DOES IT COME IN GREEN?
Hybrids offer an answer to environmental concerns
By Amy Winter
Copley News Service
Auto companies are starting to develop more green options, but most haven't made it past the concept stage. Currently, Toyota leads the hybrid pack with its Prius. Honda is on board with its sporty Civic Hybrid. Companies such as Ford and Chevy have introduced hybrid sport utility vehicles, and Lexus offers more of an upscale hybrid option. From 2009 and on, automakers anticipate having more ecofriendly selections.
Downsizing and switching to hybrid options will not only save money for consumers but also will reduce emissions and benefit the environment. Bradley Berman, the editor of www.hybridcars.com, says hybrids are the first substance of change.
"Hybrids will be more popular and more ranges will come," says Berman. Since many Americans feel the need to purchase a SUV, the hybrid option is a step in the right direction. Some of General Motors' 2008 hybrids include Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade. Chrysler will be releasing the Dodge Durango and the Aspen hybrids.
"If SUVs are a must, then hybrid SUVs make sense since they save fuel," says Berman, although downsizing might be a better option.
Saturn's 2009 Vue Green Line 2 Mode features a full-hybrid version that receives approximately 50 percent better fuel economy compared to the non-hybrid Vue. Mike Morrissey of Saturn communications says production starts at the end of 2008 for the third Saturn hybrid, joining the Vue Green Line and Aura Green Line sedan.
Plug-in hybrids are a goal of several automakers. There are no models currently available to consumers, but some concepts are on the horizon. Saturn is the leader for producing the first plug-in, according to www.hybridcars.com.
With the two-mode hybrid, an additional lithium battery pack allows a limited range of driving on pure electricity. To recharge, plug into household outlet. Morrissey says production is planned for 2010.
Chevy has announced plans to begin production of the Volt, an electrical plug-in car that utilizes a gasoline engine to extend its driving range. Chevy says the Volt can drive in all-electrical mode for 40-mile stretches, according to www.hybridcars.com.
"Plug-in hybrids will have gasoline on board but will use more electricity," says Berman. "Hybrids now use mostly gasoline and some electricity."
Toyota revealed the concept of a hybrid truck called the A-BAT. Denise Morrissey, the Toyota division communications administrator, says this is one of several ideas in the sustainable mobility program; Toyota's attempt to reduce emissions and oil consumption.
Few electrical vehicles are in production, but not by any of the major auto companies. Matt Petersen, president of Global Green, says Tesla revealed its 2009 roadster; this sports car comes in at just under $100,000. The Tesla roadster hopes to pave the way for a following less expensive mass-produced electrical car, according to www.hybridcars.com. Saturn's concept Flextreme will feature E-flex technology - drive for the first 34 miles on electricity stored within a lithium battery, according to Morrissey of Saturn. Plug in to recharge batteries. A small diesel engine would be available to produce extra electricity when on the road. No production date is planned.
Consumers are looking at other types of fuels to provide an alternative to fossil fuels or ethanol, according to Larry West, an environmental columnist for www.about.com.
Hydrogen is becoming a future fuel option. Honda started leasing its car, the FCX Clarity, to 100 Southern California customers for assessment. A stack of hydrogen fuel cells creates electricity without producing tailpipe emissions, according to www.hybridcars.com. The lack of hydrogen refill stations may pose a problem until this fuel source becomes more widely accepted.
Fuel efficient but still producing emissions, diesel is still not a commonly used fuel in the United States. Automakers like Saturn want to use diesel engines, but first need to tackle the emissions issue, according to Morrissey of Saturn. Advancements in diesel technology have led to clean diesel engines producing fewer particulate emissions. Volkswagen is releasing the 2009 Clean Diesel Jetta and SportWagen, which will be licensed for all states' emission standards. Toyota plans to put clean diesel engines in the Tundra truck and Sequoia SUV in the upcoming years. And BMW will be releasing two diesel cars in the fall of 2008.
Choosing a smaller car will also save you money at the pump. The Ford Focus, Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit are examples of fuel-efficient compact vehicles.
"There are options out there," says Petersen. "You don't have to buy a hybrid."
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