluctance motors, lithium iron phosphate batteries, high-tech electronic controllers, and so on. Don’t ask me how all these work, I just know they’re very energy-efficient and reliable!

You are now maybe asking yourselves: who will pay for all this? As you know, universities aren’t very rich. So I made a commitment with the students: I promised I would find enough sponsors to finance the acquisition of the various components, or to find technical partners willing to provide them for free. Just for the sake of science and sustainability!

I had the idea of asking an international carrier company to help us with the various shipments of the components coming from abroad, and I selected the one that had the most extensive policy in terms of sustainable development. That’s when I discovered that FedEx was the leader in this field, far ahead of all the other carriers. And that’s when I met great people who immediately accepted to help us!

The project is currently at the end of its first, theoretical phase, and we look forward to choosing the components, buying or receiving them and then testing them in the labs before integrating them in the car. Our adventure has just begun!

Electric Cars – A Practical Man’s Epiphany

Electric Cars – A Practical Man’s Epiphany
Electric Cars – A Practical Man’s Epiphany

The green movement was a nonstarter for me. The generation gap was never more evident than at my house. While my son studies green technologies at school, I prefer collared greens and the Green Bay Packers. I’m a practical man.

Father and son relationships are a strange thing. On a perfect summer afternoon, we sat together in our lawn chairs, each with a beer in hand, discussing the problems of the world and never once agreeing on anything. They say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree but I beg to differ. I don’t know this kid at all.

Then he started in on my truck. My beloved truck. This is the truck that put food on the table, got him to football practice, and landed him a job at a research university placing condoms on ears of corn.

Yes, you read that correctly. It was a genetic experiment that I’ve yet to understand but it paid good money and got him to college. Don’t laugh.

Knowing that my truck has almost 180,000 miles on it, he suggested an electric car, which I nixed because of it’s perceived limitations. Then he threw me a curveball.

Electric cars and hybrids are pretty common, Dad. Not only that, they save money on gas…and there are tax incentives. Not just deductions. Tax credits.”

He explained to me that credits are different than deductions in that when you file taxes you get the full benefit, dollar for dollar, on the purchase.

And now that there are several models available from numerous auto makers, competition has brought the price down to something more affordable, even cheaper than some new trucks.

Keep talking, kid.

While he touched on environmental benefits, we spoke more in depth about the makes and models available and the monetary advantages. At last we were speaking the same language. I found that my knowledge of hybrid vehicles and what was available was woefully inadequate. I was most surprised by these facts:

They Make Hybrid and Alternative Fuel Pickups

That’s right. And they’re affordable! The Ford F-150 E85 only gets 11 miles to the gallon (combined), but at a MSRP of only $22,100 it’s cheaper than a traditional pickup. And if the gas mileage troubles you, Chevy makes a hybrid that gets 21 miles to the gallon.

Hybrids and Electrics Are No More Expensive To Maintain

Dealer’s service departments do usually charge a bit more, but now that there are well over a million hybrids on the road, many mechanics are familiar with them and can perform basic maintenance.

Tax Benefits

While the Bush energy bill of 2005 that created tax incentive to purchase all hybrids expired in 2010, tax incentives still exist for those who choose to purchase electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids. There are both state and federal based incentives. California is offering up to $5000 credit on the purchase of an electric vehicle while the federal credit is up to $7,500. Nice chunk of change.

Now that my son is back at school, I revisit the conversation in my head. Not just the part about hybrid and electric vehicles but saving money. I’ve come to realize something about him that should not have surprised me. He’s a practical man.

Tesla Selling More than Just Cars

Though I think we’re all rooting for Tesla, it can’t be ignored that two of the company’s most notable achievements—reporting its first ever quarterly profit and repaying a federal loan—were aided substantially by two factors outside its core business of manufacturing and selling cars:  trading credits under California’s Zero Emission Vehicle program and raising roughly $1 billion by selling additional stock and securities.

While Tesla delivered an impressive 4,900 units of the renowned Model S, the company pulled in $68 million in revenue from selling credits to other manufacturers through California’s Zero Emission Vehicle credit market. That number amounts to 12 percent of Tesla’s first-quarter revenue, and contributed 15 percent to the reported 17 percent gross margin.

Tesla was at least up front about this impact in the earnings release, saying it would not factor in credit sales to reach its goal of hitting 25 percent gross margin and does not consider them central to its business.

More recently, Tesla was in the news for repaying, including interest, a $465 million Department of Energy loan nearly a decade in advance. The loan was paid off with the approximately $1 billion the company raised from issuing stock and debt-like securities.

Tesla CEO and co-founder Elon Musk said he would purchase $100 million of the issued stock himself. Musk mentioned that paying off the loan should boost its image, but the elimination of a government contract could also free up additional funding opportunities.

As a side note, Tesla says the loan payment makes it the only American car company to have fully repaid the government.

Taxpayers are off the hook, but Tesla faces an uncertain future characterized by catch-22s and irony. The company’s biggest obstacle is finding buyers outside of the innovator and early-adopter segments of consumers. But even if Tesla is successful, it will face rapid competition from deep-pocketed automakers.

Tesla’s success will also be negatively impacted by cheap fuel prices and more efficient traditional and hybrid vehicles, factors that would help the economy and the environment (respectively) but reduce electric vehicles’ attractiveness.

Tesla Model S Sedan Named Motor Trend 2013 Car of the Year

As further evidence of the rise of electric vehicles, Tesla’s Model S Sedan was named Motor Trend’s 2013 Car of the Year. The plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt won the title in 2011, completing the evolution of electrified transport (The Toyota Prius, a gasoline-electric hybrid, won in 2004).

With a sticker price nearing $60,000 (not including the tax credit that brings it just under $50,000), the Tesla Model S is an expensive car by most people’s standards. However, Motor Trend cites the Model S as “one of the quickest American four-doors ever built. It drives like a sports car, eager and agile and instantly responsive.”

The Model S is a chimera of sorts. While it is a full electric vehicle, Motor Trends compares the car to the luxurious Rolls-Royce and enormous Chevy Equinox, the former in terms of its smoothness and the latter for its cargo capacity.

In naming the Tesla Model S as its Car of the Year, Motor Trend acknowledges that it’s the first non-internal combustion vehicle in the 64 year history of the award, but that fact only plays a small role in the decision. “Tesla’s electric powertrain delivers the driving characteristics and packaging solutions that make the Model S stand out against many of its internal combustion engine peers.

But it’s only a part of the story. At its core, the Tesla Model S is simply a damned good car you happen to plug-in to refuel.” Here’s to a car that competes with gasoline powered rivals in terms of style, luxury, and performance, if not price.

Tesla “Supercharging” Infrastructure Super-Fast Battery Charging

Tesla Motors is probably the most interesting carmaker on the planet. In less than a decade, Tesla has gone from being a pie-in-the-sky business concept to an internationally recognized, publicly traded auto manufacturer. It was only four years ago that Tesla started selling the highly acclaimed Tesla Roadster, and only a few months since the equally acclaimed Model S hit the streets.

And now, Tesla is expanding construction of its very own solar-powered “Supercharger” network, which provides super-fast battery charging to the Model S. Maybe it’s time for Mercedes to hand over the slogan, “Are we there yet.”

During the unveiling ceremony, Tesla’s co-founder, Elon Musk, said the Supercharger infrastructure will allow Model S owners to charge their vehicles with up to 180 miles of range in 30 minutes—cutting the time that it would normally take in half. The reduced charging time is accomplished by delivering 100 kw of electricity, roughly double the amount considered for a quick charge.

However, not all Tesla’s can take advantage of the quick charging technology. The onboard system required to use the Supercharger is only standard on the 85kWh Model S (300 mile range). It will be optional on the 60 kWh Model S (230 mile range), but not available on 40 kWh models (140 miles).

My guess is the shorter range of 40kWh models may not be adequate to make it between stations.

Though Tesla has plans to greatly expand its Supercharger network, there are currently just six stations in operation. The stations are shaped like spaceships to attract attention, but also as a homage to Musk’s other company, SpaceX.

The existing network is strategically spread out in California along the freeway to enable travel between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, L.A. and San Francisco, and the Bay area and Lake Tahoe. By driving very conservatively, Motortrend made it from L.A. to Las Vegas  in Musk’s personal 85 kWh Model S on a single charge with range to spare.

During the unveiling of the Supercharger network, Musk said dozens more will be rolled out over the next two years, and in four or five years, the charging stations will cover the entire U.S. (see “unveiling ceremony” for more details).

Tesla’s Supercharger network will also create energy on a net basis. Where possible, the charging stations will be powered by SolarCity, where Musk sits as Chairman. The fact that Supercharger stations are powered by the sun should assuage skeptics who claim electric vehicles just shift their emissions upstream.

Video: How the Tesla Model S is Made

The video says it all. What an incredible factory.

After watching this, the recent lofty stock price seems a little more reasonable, with the street pricing in future potential.

If Tesla can continue to crank up production, watch out.

This could be every bit as big as Elon Musk’s dreams.

True Cost of Electric Vehicle Driving with Fisker Karma Review

It’s common knowledge that the cost of driving electric vehicles (EV) is cheaper than driving a traditional combustion car. However, few of us could say by how much. Estimating the cost to travel any distance in a combustion vehicle is pretty straightforward.

As long as you know the price of gas and the distance traveled, you’ll soon arrive at an answer. When it comes to electric vehicles, things quickly become murky. What is a kilowatt-hour? How much is it worth? More importantly, how does it compare to a gallon of gas? Luckily, the Department of Energy’s eGallon calculator will answer these questions.

In essence, it tells you the electricity bill for traveling the distance afforded by one of gallon of gas in any given state. If you’re curious, the national average for a gallon of gas is $3.49, while traveling the same distance in an EV would cost $1.18.

How to calculate the cost of driving electric vehicles

You can use this formula to estimate the cost of driving electric vehicles:

distance × state-specific electricity price × average EV electricity consumption

The distance value is fixed at 28.2 miles, which is the average combined fuel economy for MY2012 passenger cars. Unfortunately, the calculator is not setup to differentiate between vehicle models, though this would make for an excellent enhancement. However, the eGallon calculator will let you choose your state to account for differences in statewide average electricity prices.

By using the top 5 selling plug-in electric vehicles, you can find the average EV electricity consumption. These include: Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S, Ford Focus EV, BMW Active E. Again, the ability to compare specific models would greatly enhance the calculator’s utility.

eGallon calculator

The eGallon calculator is an essential tool for EV buyers. The MPGe label tells consumers how efficiently a particular vehicle uses electricity. However, it says nothing directly about operating cost. This is where the gas versus electric debate is centered, which is somewhat of a paradox within itself.

The eGallon computer is severely limited by its lack of customization, but is a huge step toward quantifying the benefits of operating electric vehicles in tangible ways.

The 5 Greenest Cars

Looking for a way to save money and help the environment? Car buyers increasingly are considering electric or hybrid cars as attractive options. In addition to saving at the pump (or not even having to go to a pump), you also may qualify for a tax credit of up to $7,500.

Some auto insurance providers will even grant you a discount for having an environmentally friendly car. Going green has never looked so good! Here are five picks for the greenest cars:

Nissan Leaf

The Nissan Leaf defies expectations for electric cars. With more than 50,000 units sold, it has become the fastest growing and best-selling electric vehicle to date. So what makes the Nissan Leaf so green? Look past the name and you’ll see that it boasts the electric equivalent to 129 mpg in the city and 102 on the highway.

However, this car is 100% electric, which means no more gas stations and zero emissions. The Leaf also comes with a powerful rechargeable lithium-ion battery that can go 75 miles on a single charge. Worried you’ll wind up somewhere without a charge? There are more than 11,500 charging stations nationwide; some can charge your battery in less than 30 minutes.

Tesla Model S

Think an electric car has to feel like an electric car? Tesla doesn’t think so. The Tesla Model S is 100% electric with zero emissions. It has the design and performance of a luxury sports car. The Model S is quickly winning over the critics. Automobile Magazine deemed it the 2013 Automobile of the Year.

Motor Trend named it 2013 Car of the Year. On average, it gets the electric equivalent of 89 mpg. It’s the highest price point of top five, but once you see the sleek design, you’ll be drooling.

Ford Focus Electric

The Ford Focus Electric is another all-electric, zero-emissions vehicle. It gets the electric equivalent to 110 mpg in the city and 99 on the highway.  This car comes standard with a sleek, eco-conscious interior. The seat fabric is made with 100% recycled materials. Another win? Ford advertises that the Focus Electric charges in half the time of the Nissan Leaf.

Chevrolet Volt

The Chevrolet Volt is a plug-in hybrid. It operates two ways – in electric vehicle mode (powered by a battery) and extended-range mode (powered by gasoline).  When you drive in EV mode, it’s totally gas-free with zero emissions. This car is a great option for those who aren’t ready to go full-on electric. With the extended-range mode, you can drive a total range of 380 miles. Another cool green factor is that 85% of the vehicle is recyclable.

Toyota Prius Plug-In

The Toyota Prius Plug-In is another plug-in hybrid. It can run on both electric charge and gasoline. When you run out of electric charge the vehicle will switch into hybrid mode. Depending on the length of trips you take, you might never go into hybrid mode or use a drop of gas. The Prius is a green pioneer, so it’s only fitting for the plug-in to make our list.

As electric cars grow in popularity, manufacturers will expand the offerings. But for now, these are the top five choices for drivers who want to go green.

Top Eco-Friendly Cars on the Market

There’s never been a better time to consider an “eco-friendly” car. Not only is there a huge choice – from pure electric versions to hybrids that are virtually indistinguishable from their petrol-guzzling counterparts – but with numerous second-hand vehicles on the market there’s something to suit just about every budget.

Top Environmental Marques

“Eco-friendly” motoring no longer means making sacrifices. If you’ve got a healthy budget you can pick and choose not just the marque but the style too: hatchbacks, saloons, estates, convertibles… whatever kind of vehicle you like. At the top end, cars like the sleek and sporting Fisker Karma, Tesla Roadster and Detroit Electric SP:01 may be beyond the means of most of us, but they point to a very exciting future for green performance cars.

If you’re in the market for an executive saloon, the Volvo V60 is certainly worth a closer look. Any car bearing that name is going to be well-built, spacious, comfortable and packed with safety features for a start. This particular Volvo is the world’s first diesel plug-in hybrid, meaning you can charge the battery from an ordinary household socket. Doing so takes about four and a half hours and gives you a claimed electric-only range of 31 miles.

That’s not really the purpose of hybrids though, particularly with a big car like this. The main benefit – apart from reduced emissions – is fuel economy. Although manufacturers figures of 155.8mpg tend not to reflect real-world use, it should still deliver around 80mpg – and that from a car that can exceed the speed limit on the electric motor alone.

Eco and Family-Friendly?

At around £50,000 the Volvo is still pretty expensive motoring. On a more modest budget, the all-electric Nissan Leaf is now in its second generation and can be bought outright for around £20,000. Or, you can lease the battery and save £5,000 on your up-front cost.

This small family car now has an effective range of around 120 miles between charges, making it a truly practical alternative for some people. It’s actually fun to drive too! If you need greater range, the highly regarded Honda Jazz is available in hybrid version that is a second quicker to 60mph than the petrol variant, yet sips fuel at over 80mpg.

In the same class – and delivering similar figures – is the excellent VW Polo Bluemotion. Practically every manufacturer offers at least one hybrid. New car buyers have more choices than ever.

Green Motoring On A Budget

So far we haven’t mentioned arguably the first – and probably best known of the every-day environmentally conscious cars – the Toyota Prius. It has now been around for over 15 years, which means there are some excellent used examples available.

It’s a Toyota, so it has a superb reputation for reliability. It was always a high-quality vehicle, so even older ones are still looking good and should drive well. When you consider it’s possible to find one of these – or an early version of the excellent Honda Civic I-VTEC hybrid – for well under £3,000, there’s really no reason for you not to be driving a top eco-friendly car of your own!

Mary Hendrie enjoys keeping up with the latest advancements in ecological cars. She enjoys sharing her insights and research online. Visit The Car People supermarket site for more ideas.

New Fast-Charge Battery Could Jumpstart the Electric Vehicle Market

The Nissan Leaf proudly advertises that it can go 100 miles on a single charge. Chevrolet, Toyota, and other car companies have promoted their plug-in gas-electric hybrids as the more rational alternative, since you can switch to the gasoline option when you need extra range. But what if charging your electric car were as easy as filling your gas tank?

For electric vehicles to become the dominant mode of personal transportation, the charging process will have to evolve: it will need to be either much faster, or far less frequent.

In a recent article in Nature Nanotechnology, scientist Paul Braun and his research team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign describe their blueprint for a new battery with a greatly reduced charging time. Their most successful lithium-ion prototype reaches a 90 percent charge in just two minutes.

Batteries for electric vehicles

All batteries have the same basic structure. If the battery is connected to a computer, cell phone, or other “load,” chemical reactions produce electrons that flow from the negative end of the battery through a wire, discharging their energy into the load and then returning to the positive terminal to form a complete loop.

The process is triggered by two metal electrodes (the anode and cathode) connected by an electrically conductive “electrolyte,” usually a liquid. The electrons flow from the anode through the wire to the load and back into the cathode; meanwhile, positive ions flow from the cathode through the electrolyte to the anode to compensate for the movement of electrons. Recharging a battery requires forcing this circuit to run in reverse.

Recharging a battery for electric vehicles

In addition to energy, it takes a significant amount of time to recharge a battery. In many cases, cell phones and cameras still must be recharged overnight to reach full capacity. And Nissan estimates the charging time for the Leaf at seven hours on a 220/240 volt charging station (most standard U.S. outlets are 120 volts). This is clearly an area ripe for improvement, and many researchers have attempted to tackle the problem.

Charging batteries faster for EV

Options for speeding the charging process include increasing how quickly the ions migrate, and decreasing the distance that the ions and electrons need to travel. The latter is more effective, as the charging time is proportional to the square of the average distance traveled.

Decreasing the average distance that ions have to travel by thinning the battery structure, however, limits the overall volume of the electrodes and therefore limits the scale of the charge. Braun’s team has proposed a solution to this problem, a new architecture for the cathode that creates large areas of contact between the cathode and the electrolyte (enabling ions anywhere in the cathode to reach the electrolyte quickly) while not losing much cathode volume compared to existing batteries.

They started by self-assembling spheres of polystyrene, a ubiquitous and inexpensive plastic, into a tight lattice structure with small but entirely connected spaces.

They then filled these spaces with nickel through a process known as electrodeposition, putting a negative charge on the polystyrene and submerging it in a nickel-based salt solution. When the positively charged ions from the salt come into contact with the polystyrene, they receive electrons and are reduced to nickel.

Electropolishing

The material is then melted to remove the polystyrene, leaving only the nickel surrounding spherical voids. Very small passages between the voids remain at the points where the polystyrene spheres once touched. The cathode (a metal compound that varies by battery type) is then plated onto the nickel, thickening the metal structure but still leaving smaller voids to allow for a continuous ion pathway through the electrolyte that will eventually flood the structure.

Without this pathway, the battery’s overall charge will be reduced and the charging time increased, since the electrolyte will not be able to permeate the entire structure. To avoid plugging the gaps, Braun’s team used a process known as electropolishing to remove the top layer of nickel and widen the gaps so the cathode can be deposited.

The chemistry of the cathode depends on the type of battery. Braun’s team created prototypes for both nickel metal hydride (NiMH) and lithium-ion batteries, using cathodes of nickel oxyhydroxide (NiOOH) and lithiated manganese dioxide (MnO2), respectively. An electrolyte then fills the remaining holes. This design provides large areas of contact between the nickel, cathode, and electrode without sacrificing much cathode volume.

What does it bring to the table?

Potentially changing the way we think about batteries.

Braun says that these batteries can charge 10 to 100 times faster than today’s commercial batteries. At such rates, small electronic devices could potentially charge in seconds, and larger devices, even cars, in minutes. An improvement of this nature would fundamentally alter the way we interact with electronics.

Laptops and tablets would become almost endlessly portable, and the maximum range of an electric vehicle would become no more important than the size of another car’s gas tank. Braun is now looking to see if a similar strategy can be used to improve the anode. If so, charging rates could climb further still.

The blueprint that Braun has created is also flexible enough to work with many different battery chemistries. The short diffusion lengths, Braun hypothesizes, may even allow for reconsideration of anode and cathode materials that are currently impractical due to their poor conductivity.

How close is it to commercialization?

Not as far as you might think.

In talking to The Economist, Braun estimates that the increase in production cost above current batteries, once the process reaches commercial scale, would be 20–30 percent. This technology may already be sought after for certain applications at such a premium, and if costs fall any farther, other applications may also become viable.

For electric cars, the benefit of reduced charging time is especially valuable, but costs are already high compared to other vehicles. The use of this kind of battery might make electric vehicles even more of a luxury product, at least for a time.

How scalable is it?

Endlessly. If these batteries take off, they could eventually find their way into everything from cell phones to public buses, and become as large a part of our daily lives as other batteries are currently.

What is the biggest obstacle to success?

Increased amperage. Aside from the cost premium, the major obstacle to uptake of these batteries is the larger current necessary to charge the batteries so quickly. Electric vehicles, in particular, would need to be adapted to properly handle the swift movement of so many electrons.

The final word(s):

A potential game-changer. Widespread uptake of electric vehicles, if paired with low-carbon electricity production, would go a long way toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions to the point necessary to avert the worst effects of climate change. A rapid-charge battery of this sort certainly isn’t sufficient for achieving such a goal, but it is absolutely necessary.

Fisker Karma Review and Test Drive

The Fisker Karma is unlike any other car on the road. Known as an EVer—Electric Vehicle extended range—Fisker correctly claims the Karma to be “the world’s first high performance electric luxury vehicle with the freedom to plug in or fill up.”

This four-door sedan is well-built, practical, and beautifully designed inside and out—all by a California company that was founded less than five years ago. But, in the midst of questions regarding its fuel efficiency, and the ongoing political controversy surrounding a $529 million U.S. government loan guarantee, some people think Fisker is destined to go the way of Solyndra.

The Fisker is a car for the one percent, but it still offers a compelling business case. Even at its price of around $100,000, there are simply no other cars on the market like it.

For the same money you’d pay for its closest competitor, the Porsche Panamera S Hybrid, you could be driving something much more interesting and exclusive. It might even sway some buyers looking at full- and mid-size German luxury sedans. But, if anything is certain, it’s that the Karma is becoming a big hit in Hollywood.

Karma’s appearance

The first thing I noticed after arriving at Fisker of Northern Virginia was how striking the car is in person. Besides the elegant contours of the bodywork, the standard 22-inch wheels were magnificent. They were wrapped in high profile tires to preserve ride quality. The extremely long wheelbase (124-inches) also caught my eye.

Compared to a Mercedes S-class, the Karma’s wheelbase is 11-inches longer, even though their overall lengths are within 2-inches. At 52-inches tall, the Karma sits just half an inch higher than a Jaguar XK coupe sports car, but still provides enough headroom for tall adults. The standard, 120-volt solar panel roof had a cool design, too.

Karma’s interior

The interior of the Karma is also one of a kind. The car I drove had the optional Eco Chic package, which covers nearly everything in Alcantra, woven fabric, and other non-animal or repurposed materials. Though well-designed, the cabin is also very small.

It was nice sinking into the front seats, but they were so low to the floor that rear passengers were robbed of under-seat toe room. Another good chunk of interior space is taken up by the Karma’s 180kW lithium-ion battery pack, which is housed in the center console stretching the length of the cabin.

Karma’s EPA ratings

For all its expensive technological innovations, the EPA ratings for the Karma aren’t that good. In pure electric mode, it is rated as getting the equivalent of 52 miles per gallon (MPG) combined. EPA rates the Karma’s electric range as being 32 miles, far less than the 50 mile range touted by Fisker.

Once the engine fires up (that is, the 2-liter, direct-injection, turbocharged engine from GM) fuel economy drops to an average of 20 MPG. However, the biggest factor affecting fuel economy will be how far it’s driven between charges. When charging the Karma, the salesman told me that Fisker recommends waiting a few minutes before the electronics in the car completely shut off.

Another important note is that the Karma’s gasoline engine is not connected to the wheels, but instead acts as a charging unit for the batteries.

Karma’s capabilities

Despite driving in moderate traffic, I began to explore some of the Karma’s capabilities. On a full charge, the Karma’s two electric motors produce 403 horsepower and a whopping 959 lb-ft of torque. When I started the car, it showed a total range of 200 miles (50 miles in electric mode, 150 miles extended range).

By pulling the left-hand paddle on the steering wheel, the Karma switches from Stealth mode (electric only) to Sport. In Sport mode, the Karma’s noisy, 4-cylinder engine kicks in to keep the batteries topped off for maximum power. When floored, it responds with a surge of torque that will propel it to 60 MPH in 6 seconds flat, and a top speed of 125 MPH.

By pulling the right-hand paddle, the driver can enter Hill mode, which controls the car’s coasting and regenerative braking behavior.

Karma’s handling

For a 5,400lb car, the Karma’s handling was fairly impressive. Steering was nicely weighted, and the car responded more sharply to inputs than I had imagined. The chassis was on the firm side for a luxury sedan, though on par with other sedans with sporting pretensions. The brakes (Brembo 6-piston front, 4-piston rear) also performed very well.

MotorTrend says they can stop the car in an excellent 110 feet. Thanks to a low center of gravity and wide tires (255/35 front, 285/35 rear), they also found that the Karma could generate .92g of lateral acceleration, better than most sports cars.

As an everyday driving experience, I think the Karma would be hard to fault. Yes, the fuel economy could be better. Also, the rear seats could be more spacious. It’s odd that Fisker builds them in Finland rather than the U.S. (despite receiving the U.S. loan guarantee). Those issues aside, it is very appealing as a complete package.

It competes well against its main rival, the Panamera S Hybrid. The car has many strengths—luxury, design, performance, efficiency—which make it attractive to all sorts of (wealthy) buyers for years to come.

Cost of driving electric vehicles

The true cost of driving electric vehicles take many things into consideration. The biggest negative to owning an electric car is the hefty purchase price. However, after that, is is less expensive to operate.

Find Used Hybrids: A Case for Green Savings

The Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is one of several choices currently available new and used.

Find Used Hybrids: A Case for Green Savings
Find Used Hybrids: A Case for Green Savings

Being green doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of green, especially when it comes to your next hybrid. With more than 2 million hybrid cars sold since they first arrived on the U.S. market, according to figures from the Electric Drive Transportation Association, there are plenty of opportunities to find a well-maintained used hybrid in your price range. But is a used hybrid capable of offering the same cost savings and worry-free ownership experience that a brand-new hybrid offers?

Does Buying Used Make Sense?

There are plenty of advantages to buying a brand-new hybrid. You’ll benefit from available factory rebates, original factory warranties and generous financing rates and incentives. However, used hybrids also offer their own set of advantages, starting with a lower asking price.

For example, the Kelley Blue Book fair market range for a 2012 Toyota Prius is around $21,654 to $22,497. Given the 2014 Prius’ $24,200 MSRP, used shoppers can save up to $2,500. As with any other used vehicle, buying a one or two-year-old hybrid lets you dodge the depreciation bullet.

For those who think buying used means dealing with a second-hand experience, many dealerships feature certified pre-owned inventory. These carefully inspected and reconditioned vehicles are not only like-new, but they also feature strong bumper-to-bumper and drive-train warranties.

What to Look Out For

Batteries are a big concern among use hybrid buyers. Fortunately, most automakers make sure their customers can have their batteries replaced under warranty through the use of lengthy warranty periods. The Toyota Prius, Chevy Volt and other hybrids and plug-in vehicles offer eight-year/100,000-mile warranties for their batteries and other hybrid drive-train components.

Even outside of the warranty period, replacement costs for hybrid batteries are declining with each passing year. According to Toyota, the MSRP for a second-generation Prius battery pack is $2,588.

Many buyers are also concerned with the potential maintenance costs of a used hybrid. Outside of battery packs and other hybrid hardware, used hybrids are no different from the average used vehicle when it comes to ordinary upkeep.

Some items, including low rolling resistance tires and other eco-friendly parts, may be a bit more expensive than their ordinary counterparts.

Meanwhile, the big ticket repairs for hybrids aren’t as expensive to fix as you’d think. Overall hybrid repair costs have continue to decline steadily. According to a recent Car MD report, the cost of replacing a hybrid inverter assembly fell from more than $7,300 in 2010 to $3,927 in 2012.

As with any used vehicle, the key is finding one that’s been well cared for and serviced regularly according to manufacturer recommendations.

If you’re wondering about fuel economy, there’s not much to worry about. Consumer Reports tested a 200,000-mile second-generation Prius and found that it was still close to the original estimated mileage, just 2 mpg shy of its then-new 44 mpg fuel economy estimate.

I realize it’s a small, nonrepresentative sample size, but I saw two electric cars on the same day recently. I first wrote about seeing two electric cars in one week a few years back and haven’t seen many since, until the other day.

Granted one was a plug-in hybrid, the Chevy Volt, but the other was a Nissan Leaf with out of state plates, which made me wonder how the owners transported it to Colorado. Was it on a semi/tractor trailer? Did they drive in short increments?

If this “bounty” weren’t enough, the next day I saw another Leaf. This one had a pithy license plate “PLUGZEN.”

Market penetration will be the ultimate sign of success amongst electric cars. Do they remain a fringe element in transportation, or is this really the future? Drop-in biofuels seem to have an easier time competing for future transportation rites given the ability to use the current infrastructure, but I still think the future will see numerous options, much like the diversity in energy sources that will be needed to move us into a secure, clean, “unlimited” future.

Recent news about Toyota’s planned hydrogen fuel cell vehicle demonstrates it’s still the “wild west” in terms of competition for the future of transportation. In a recent piece, Chris suggests that electric vehicles are here to stay.

A bit of context perhaps. In places like the West Coast, a proliferation of electric cars may not mean as much. As I mentioned earlier this year, I saw a half dozen or more parked in the garage at Los Angeles International Airport. This is not the middle of the country, where distances between locations are greater and adoption of this technology is slower for a wealth of reasons.

Although Denver is still not representative per se of middle America, it is geographically and ideologically closer. Giving a potential glance at the future of electrified transportation in this country.

Chevy Volt Loses Its Charge

Despite rising gas prices and a sharp jump in February sales (as compared to January), General Motors has temporarily halted production of the Chevy Volt, its plug-in hybrid.

According to NPR, “General Motors will suspend production of its Chevrolet Volt electric car for five weeks amid disappointing sales.” The shutdown, which has furloughed some 1,300 workers, will occur later this month and extend through April. GM spokesman Chris Lee points to a decision in California that will allow Volt owners to use the carpool lanes as a possible boon for future sales.

Early on, the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic hybrid qualified for similar passes, which enabled drivers of these fuel-efficient cars to drive solo in the high occupancy vehicle lanes.

MSNBC cited another GM spokesperson, Michelle Malcho, as saying that the car maker was planning to keep production in line with sales. “She noted that demand has been recovering in the wake of reports, late last year, that several Volt battery packs had caught fire following federal crash tests.”

The fires were investigated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which found them to be problem free. However, the scare is blamed for weak sales in January.

Both outlets report that GM sold 603 Volts in January and 1,023 in February. MSNBC’s story included that “GM has promised to ramp up production of both the Volt and the similar Opel Ampera this year, with an initial target of 60,000 units – 75 percent of those vehicles intended for the U.S. market.  Spokesperson Malcho declined to say whether the maker now will miss the 2012 target.”

For a little perspective, in a Los Angeles Times article, Aaron Bragman, an analyst with IHS Automotive, noted that the move by GM is not unusual, but the Volt’s high profile can be to blame for the press coverage.

Chevrolet Introduces “Ecologic” Window Stickers

A little over a month ago, Chevrolet announced it would begin displaying window stickers highlighting the environmental features of its vehicles sold in the U.S. “Ecologic is simply a recognition of our systematic attention to environmental responsibility and our commitment to monitoring our progress as we continuously work to reduce our environmental impact.”

These environmental facts, which will be categorized by manufacturing, driving, and recycling, will appear on all Chevrolet vehicles beginning later this month with the model year (MY) 2013 Chevrolet Sonic.

By focusing on manufacturing, Chevrolet says it will look for ways to further reduce, reuse, and recycle the resources used to create a vehicle on the assembly line. As one example, it points to the LEED Gold Certified Lansing Delta Township Assembly Plant, which is expected to save over 40 million gallons of water and 30 million kilowatts of electricity by 2016. Chevrolet also points out that many of its manufacturing plants are landfill free, use landfill gas or solar power for a portion of their energy needs, and that the company plans to reduce its carbon emissions by 8 million metric tons in the next couple of years.

Though reducing the ecological footprint of a product during every stage of its lifetime is vital, it is well-known that vehicles emit the greatest amount of pollution during their use. While the Chevy Volt has had a rough start, more promising vehicles like the Cruz Eco and Sonic deliver excellent fuel economy at an affordable price.

To accomplish this, Chevrolet decided to forgo electrifying the vehicles, and instead focused on using more light-weight components, improving designed aerodynamics, and building a more efficient drivetrain. Chevy will also continue to introduce technologies such as turbo-charging, cylinder deactivation, and direct injection to further reduce fuel consumption. An article by Car and Driver goes into more depth on some of these technologies.

After a Chevrolet has reached the end of its lifespan, the company states that on average nearly 85 percent of the materials in its vehicles can be recycled. This not only conserves resources and reduces waste, but, in a nod to cradle-to-cradle thinking, some of the steel can be repurposed to design new automotive parts.

Vehicle Technologies Budget Centers on Developing Hybrids and EVs

The Vehicle Technologies budget proposal, submitted by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), requests $240 million to support R&D efforts for batteries and electric drive technology. The allotment is a $30 million jump over the amount requested for fiscal year 2013, and hopefully will build on the program’s string of notable technological achievements (described below).

The chief priority of Vehicle Technologies for 2014 is aimed at making domestic plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) as affordable and convenient as traditional internal combustion cars by 2022. This undertaking will be accomplished by reducing the cost of high-energy batteries from $500/kWh in 2012 to $125 by 2022.

In addition to making passenger hybrids and EVs more affordable, hybridization is aimed at heavy-duty, class 8 trucks (essentially semi-trucks above 33,000 lbs). The inclusion of large trucks symbolizes the fact that smaller, yet broad changes like hybridization can a yield larger net benefit to the environment than some of the current, highly advanced, exclusive technologies, like EVs and fuel cell vehicles.

The overall budget request for Vehicle Technologies in 2014 is $575 million, of which roughly $377 million is slated for R&D efforts. The overarching goal of the Vehicle Technologies program is to save 1.8 million barrels per day of highway vehicle petroleum by 2020, and to facilitate auto manufacturers in achieving the 54.5 miles per gallon (MPG) corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard, effective 2025.

In a world of contracting federal dollars, the increased budgetary request for hybrids and electric drive technology might come off to some as a bit of a boondoggle. However, the program has led to several important outcomes: today, most hybrid vehicles use battery technology that was developed with funds from EERE; battery costs were reduced from $1,200/kWh in 2008 to $500 in 2012 thanks in part to EERE funding; and, a decade of sustained Vehicle Technologies support has led to 50 percent more energy storage capacity in certain battery technologies.

These advancements are vital to weaning us off oil and reducing energy costs in the long run. Other components of the R&D section of the budget proposal focus on developing lightweight materials and alternative fuels, and further advancing the internal combustion engine—let’s face it, it’s not going anywhere soon.

It is true that other EERE funds are going towards loftier goals like hydrogen, wind, solar and bioenergy, but I think the hope is that more practical, shorter-term investments will build the road to get there.

Electric Vehicles Solving the Chicken and Egg Conundrum

A major issue with plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) is, where will you plug it in?  With relatively limited range, the EV industry faces a chicken and egg problem.  Mass numbers of people will not buy EVs until they are assured that they can recharge their vehicle just about anywhere, and mass installations of recharging stations will not happen until enough EVs are on the road to justify the investment.

EV and recharging station manufacturers have been developing innovative solutions to this conundrum, including teaming up with municipal parking lots and big box retailers to install recharging stations.  Municipalities get an extra source of revenue, and retailers can run customer loyalty programs such as free recharging for customers who spend a certain amount of time or money inside the store.

Now Nissan has come up with yet another innovative marketing solution for EVs.  Working with builders to pre-wire garages in new homes for recharging stations.

Nissan Americas and City Ventures – California’s leading builder of affordable, eco-friendly homes in urban locations – have announced a cooperative project to pre-wire 190 Southern California townhomes currently under construction for electric vehicle chargers.   The plan is for every home in nearly every new City Ventures development to include pre-wired parking spaces or garages, allowing easy installation of a Level II (240v/40 amp) electric vehicle charging dock, the recommended method to charge the Nissan LEAF at home.

The Nissan LEAF is the first and only 100-percent electric, zero-emission vehicle available to the mass market. Since its launch in December 2010, Nissan has delivered more than 4,000 Nissan LEAF electric vehicles in the United States. The Nissan LEAF currently is available in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Tennessee, Texas, Oregon and Washington, with additional markets launching later this year.

To date, more than 350,000 people have expressed interest in the Nissan LEAF by signing up for updates, including information on how to purchase and reserve a vehicle.

Because target customers for the Nissan LEAF and City Ventures’ residences share similar sensitivities and interests in environment issues, the project offers other benefits.  For example, Nissan LEAF owners who buy a City Ventures’ residence can use their home’s solar panels to power their car.

Of course, the existence of recharging station wiring in City Ventures’ residences might also cause homeowners of the homes to consider purchasing a Nissan Leaf as their next car.

One small step in many respects.  But once the EV and recharging station manufacturers put a few of these steps together, we could reach a tipping point for EVs.

Solar Reflective Car Shells: Simple as Black and White?

You’ve heard the sad tales about dogs (and yes, even children) trapped in hot cars as there owners go to do some shopping. Anyone who’s opened up a car door after it’s been sitting in the summer sun for even a few minutes knows how hot they can get. Cars painted black are the worst. So what if you had a lighter colored car?

Would such a simple change have an effect on the heat that builds up inside on a sunny day? Would there be some kind of positive impact on your budget or even on the environment? Scientists at Lawrence Berkley National Lab recently released a study they conducted on the efficacy of solar reflective paints on cars; basically, lighter colored cars. They found that up to 60% of the total sunlight can be reflected by having the right color paint.  From their website:

A light-colored or cool-colored car shell reflects more sunlight than a traditional dark car shell. This cools the cabin air and reduces the need for air conditioning. A recent study found that after parking in the sun for an hour, a silver Honda Civic (shell SR 0.57) had a cabin air temperature about 5-6°C (9-11°F) lower than an otherwise identical black car (shell SR 0.05). Modeling indicates that substituting a silver (or white) shell for a black shell would allow the specification of a 13% smaller (lower capacity) air conditioner, improving fuel economy.
Cool cars can benefit drivers, cities, and the planet.

  • Fuel savings. Substituting a cool shell for a conventional black shell permits the use of a smaller air conditioner, improving fuel economy by 1% (for a cool colored shell with 35% solar reflectance) to 2% (for a white or silver shell with 60% solar reflectance).
  • Better air quality. Specifying a smaller air conditioner reduces tailpipe emissions of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons.
  • Slowed climate change. Specifying a smaller air conditioner reduces tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide. Cool car shells also reduce the flow of heat from vehicle to atmosphere.

Take a look at the image in this post to see how high in the triple digits the outside temperature around Eric’s black Toyota parked on a black parking lot got last summer.* Imagine what the inside of the car must have felt like. Reflective or white paint could have a major impact.

Benefits of Driving a Hybrid Vehicle

Considering investing in a hybrid vehicle? Now is a great time to learn about this exciting technology and how the benefits of driving a hybrid vehicle can benefit you, your bank account and the environment.

You’re already taking the right first step by doing your research, so read on to see how the facts about hybrid vehicles indicate that they’re an increasingly smart choice with each passing year. From fuel economy and emissions, to safety and resale value, hybrids are the most exciting vehicles on the market today.

Benefits of Driving a Hybrid Vehicle

5 Benefits of Driving a Hybrid Vehicle

Low Emissions

There’s no denying the green tech appeal of hybrid cars. They’re some of the cleanest powered vehicles in the world, reducing carbon emissions compared to gas-only cars by significant measures. This means that the more hybrids replace traditional vehicles on the road, the cleaner the air you breathe will be. Naturally, the more comfortable drivers become with hybrids, the more it will encourage car manufacturers to make them cheaper and in greater varieties.

Value Retention

In all the talk of a car as an investment rather than just an outright purchase, one of the most important factors is resale value. Because they’re durable, low-maintenance and good at retaining their factory floor levels of fuel efficiency, hybrid cars have above-average resale prospects.

Within three years of purchase, some in-demand used hybrids have been known to keep as much as 87 percent of their retail value. When simply driving any car off the lot can drop the resale by 15 to 20 percent, that’s darn impressive. Combined with other forms of savings associated with hybrids, a smart purchase can end up saving you thousands compared to sticking with gas-only vehicles.

Fuel Efficiency

It seems like low gas prices are a relic of an older time. With fuel costs staying high and often rising, a car’s miles per gallon (mpg) rating has become one of the most important specs on its sheet. While gas-only vehicles certainly compete with one another in mpg, none even come close to matching the average hybrid. With the most common hybrid cars getting 200 mpg or more thanks to a lower reliance on gas for power, the fuel savings add up to thousands of dollars per year.

This is especially true in classes of car that tend to demand more fuel overall (especially luxurious ones). Companies like Mercedes, for example, offer an M-Class 450 hybrid SUV that gets double the miles per gallon than its prior gas-guzzling model, the ML500. With most automobile manufacturers taking the environment into consideration while adopting fuel efficient technologies – even the high-class ones – people should expect to drive in their favorite car without sacrificing fuel economy to do it.

Tax Incentives

If the resale and fuel efficiency factors weren’t enough to recommend hybrids as good investments, there are also some tax credits available in many states for hybrid purchases. While the federal government doesn’t currently have any hybrid tax credits in effect, there have been several over the past decade and the potential for more down the line. Many states still have their own hybrid credits, so do some research into your own state to see how much opting for a hybrid could save you come April.

Improved Safety

Hybrid vehicles have always been on par with their gas-only counterparts in terms of safety, but over the past few years, they’ve started to achieve above-average marks in crash and stability ratings. Because hybrids already have fairly advanced electrical systems and monitoring instruments on board, they’re more likely to have smart safety-related features like multi-stage airbag deployment.

Hybrids also have a lower center of gravity thanks to the extra central weight of the electrical distribution systems in their drive trains. This makes hybrids more stable overall and allows them to perform better in roll tests. That’s why the most popular hybrid models in the past two years average between four and five stars in all safety categories.

There’s a lot to love about the current generation of hybrid vehicles. They have all the fuel efficiency and emission control that made hybrids attractive when they first hit the market, plus a lot of financial and safety factors that have become more valuable in recent years. Give hybrids a shot and you may never go back to gas-only vehicles.

2 thoughts on “Pros and Cons of Owning an Electric Car”

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