Auto Manifesto

January 4, 2008

The Future Is Electric

Tomorrow’s cars and trucks will be powered by electricity. Why electricity? Because electricity is a common denominator, a form of energy that all others can be converted to and stored in a battery, whether it’s petroleum, coal, natural gas, hydroelectric, solar, wind, or nuclear. That standardizes the infrastructure and puts all sources on even footing, allowing them to be compared to one another on the same basis in terms of cost, emissions, and efficiency. Plus electric vehicles are quiet, don’t idle, and can easily capture otherwise wasted energy with regenerative braking.

There will be many interim solutions between now and then. Parallel hybrids were the first step. These were cars like the Toyota Prius which used a convention internal combustion engine (ICE) augmented by battery electric power. Next we have the PHEV (Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle) which lets owners plug into an electrical outlet charge the batteries, as well as drive them in pure electric mode for short trips.

Next we’ll see series hybrids such as the forthcoming Chevrolet Volt. Not only is it a PHEV but it’s also a series hybrid in the sense that that ICE is only used as a generator to charge the batteries.

Electric isn’t the only means of energy storage used in hybrids either. Hydraulic pressure is one alternative being used on larger vehicles such as refuse trucks and delivery vans. Hydrogen and fuel cell development continues.

But ultimately it seems the most direct (and final) solution is pure electric vehicles with batteries that are capable of providing performance, range, and recharging comparable to today’s vehicles equipped with ICE engines.

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