Visitors to the Orange County, California, auto show last month could do more than imagine the future: they could sign up to drive it.
Honda offered $500-a-month leases to put its hydrogen-powered FCX sedan on the road. The car was unveiled at the October 2005 Tokyo Motor Show after spending more than two decades in research and development. It will be available for purchase in 2008, a year earlier than anticipated.
Meanwhile, Chevrolet took applications from ordinary drivers in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Southern California to test its fuel-cell-powered Equinox midsize SUV. Chevy planned to build more than 100 units for the test, dubbed Project Driveway, each featuring aluminum doors and carbon-fiber hoods to offset the heavy weight of the cells.
Both vehicles represent a worldwide race to offer consumers alternatives to petroleum fuel – or, at least, an opportunity to cut back. Three driving forces power the change: for buyers, environmentalism and an escape from climbing gasoline prices, and for manufacturers, a fresh economic well to tap.
What does the future hold? Here's a peek at the engines that U.S. and foreign automakers will bring us within 10 years, with a few already parked in the driveway.
Most hybrids contain a gasoline engine and an electric motor that kicks in at low speeds or when the car stops. The two engines add to the initial cost, typically as much as $6,000 more than conventional models. But hybrids improve fuel economy by about 30 percent.
The payback can take awhile, but, in the meantime, several states and the federal government offer tax credits to hybrid buyers. In 2006, those buyers accounted for 12.2 percent of new auto registrations in Los Angeles, 8.1 percent in San Francisco, and 5.6 percent in New York, with Washington, D.C., and Boston following at 4.5 percent and 3.1 percent, respectively. Some engineers have predicted that hybrids may account for 10 percent of U.S. vehicle sales by 2015.
Chrysler offers improved fuel savings with a two-mode hybrid system in its Chrysler Aspen and Dodge Durango SUVs for 2008. The system's computer lets the car run on one or two electric motors or an electric motor-gas engine combination, or can shut down some of the gas cylinders, for 25 percent better fuel efficiency overall, or 40 percent better in city driving.
The Ford Escape Hybrid has been redesigned for 2008. Along with a facelift, the latest generation Escape Hybrid also has improved fuel efficiency. The 2008 model is rated at 34 city and 31 highway mpg compared to 31 city and 29 mpg highway for the old model. The Escape Hybrid SUV's electric motor can operate up to 25 mph without starting the gas engine and its regenerative brakes recharge the battery with every stop.
Toyota leads the race in hybrid sales, far outselling other hybrid makers. Of all 252,327 hybrid passenger vehicles sold in 2007 through September, Toyota's Prius totaled 137,114, according to figures compiled by the Electric Drive Transportation Association, an industry organization based in Washington. The rest of the top six were: Toyota Camry, 40,879; Honda Civic, 23,828; Toyota Highlander, 13,707 (through July); Lexus RX400h, 12,193; Ford Escape, 11,444 (through June), according to R.L. Polk & Co., a provider of automotive market information.
Advanced gasoline engines
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