Concept Green Cars
Toyota first demonstrated a futuristic hybrid concept vehicle at the Tokyo Auto Show in 1995. The car, which consisted of an electric motor connected to a regular gasoline engine, was called the Toyota Prius. Hybrid skeptics—both at the show and afterward—are now silent, as cumulative global sales continue to surpass all expectations. Which of today's wild and wacky hi-tech enviro car concepts will become tomorrow's practical fuel-efficient vehicles? Let's look at some contenders.
The Cadillac Provoq takes the kitchen sink approach to green auto technology. It's a plug-in hydrogen-electric fuel-cell luxury hybrid SUV. The vehicle stores its hydrogen in two 10,000-psi composite fuel tanks mounted under the cargo floor—and its electricity in a lithium ion battery pack mounted under the rear seat. The two hydrogen tanks provide 280 miles of mobility, with the batteries providing 20 more miles of driving. The Provoq has His and Hers charging ports, left- and right-hand inserts incorporated into the front fender vents. In addition to the juice running in and out of the lithium batteries, a solar panel integrated in the roof provide help to power onboard accessories and lights.
The all-electric Dodge Circuit is heavily based on the Lotus Europa—just as the Tesla Roadster uses basic structures and components from the Lotus Elise. The Circuit has a 200-kilowatt (268 hp) electric motor and can do 0 to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds. Dodge said the Circuit has a driving range of 150-200 miles between charges and plugs into a standard 110-volt household outlet. Chrysler is promising to bring one of its electric concept cars to market by 2010—and the Dodge Circuit has the best odds.
Ford Mercury Meta One
The Mercury Meta One combines a hybrid transmission with a twin-turbocharged V-6 diesel engine calibrated to run on a bio-diesel blend—fuel made from natural, renewable sources such as vegetable oils. The combination is designed to produce the power of a V-10, with emission levels clean enough to meet California's Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) requirement.
The Sequel is based on a design that puts all propulsion systems, steering, braking and chassis components packed into the car's 11-inch underbelly. By packing all the functionality into what the company calls a "skateboard" chassis, GM claims they'll have greater freedom for the car's interior and exterior design. GM has been working on the skateboard approach for a number of years, and the Sequel is considered their breakthrough (although it has remained in the test lab). With the company's advances in fuel cells, by-wire technology, and wheel hub motors, GM has doubled the range to 300 miles—on its hydrogen supply—and halved the 0-60 times to under ten seconds.
Hinterland Aeronautic EcoVan
At highway speeds, drag resistance can account for 75 percent of fuel consumption. Therefore, designers in Canada put better aerodynamics on the top of their list in the design of a long-range electric vehicle. They aimed for a drag coefficient of less than 0.25, which would beat out the Toyota Prius and the original Honda Insight. Designers want to see the Hinterland—something like an aeronautical fuselage on wheels—turned into the ultimate eco-friendly six-seater carpooling machine.
Lotus Motors Hemp Eco-Elise
In 2008, Lotus unveiled its "Eco Elise" at the British International Motor Show. The primary innovation is the use of hemp and other ethically farmed renewable crops for body panels, seats, and carpets. Paints are all water-based. For body components, the hemp material is used with a polyester resin to form a hybrid composite. The hemp hard top on the Eco Elise has two flexible solar panels neatly embedded in the roof, contributing power to the electrical systems and saving energy that would otherwise be drained from the engine. No ashtrays included.
Mercedes-Benz BlueZero E-Cell
Small and versatile are the keywords for the BlueZero platform: actually three cars all sharing the same platform. The BlueZero E-Cell is an all-electric plug-in model with a range of approximately 60 miles on a two-hour charge. Mercedes adds a turbo-charged three-cylinder engine to this design to create the E-Cell Plus plug-in hybrid with a range to 375 miles. The third model is the BlueZero F-Cell, which uses a hydrogen fuel cell to deliver 136 horsepower with zero emissions at the tailpipe. Think of it as the Swiss Army Knife for alternative car technologies.
MDI Air-Powered AirPod
Despite skeptical reviews, the folks from MDI are holding firm to their ideas for an air-powered car—using electricity to compress huge amounts of air in small tanks, and then slowly releasing that air to drive pistons. The latest iteration from MDI is the AirPod, which seats three passengers, one facing backward. The AirPod uses a pair of wheels mounted side by side in the front to turn the vehicle—operated by the driver with a joystick—while the rear wheels provide power to the ground. The Airpod delivers about six horsepower of performance.
Nissan developed a bubble-shaped, three-seater electric car called the Pivo—short for pivot. It runs exclusively on electricity. The cabin sits atop a wheeled platform that can swivel 360 degrees, doing away with the need to reverse when emerging from narrow spaces.
On the outside, the Volkswagen Chameleon Microbus looks like it rolled right out of the set of a 1960s surfer movie. But times have changed in the world of energy and technology. Volkswagen retrofitted the 1964 Deluxe Microbus for a new generation by installing an all-electric drive powered by lithium polymer batteries. Ten 30-volt batteries under the van's floor provide a range of about 100 miles. A recharge takes about 6 hours. Surfboards mounted on the roof are lined with flexible solar panels that provide an additional source of energy. The vehicle needs all the energy it can find to power an arsenal of interactive digital cabin features, including imbedded touch-pads and speech activated controls.
The Volvo 3CC concept car, a rocket-shaped three-seater, can accommodate the full range of power systems, from traditional gasoline and alternative fuels such as ethanol, to hybrid and all electric. Three thousand lithium ion batteries, just like those used in laptop computers, give it the equivalent of 105 horsepower. The 3CC has the aerodynamics of a two-seat sports car, but can slip a third passenger, or perhaps two children, in a single seat in the back.