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The Future of Cars

Tuesday, June 24, 2008  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

My friend Wayne Francis is an engineer and car enthusiast who keeps me posted on the latest in automobile technology. He sent along this update:

In light of Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s proposal to provide $5,000 tax credits for consumers who buy new zero-emission vehicles, it would be timely to give an overview of some promising products in the developmental pipeline.

Toyota Motor Company is developing the Plug-in Hybrid Prius, which is scheduled to arrive in 2010. According to Toyota, this car can be driven approximately 7 miles in electric vehicle mode on a full charge; the production version might be able to yield 10 to 15 miles. It has placed prototypes at the University of California, Berkley and the University of California, Irvine (UCI) in
part to measure fuel economy and emissions. Plug-in Hybrids are believed to be capable of 100 miles per gallon.

In late 2010, General Motors (GM) is expected to commence production of the Chevrolet Volt, presumably as a 2011 vehicle. It will use $1.50 worth of electricity to charge overnight and is capable of driving 40 miles in pure electric mode. GM maintains that you could expect 150 MPG during 60 mile trips (the first 40 miles use electric power exclusively, then gasoline kicks
in to recharge the battery pack).

Fuel-cell vehicles might provide the best long-term solution. In article about Honda Motor Company’s FCX Clarity, the June 17 edition of The Wall Street Journal noted:

“Fuel-cell cars are considered the most promising pollution-free vehicles, as they are powered through a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, and emit only water as a byproduct.

But low-emission cars such as gasoline-electric hybrids and diesel vehicles are more popular now. A lack of hydrogen service stations, among other factors, is limiting demand for the cars, and therefore car makers can’t mass produce them, keeping production costs high.”

Honda and GM have committed to providing fuel-cell vehicles into the service of the general public. Honda plans to lease 200 FCX Clarity Fuel-Cell cars in the U.S. and Japan within the next three years. GM is placing 110 Chevrolet Equinox Fuel-Cell vehicles on the road; approximately 100 will be fielded with regular drivers in its “Project Driveway” program. The Los Angeles Times (June 15, 2008) also noted: “GM tasked the William Morris talent agency to help find celebrity drivers for its Equinox: It hopes high-profile drivers will help evangelize the technology and build public demand for hydrogen infrastructure.”

The Government Accounting Office ( noted: “Successful
commercialization of hydrogen fuel cell technologies-particularly
hydrogen fuel cell vehicles-will depend upon a hydrogen delivery
infrastructure that provides the same level of safety, convenience, and functionality as the existing gasoline delivery infrastructure.”

There are nine operating hydrogen fueling stations in the Los Angeles area: BP and Chevron have three stations; five stations are at Air Quality Management District sites and the other station is located at UCI. According to its Vice President of R&D, GM’s “studies indicate that just 40 stations distributed in the three counties comprising Los Angeles and along heavily traveled corridors to Santa Barbara, Las Vegas, San Diego, and Palm Springs would place hydrogen within convenient reach of most LA residents.”

According to a report authored by GM and Shell Hydrogen on
infrastructure :

Hydrogen providers will likely remain hesitant to move forward with the necessary investment unless two key enablers are in place:

*Strong (government) leadership and a clear national energy strategy that defines the specific role of hydrogen.

*Sustained long-term incentives for automakers, suppliers, infrastructure providers, and consumers to help overcome the near-term and long-term business risks associated with the high initial investment required until scale economies are reached for both the hydrogen infrastructure and FCEVs (Fuel Cell-Electric Vehicles).

Until there is adequate infrastructure, automobile manufacturers can’t commence mass-production of fuel-cell vehicles. Honda maintains that the price of each vehicle would have to fall below $92,000 (10 million yen) to be a mass-market product. Both Honda and GM are providing heavy subsidies to place their fuel-cell vehicles in the hands of the public.

One kilogram of hydrogen has about the same energy content as one gallon of gasoline, and fuel cells are about twice as efficient as gasoline internal combustion engines. Fuel cell-electric vehicles generally can travel twice as far on a kilogram of hydrogen as internal-combustion-engine vehicles can travel on a gallon of gasoline. GM claims the ability to get 40 to 50 miles per kilogram of hydrogen in its Equinox SUV and Honda is claiming efficiency equivalent to 74 miles per gallon of gas in its FCX Clarity. The U.S. Department of Energy’s long-term target cost for hydrogen dispensed in a vehicle is $2 to $3 per kilogram.

Very interesting stuff and the mid-term to far-term future of drivng. In the meantime, though, we need the oil on the outer continentla shelf and beneath ANWR.

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