Two years ago I wrote a couple of essays in which I argued that high gas prices would produce some positive changes for America, as people get tired of paying at the pump and begin to look for alternative solutions to our energy needs. Two years is enough time for changes to begin to occur, and since then gas prices have almost doubled, so I thought it would be good to reevaluate my line of thought.
First, I feel compelled to reassert my opinion that somehow penalizing the oil production companies is absolutely, 100%, undeniably abhorrent! Companies exist to make a profit! If you’re upset with them for making too much money then stop buying from them! That’s all I’ll say about it here, but I feel pretty strongly about this.
Okay, so now on to evaluating. I ripped the American car companies pretty good in my essays, so lets check up on them. Ford has produced a hybrid SUV which is pretty nice. I see these on the road, too. If I were in the market for an SUV I’d consider them. I recall reading somewhere that they have a hybrid model of the Fusion in the works, but it hasn’t hit the market yet. GM, who at the time was saying that they had no plans to produce hybrid cars because they see it as an interim technology (those are my words, I don’t recall the exact quote), has since produced a hybrid Malibu, Tahoe and Silverado. Saturn make a hybrid version of their VUE. These all look great, though I do notice that most of them are trucks and SUV’s. Doesn’t seem that this would be a significant boon for America.
How about smaller companies? The most notable is Tesla. They’ve been getting quite a bit of attention with their roadster because its all electric with no sacrifice in performance or hipness. This car is a step in the right direction, and I think they were smart to make their first car a performance machine. That will go a long way toward sales for their more modest designs to come.
Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute has designed the Hypercar. This design promises a five-fold increase in fuel economy through advanced composite construction, aerodynamic design, hybrid-electric drive and efficient accessories, all without sacrificing performance, comfort or safety. I’m not sure how close this is to production, but I do know that they are taking their advanced composite construction technique further by using it to support other projects.
The X-Prize Foundation, who you may recall sponsored the race to privatized space flight five years ago (won by Scaled Composite’s SpaceShip One), is now sponsoring an automotive challenge. In order to win the $10M prize, you must produce a car that:
- gets at least 100 MPG.
- meets all applicable safety regulations.
- is able to be mass produced at a cost that the market will sustain.
- has features that are desirable.
- has a clear business plan for coming to the market.
That all sounds good, right? You’ll be proud to know that 14 of the 20 entered teams are here in America. From Aptera‘s radical 3-wheeled design to Poulsen Hybrid‘s retrofit kit for your current car, the good ideas are flowing.
So, while Ford and GM seem content to dip their toe into more efficient technologies (and where is Dodge in all of this, anyway?), there is plenty of work being done to offset rising oil prices. I can’t say for sure when I personally will benefit from this, but I’m excited just the same. First, it means forward progress and an active job market, and second its encouraging to see the ingenuity and creativity.
I have to throw in a couple of honorable mentions here, even though these aren’t American companies. The Smart Car ForTwo is now available in the states. I’m seeing them on the road more and more often, and I’m glad. Its an idea whose time is way overdue. If you only do inner city driving, why do you need a big car? Honda’s fuel cell vehicle, the FCX Clarity, is now available on the market. You’ll likely have a hard time getting one, and an even harder time finding a refueling station that can handle it, but its a step forward. Toyota is scheduled to have one available next year.
Finally, mad props to Iceland, who acknowledged that they would have a hard time contributing to advances in engineering but wanted to contribute anyway. They have committed to being early adopters to fuel cell technology to help with funding and testing. A portion of the public buses that run in Reykjavik (their capital) are fuel cells. Way to step up to the plate!