Chuck, those are interesting results. I still think that there is lots more efficiency to be had from the internal combustion engine. In Europe there are lots more diesels. They burn clean and get better mileage. About 10 years ago, when I lived in the UK, gas was at least $4 per gallon. I had a car with a 3L engine and an automatic, and I couldn't sell it. Prices were going up at the time. I ended up giving it to the church. I recently heard that manual transmission cars were selling better here. That is what I ran into in England. People generally bought stick shifts.
Lately, I got my car serviced and they put in new spark plugs and injectors (the car has lots of miles). My in city mileage has gone up by about 5 MPG. We can tune the cars we have to run better. On the other hand there is a disturbing trend I see in the US auto industry. They still don't get it. Over the last five years or so, Detroit has been working on getting more power of the same size engine rather than making smaller engines (with better fuel economy) for the same size car. The engine comparable to the one in my car that is available now gets 50 to 75 HP more. That is 20-25% better. They could have increased fuel effeciency by that amount. I think that gasoline cars with 40 to 50 MPG (for a full size car) is doable in the next few years. Will Detroit get there first?
As for what alternative power train I would be interested in, it would have to be a Volt type power train. I believe that is called serial hybrid. The Volt is also plug in. I often go for a while doing only local driving. Now, a Volt running on natural gas would be the best for cost. If there was a real spike in prices, I could modify my habbits (take more public transport, etc.) to almost eliminate gasoline usage with a plug in. On the other hand, the up front costs are so high that the payback take a while with a hybrid. That, of course, depends on the cost of gasoline. Consumption is going down and new sources are being found, so I wonder if we will see those Europe like prices (which are driven by tax policy).
My husband just got a new car with a diesel engine and he is reporting a huge difference in miles per gallon. Perhaps not as ground-breaking as an alternative power train vehicle, but a start. It was definitely a requirement when considering the next car and my guess is given that he's seeing noteable savings, it will remain a key selling point going forward on any and all new car leases/purchases. Grabbing some mind share in terms of what people consider in terms of requirements is a great start to get some mojo for this new class of vehicles.
What people say they will buy is not necessarily what they will buy. Note the return of the Charger, Challenger, Camaro, and Mustang. All are more fuel-efficient than the original, but hardly high-mileage. Many car commercials portray their cars as 'fun to drive'. Mileage may be important, but for many drivers the more important thing is the image that the car is sporty and sexy.
Long term, I see hydrogen and oxygen either in a fuel cell hybrid electric, or internal combustion ceramic engine running at more efficient higher temperatures.
Nearer term, perhaps a reacter could drive combustable liquids or gasses from coal, wood, food compost, manure, or even human excrement (put pollution byproducts to good use).
Short term, I would probably be looking at turbo diesel, and hybrid electric vehicles. Maybe biodiesel using peanut oil (indirect solar and a regenerative resource). If need be, As a less preferred choice, I could see using alternate fuels such as alcohol, E85, methane, or LP. Alcohol has shortcomings for starting and cold weather. Methane and LP would probably be somewhat linked to gasoline prices and may not be regenerative (sustainable).
Its only in the past 2 years that regulatory changes cleaned up (sulfur removed) our diesel fuel supply enough to make it possible to make a 50 state passenger emission legal machine. (large trucks don't have to meet the same standards). If you couldn't sell a model to the single biggest car market (California) most vendors weren't willing to spend the money to certify. (only VW bothered)
One reason for some of the mileage increase over a gas engine is the fuel. While a diesel is indeed a more efficient engine, the real gain is that diesel fuel has a higher energy content (20%) by volume than gasoline, even higher in places where they get to spike it with 10% ethanol.
I would still put safety first - but that is the "mom" in me...that said, I just went from a 2005 Sport Trac (which I looked very good driving to the barn I might add) to a 1997 Lumina - not sexy but much more fuel efficient. We just came back from a 1000 mile round trip visit to see family and couldn't be more pleased with the gas mileage, especially after having travelled it in the Sport Trac. We actually took a hit to sell the Sport Trac but felt it well worth it.
I think I would be more prone to evaluating driving habits and see where I could improve rather than going to a different technology, but then I am one that wants to see things thoroughly tested and out there awhile before using it myself. My other suggestion which I personally favor is riding my horse for transportation but if the drought keeps up, the price of hay will be greater than the cost of gasoline!
Well we bought the hybrid 11 years ago, when its finally time to replace it, I expect that we will buy a plug in hybrid, or a pure electric. (our normal useage patterns would still fit with the prius 15 miles pure electric, I expect the gasoline would be in the tank long enough that deteroation might be a real concern).
But for most day to day use, I would make an even larger mode shift to human power. I would add a trailer to handle the volume of a typical grocery run, and it would be the prod I need to finish building a velomobile (a fully enclosed, 3 wheeled biycle) for use during the snow season. (should we still have those in future). I have had the steel cut for the frame for more than a decade, haven't gotten around to finish building the jig to hold it together while I weld it together.
The bigger problem with a hike in fuel prices will be what it does to the cost of food. A lot of fuel goes into that hamburger, and not just shipping it from farm to table.
While it's understandable that consumers would be more likely to consider a hybrid if gas spiked, the cost of oil may not rise as quickly as we once thought. Ironically, the melting artic ice is opening new areas for considerable oil pumping. I wonder whether a series of hot summers might change the reluctance of American consumers to embrace more profound green changes that could boost hybrid sales.
I agree, Louis, diesels burn clean, get better mileage and are a solid choice. One of the truly odd results of this study, however, was the fact that only 15% of respondents considered diesel engines as an alternative, but 18% considered...hydrogen fuel cells. When I first saw that, I did a doubletake. For me, this is an indication that some of the respondents really didn't know anything about alternative powertrains. In a sense, it may tell us something: A lot of people have no idea what they'd do if gas prices hit $8 or $10 per gallon.
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