Driving Out Fossil Fuels: The “Greenest” Cars on the Market
Observing everything that’s going on in the world right now, it is hard to avoid the doom and gloom reality that we are running out of our most vital natural resources. Many scientists have attempted to predict if or when we will be completely depleted of clean air, clean water, forests, but most importantly, fossil fuels. There are many different theories, but many scientists have determined that, with current consumption levels, we are looking at complete oil reserve depletion by 2050-2080. Our society depends heavily on fossil fuel usage to warm our homes, to produce products in factories, to power our transportation, but more specifically our cars. Many automakers are currently looking into alternative power sources. Furthermore, this past year was full of innovation and was a peek inside the future of transportation without fossil fuels.
Many car companies have made a name for themselves by releasing the newest electric or hybrid vehicles. Tesla specifically, known as the leading luxury electric car company, made headlines when they held pre-sale orders on their new Model 3, which was marketed as an affordable vehicle, being sold at $35,000. This is a far more attractive price than many electric vehicles on the market, especially coming from the engineers at Tesla, who are averaging automobile prices at about $68,000-82,000. Tesla, with their luxury American aesthetic, is competing directly with German powerhouses Mercedes Benz and BMW, even if Tesla only offers three vehicle models. Family vehicles, like the Toyota Prius, are now seeing competition from Chevrolet, Nissan, Volkswagen, and even Ford.
The quest for the perfect electric vehicle began in the late 1800s when vehicles were first developed and used for commercial purposes. The development for their use teetered off during the first and second World Wars, also gasoline was too abundant for automakers to be concerned with it ever running out. Fast forward to the 1960s and 1970s, automobiles had greatly impacted the American way of life, and soaring oil prices with simultaneous gasoline shortages were negatively affecting the American family. Further development for the potential of the electric car occurred in this period, with Congress passing the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development, and Demonstration Act of 1976. This act helped the department of energy further their research on alternatives to fossil fuels. In the wake of this, many automakers attempted to create the next hybrid or electric vehicles, and General Motors created a prototype vehicle that was featured at the Environmental Protection Agency’s first symposium on Lower Pollution Power Systems Development in 1973. This was the beginning of the research and development by many automobile companies. Many electric and hybrid vehicles during this time were not substantial substitutes due to their low energy capacity, and they left an inferior stigma about electric and hybrid cars that would haunt their progress through the market in later years.
The continued environmental concerns that plagued America during the 1990s into the 21st century spurred more company research and development for alternatives. The 1990 Clean Air Act the 1992 Energy Policy Act, and the new transportation emissions regulations issued by the California Air Resources Board helped renew the interest in transportation alternatives in the United States. Development finally lead to General Motors releasing their EV1, which had a range of 80 miles to a charge and had a high acceleration rate. However, this automobile was still not attractive to all consumers and the demand for alternatives were low because many Americans did not realize the environmental damage they were producing, nor did they have much concern for purchasing an expensive and supposedly inferior vehicle. The energy alternative vehicles still had a lot of efficiency research and development to go through before they caught the American populous attention.
The first hybrid vehicle to have a massive impact on the American market was the Toyota, Prius, which was released worldwide in 2000. It was the car of the millenium, with its only considerable competition being the Honda Insight, sold in the United States in 1999, making it the first ‘modern’ hybrid sold on the American market. After this historical moment, Tesla Motors came into the year 2006 announcing that they would release America’s first electric luxury sports car that could go more than 200 miles on a single charge. Electric automobiles were for more than soccer moms and hippies (as the stereotype had been in the past), rather, they were becoming everyone’s vehicle. Tesla’s announcement sparked (no pun intended, although it is an electric car… so maybe a little bit intended) a wave of development with the Chevy Volt and the Nissan LEAF. Having these cars coming onto the market as early as 2010. The considerable increase of electric vehicles on the road, the Energy Department invested $115 million to build a nationwide electric charging infrastructure, installing over 18,000 charging stations all over the country for electric vehicles. There was also a considerable amount of money committed to the research for more efficient vehicle batteries, cutting costs for car batteries over 50% in the last four years. Although we have a long way to go, many automobile companies around the world are committed to helping reduce their carbon footprints by producing affordable electric and hybrid cars for worldwide consumers.
On a personal note, this past summer my mother came home with our very first hybrid vehicle. My family has a long line of Ford Loyalty (which I was happy to break with my Camry), and I have never been a fan of Ford Automobiles. My mom pulled into our driveway with her electric blue Fusion Hybrid, and although it has saved a portion of money on gas here in the California desert, it’s not the absolute best vehicle on the market, with many of the Japanese and German vehicles outranking American electrics and hybrids in multiple categories. These categories include efficiency, safety, features, affordability, maintenance, and more. Now, this opinion is not held because of the stigma that hybrid cars are inferior vehicles, this is an opinion held because Ford has some pretty heavy accusations against them. For has been through many lawsuits, and many of their products have constant recalls that threaten the safety of the driver, as well as the efficiency of the automobile. Ford, because of their desire to cut corners during their production process, is trying to create a very delicate product on a very key market. Which begs the question: are the electric vehicles that we are putting on the market quality vehicles?
Not every family can afford a Tesla, but many families can consider investing in a Ford or Nissan product, whose prices can compare to gasoline powered vehicles, but whose quality is lackluster. It seems like in order to produce a competitive product, corners need to be cut in order to beat other companies on the market. Not to mention that there has been research done on the negative environmental effects of automobile battery alternatives. What we should really be focusing on is sustainable mass transit, especially in congested cities such as Los Angeles and Atlanta. Overall, it is very important for first time hybrid and electric auto buyers to do their research on the cars that they are getting, and don’t believe everything you hear at the dealership. It is very important to continue transitioning to more efficient modes of transportation in this ever changing world. I encourage everyone to look up mass transit routes to work or your next destination, or consider how a hybrid vehicle could be your next car. Small changes lead to big impact.
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