While Toyota currently dominates the hybrid automobile market, having manufactured 82 percent of the hybrids sold in April, at least three major automakers are entering the competition in a big way. Toyota's Prius now accounts for more than 54 percent of all the hybrids sold, but Chevrolet, BMW and Honda are leading the way toward the next generation of 'green' cars, which go beyond hybrids.
Although Toyota clearly has the early lead, which auto maker will ultimately emerge as the market leader is anyone's guess. Much like the computer industry in the early 1980s, the green car revolution is barely out of the starting gate and the competition is likely to become fierce as higher gasoline prices drive consumers increasingly toward fuel-efficient transportation.
Here is a review of the latest and most advanced of the gasoline-less designs from Chevrolet, BMW and Honda which are now available on a limited basis, or soon will be.
Chevy's Volt Zaps Gas Guzzlers
The Volt, powered by an E-Flex Propulsion System, is different from any other electric-powered vehicle, using a lithium-ion battery in combination with gasoline. Scheduled to be on the market in about 24 months, Chevy promises it will have acceleration powers beyond that of most other electric cars.
For those who drive less then 40 miles on a daily basis, the Volt will use no gasoline and will not release harmful emissions into the atmosphere. The Volt plugs in to a standard 110-volt household power outlet.
According to Jill Banaszynski, manager of the Electric Vehicle Programs for the General Motors Corp., "We have devoted significant resources to this project. Over 200 engineers and 50 designers are working on the Volt alone, and another 400 are working on related subsystems and electric components. That's how important we think this is, and that's how much stock we place in the future of extended-range electric vehicles."
BMW's Hydrogen-Powered Luxury Sedan
Is it possible to get luxury performance from a sedan that runs on hydrogen? BMW believes it is. Powered by a 12-cylinder, 260 horsepower internal combustion engine capable of running on liquid hydrogen, and utilizing a backup gasoline component, the new Hydrogen 7 sedan is already available in the U.S. on a limited basis.
BMW has been testing the car in the U.S. since November 2006, with a public relations effort that includes allowing celebrities such as Tonight Show host Jay Leno and actor Brad Pitt to test-drive the car.
While there is little question about the ability of the engines to run efficiently on hydrogen while emitting little pollution, the real question is one of supply. Currently there are hydrogen stations located in Washington, D.C. and throughout Southern California, and there are efforts to greatly increase their number. BMW has partnered up with The Linde Group, the world's leading gases and engineering company, to help create more refueling stations.
BMW plans to make limited lease programs available in the U.S. this year, with an increasing number next year. The company is also conducting a joint project with NASA this year to test additional forms of liquid hydrogen.
Honda's 68 MPG Offering
Honda, a leader in fuel cell design, has just released a revolutionary new car called the FCX Clarity. It not only boasts an estimated 68 mpg, but also emits extremely low levels of pollution.
The novel design allows the vehicle's high-output, compact electric motor to be powered by hydrogen and a lithium-ion battery, as opposed to gasoline. The V-flow cell combines hydrogen stored in a fuel tank with oxygen to create electricity to propel the vehicle. As a consequence, the FCX Clarity emits water vapor into the atmosphere rather than carbon monoxide.
Again, the drawback is in the limited number of hydrogen supply stations, but like BMW, Honda is betting that if they build hydrogen cars, the stations will come. A limited number of the FCX Clarity models will be available in Southern California this year. Power Honda in Costa Mesa, Santa Monica Honda in Santa Monica and Scott Robinson Honda in Torrance are the first dealerships to be leasing these cars. They will be available on a three-year $600/month lease basis.
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