I’ve bought three different used cars in my lifetime. (Most of them were considerably used.) I’ve don’t expect to ever own a new car – in fact, I don’t expect to own a car ever again. I’d rather walk, take a bicycle, or ride public transportation.
There’s a lot of discussion about whether it’s more environmentally sound to keep using an old car or to buy a new, greener model. The answer probably depends upon usage, and it’s probably besides the point anyway – the world loves convenience, and the world loves automobiles, and we’re not going to stop making them. And because we’re not going to stop consuming them either, they need to be better.
With this in mind, let’s look at some interesting green developments in the land of expensive, new cars. Every little bit helps.
Carbon fiber in BMWs
BMW is using a carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer (CFRP) safety cell inside its new i3 extended-range electric car. Carbon fiber has a higher strength-to-weight ratio than more typical automotive materials, and less weight means energy savings. Decreased weight, we’ll see, is a common theme in new cars.
This is the same material Boeing uses in its somewhat troubled Dreamliner model. Nissan takes the different stance with CFRP than BMW, stating that while CFRP is good for airplanes, the technology doesn’t work well with cars.
Toyota hydrogen fuel-cell
Carbon fiber is also used in the fuel tanks of Toyota’s new hydrogen fuel-cell concept car. Toyota unveiled the vehicle at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month, and expects the model to reach the market in 2015. In part of the publicity meant to mollify nervous consumers, Toyota engineers are reported to have successfully fired bullets at the hydrogen tanks to test their durability.
Mazda i-ELOOP Brake Energy Regeneration System
Regenerative braking systems were previously exclusive to hybrid and electric cars, but Mazda has now introduced a regenerative braking system for cars with standard combustion engines. The electricity generated from the braking will replace the fuel normally used to power a car’s air conditioning, audio, etc.
The vehicle fits one person (or two tiny, enthusiastic people), has a top speed of 28 miles per hour, and travels 30 miles on a single charge. Toyota plans to demo the i-Road in future Japanese and French car-sharing trials.
The iROAD’s small size raises the question: what’s the intended use of this thing? One of the benefits of a short-term car-share is the ability to haul larger items when needed. But although practicality may be limited with a vehicle like this, it’s not without merits: one way to encourage different and greener habits is to challenge our notions about mainstream transportation.
(Related: see our Giant electric car vending machine article.)
Green sports cars
When you think of an environmentally-friendly car, a Porsche is not the first model that comes to mind. Nor should it be. But more and more, performance cars such as the new Mustang or Corvette feature reduced weight and smaller engines. Porsche’s Panamera S E-Hybrid averages over 50 miles-per-gallon and delivers 416 horsepower. It’s also a plug-in hybrid, and can travel about 20 miles on battery power before switching to gasoline.
20 miles? I guess there’s no chance that those would happen to be extra-long miles.
But like I said, every little bit helps. What’s more important is that within the automotive industry, we may be approaching a place where environmentally-friendly is considered normal.
- http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1088723_nissan-rd-chief-carbon-fiber-is-good-for-planes-not-cars ↩
- http://www.autonews.com/article/20140120/OEM09/301209938/toyota-aims-for-bulletproof-fuel-cell-tech ↩
- http://www.theverge.com/2014/1/6/5279056/lean-into-it-test-driving-the-toyota-i-road-concept-car ↩
- http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/12/us-autoshow-detroit-idUSBREA0B0I620140112 ↩