The fuel-efficient auto industry is no longer running on fumes

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The fuel-efficient auto industry is no longer running on fumes

The landscape of environmentally friendly vehicles has never been brighter. Widespread adoption, vehicle support within cities and the development of bigger, faster and more fuel-efficient models from every corner of the automobile universe has moved the industry past its tipping point. But is the current growth and adoption going to stick?

Most signs point to yes.

For the past few decades, dreamers have often wondered why there aren’t electric vehicles readily available on the market. As quickly as technology advances in every other aspect of our lives, it’s confusing to see little movement in the automobile market.

Now, you can blame our dependence on fossil fuels, and the efforts of the oil lobby for putting the brakes on any vehicle that might cut into their profits. Putting vast amounts of money toward EV R&D simply didn’t make much sense to many car manufacturers.

On one hand, the market for electric and hybrid vehicles wasn’t large enough to justify the spending. On the other hand, U.S. gasoline prices (until recently) were not high enough to cause an overwhelming interest in more fuel-efficient vehicles. Finally, there simply weren’t sexy fuel-efficient vehicle options.

Obviously, the economy has changed the way a lot of people view their family’s fuel consumption, as have higher gas prices. Once viewed as a fringe option, fuel-efficient (and electric) vehicles are now desired by a large percentage of the population.

Over the past couple of years, sales of electric and hybrid vehicles have skyrocketed.

In June of this year alone, the number of all hybrid and electric vehicles sold was around 56,500 – the highest monthly total in history.

New vehicles

While lower prices on current models have helped increase the number of purchases of hybrid and electric vehicles, the introduction of new vehicles has had a profound effect on sales numbers.

According to Hybridcars.com, there are now 52 different options for consumers to choose from – double the number available just two years ago. Toyota’s Prius continues to be the top-selling hybrid vehicle, with 31 percent of the U.S. market share, while the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf share the top spot for plug-in electric vehicles, making up 50 percent of the market share.

Aside from the big auto manufacturer hybrid and EV options, there have also been new players entering the fray.

Much has been made of Tesla’s emergence in the industry, as their plug-in electric Model S has gained a lot of traction with consumers. What sets Tesla apart from other manufacturers is their vehicles’ performance. More than just a plug-in vehicle with zero emissions, the Model S provides drivers with an un-paralleled EV driving experience. It goes from zero to 60 in 4.2 seconds, which leaves the Prius in its dust (the Prius reaches 60 mph in around 10 seconds).

Furthermore, the Model S has curb appeal as an advantage. Parked in a lot with other sports cars, the Model S holds its own, and doesn’t convey a message of fuel-efficiency – an issue many consumers have with the standard hybrid and plug-in electric vehicle designs.

With the success of Tesla’s industry-shifting designs, some unexpected automakers have joined the conversation. Porsche, BMW, Mercedes and Lexus all offer hybrid vehicles within their lineups, as do Cadillac, Acura and Infiniti. Automakers now see hybrids as a viable option, and consumers are snapping them up.

But some makers have decided to push the envelope even further.

Fuel efficiency gets sexy

Enter the Jaguar C-X75 hybrid supercar. Complete with the sleek lines and head-turning looks that have long been a hallmark for Jaguar, the C-X75 is a 200mph supercar with the heart of an environmentalist. It boasts 850 brake horsepower (bhp) churning from a combination of a 1.5 liter turbo and supercharged combustion engine and 2 axle-mounted electric motors. Though it can reach 100 mph in around 6 seconds, the C-X75 can also travel upwards of 30 miles under electric power only.

The C-X75 represents an exciting sea change within the auto industry; however, drivers shouldn’t expect to see it on roads anytime soon. It’s strictly a prototype. That said, the conversation has shifted, and the possibilities are expanding.

Acura has recently been teasing consumers with its NSX hybrid supercar concept. Porsche has also been getting attention with their 918 hybrid. These vehicles represent what the future of supercars may hold. But, they are also way out of reach for a vast majority of consumers, as their price tags and limited availability will only entice a select few.

The everyday driver

The reality for hybrids and plug-in electric vehicles is that most drivers want to lessen their dependence on oil. Luckily for those who have already made the switch to a fuel-efficient or electric vehicle, or for those who are strongly considering purchasing a fuel-efficient vehicle, many cities across the country are adapting to the shift.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are currently 6,268 charging stations located around the United States, with many more in the works. Charging stations are popping up outside of shopping centers and are sprinkled throughout metropolitan areas. Furthermore, there are resources available to help EV drivers plan a trip and share a charging location.

What’s next?

But what if a hybrid or plug-in vehicle isn’t exactly what consumers are looking for? There are other options available that are quietly gaining steam. Compressed natural gas (CNG) is a fuel that has long been used for public transit and delivery fleet vehicles, and is now being offered to consumers – though on a limited basis.

While natural gas is still a fossil fuel, it burns much cleaner than gasoline and oil, it is extremely prevalent and is much cheaper for consumers to purchase. Currently, Honda is the only manufacturer producing a CNG vehicle, but many more are expected to enter the market in the coming years.

Another option that has the attention of motorists is hydrogen fuel cell technology. By using the most abundant element in the universe, these fuel cells power their vehicles with the only emission being water. Though critics claim that the high cost of converting infrastructure to support hydrogen delivery outweighs the benefits, many automobile manufacturers plan on releasing new vehicles in the coming years.

It’s very exciting to see the adoption and growth of fuel-efficient, hybrid and electric vehicles throughout the U.S. and the world. Though the critics may have a strong case against adopting new forms of fuel, the truth of the matter is that soon we will run out of fossil fuels. When that happens, and it may happen in our lifetime, we won’t have a choice but to make a change for the better.

Skills

Posted on

August 1, 2013

About the Author

Pat Lorentz

Pat is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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