September 16, 2009 By Wayne Hanson
Are there any bright spots among the green initiatives intended to stop global warming, reduce carbon footprints, promote energy conservation and save the planet? Well, for one, electric and hybrid vehicles are becoming rather interesting and as soon as battery technology makes a leap or two, expect some absolutely wild innovation in surface transportation.
In the meantime, low emission vehicles, such as the original Toyota Prius "shaped like an orthopedic shoe" is now into its third generation and looking a bit smarter. And yesterday at the Frankfurt Auto Show, Audi unveiled its e-tron electric vehicle driven by four motors and putting out more than 300 horsepower -- with a range of about 150 miles -- according to the company.
Vehicles are about to plunge into a second age of innovation -- the first was at the beginning of the age of modern transportation when the roads were muddy ruts and small auto companies produced a plethora of electric, steam and gasoline-powered vehicles that in the United States, at least, evaporated under the power of the big three auto manufacturers and the Industrial Revolution.
Today, electric vehicles range from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the Prius and other hybrids to the sporty Tesla and Chevrolet's Volt which has been waiting for the development of suitable battery technology and then evolved into a hybrid. Even the ridiculous have some interesting features. The tiny gasoline-powered Smart for example, can be fitted with a Suzuki GSXR 1000 cc engine and become a 200 horsepower "Smartuki."
Environmental concerns are also driving government attention to the evolution of the automobile. Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski recently toured two start-up electric vehicle companies in southern Oregon "as part of his initiative to transition the state toward cleaner, more sustainable transportation options." He visited Brammo, which builds electric motorcycles, and Barefoot Motors that produces electrically powered utility vehicles. The governor announced a $100,000 grant from his strategic reserve fund for work force training to assist Brammo in growing its workforce by more than 300 employees over the next two years.
New York City plugged in and rolled out 10 BMW Mini E electric vehicles for use by the Parks Department.
States and localities are developing infrastructure -- from titling and licensing to recharging stations -- to pave the way for alternative-fueled vehicles. When the newest age of automotive innovation arrives, will they be ready?