By Alex Perdikis
You’ve heard a lot about electric and hybrid vehicles, but though you like the idea of driving an environmentally friendly car, you haven’t take the plunge. You’re not alone. Green car sales in the U.S. fell off last year. But hybrid sales picked up by the end of the year and 2017 is poised to continue the upward trend. Could a green car be in your future?
Hybrids and Plug-Ins – A Not So New Idea
Believe it or not, the first gas/electric hybrid was produced in 1899. Ferdinand Porsche designed and produced the Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hybrid from 1900-1905. The horseless carriage was a convertible and available in a 2-seat or 4-seat model. The motor had two motors fueled by an electric battery as well as gas. Obviously, the idea of a hybrid vehicle has been around for some time.
Electric cars have a long history as well. In fact, electric cars, the Jeantaud Duc and La Jamais Contente, held the land speed record until 1902 when steam vehicle Gardner-Serpollet took the prize. Electric cars fell out of favor with the driving public due to lack of speed, short battery range and competition from the much faster internal combustible engine. However, electric powered trains and other vehicles are still in use.
Modern Day Green Car Development
The motive behind developing hybrid and electric cars is different now than it was for those early developers. Ferdinand Porsche, and other inventors like him, were busy developing ways to push the public forward, away from horses and into a world of motorized vehicle travel.
“Now, concern for the environment and federal mandates geared toward fuel efficiency and cleaner consumption are the driving factors.” – Alex Perdikis
Reducing greenhouse gasses, less dependency on fossil fuels and reducing reliance on foreign fuel suppliers all drive the market and challenge manufacturers to create more fuel-efficient and cleaner options. Those early pioneers laid the groundwork for today’s green cars.
Honda introduced the Insight, the first hybrid available in the U.S., in 1999. It had a limited distribution. The big splash came in 2000 when Toyota unveiled its Prius gas/electric hybrid. Other major manufacturers, including Ford and Chevrolet, quickly followed suit. Now green car buyers have a host of options to choose from.
The innovations keep on coming. Automakers are experimenting with technologies and innovative ideas that may or may not reach production stage, some of which are highly entertaining. For example, Mercedes is working on an electric concept that, in addition to the usual fuel-efficient options, has what the company calls “multi-voltaic” paint. According to company officials, the paint doubles as a solar and wind power source to gather electricity.
Another clever idea developers are working on is changing the structure of the battery. Batteries can be cumbersome, are often heavy and worst of all, have a low-energy density. How can innovators turn the battery problem around? How about turning the entire car body into a super capacitor?
Developers are working on car panels that are not only attractive, but carbon capacitors as well. The polymer carbon fiber blend charges and stores more energy quicker than conventional batteries. When hood, roof and trunk panels were replaced with carbon capacitor panels, one experimental model dropped 15 percent of battery weight and extended its range 80 miles. These and other exciting possibilities are the future. But, what if you’re ready to buy now?
How to Buy Green
Do you know the difference between a conventional hybrid and a plug-in hybrid? If you’re ready to buy now or in the near future, there are a few things you need to know. Here are some tips and points to think about:
- Conventional versus plug-in: The conventional hybrid uses electricity as a supplemental energy source. Electricity is not meant to power the car alone except for short distances. The plug-in uses a rechargeable electronic battery pack. Plug-ins can run solely on electricity until the battery runs out of electricity. Distance varies from model to model. Current distances range from 25 to 50 miles per charged battery. After the battery runs down, the gasoline engine automatically takes over.
- You’ll pay a higher price: At least for the time being, expect to pay a higher price than you would for a non-hybrid. You might be eligible for a government subsidy when you purchase a green car, however. Check with your dealer.
- Look at used hybrids: You might be able to find a used hybrid that’s more affordable. Most manufacturers warranty components for a long time. If the used hybrid you’re looking at is still under warranty and the warranty transfers, you could save thousands.
- Test drive a lot of different models: Hybrids are not only manufactured differently, they drive differently. The driving experience varies. Test drive as many different models as you can before you buy.
Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.