Corporate America was killing the electric car in the 90’s (GM’s P.R. response is here, for fairness’ sake), but now several companies are putting forth new technologies and designs aiming at fuel efficiency. Taken as a whole, they foretell the decline of the gasoline-powered ICE (internal combustion engine). They include:
- Two new innovations from Honda (cleaner diesel and an improved fuel-cell engine)
- A hybrid-diesel truck engine from DCX/Mitsubishi Fuso
- An exciting hydraulic-hybrid system developed by UPS and the US EPA
- A coated-ceramic powerplant by a company in Texas, whose reps boldly brag of 90% fuel-cost savings with power and range beyond that of a typical auto engine.
- A new gas-electric hybrid system from Nissan for the ’10 model year.
Clean diesel, one step toward greater fuel-efficiency, is also making a show in the US. A large percentage of new cars in the EU are diesels. DaimlerChrysler is introducing a Mercedes Bluetec engine for several ’08 models that (they say) will pass emissions tests in all 50 states. (Check out the second comment following that story.) GM showed off a clean-diesel V8 engine recently that it says will meet 2010 EPA requirements, but as of late, it’s just a demo.
We aren’t ever thankful for gas-price rises; they pin down a lot of Americans who depend on their cars. However, there’s no doubt that the oil-price volatility of the past 18 months has been the primary driver behind a) all this investment in new tech, and b) all the recent attention to the environmental and geopolitical costs of our cheap-gas culture.
The ICE isn’t dead (Bob Lutz’s blog shows that GM is, after all, psychologically addicted to its big SUVs — the comments below his yay-rah cheer are interesting). We predict, however, a gradual but unending reduction in the share of the auto/truck market powered by ICE’s. They’re just not the best option for America anymore.
The most exciting news of the bunch is the hydraulic-hybrid system in UPS trucks, which UPS estimates will save 1,000 gallons of diesel per truck per year. (It uses vehicle momentum to create hydraulic pressure, and releases that pressure throug the drivetrain during acceleration.) It improves on battery-based hybrids by delivering more horsepower than batteries currently generate, so bigger vehicles can get meaningful assistance from the alternate energy source. It provides a big boost to MPG during stop-and-start driving. Imagine a similar system on every city bus, every delivery truck, and every USPS vehicle in the country.
Dare we say it? Tax dollars well spent.