Up Close and Personal with Green Cars

mmresized6.jpg Last Friday, Triple Pundit was invited to attend a unique event in the green car field. Consumer Reports brought together major automakers, entrepreneurial companies, and other electric vehicle innovators to display their latest clean technology vehicles to both print and online journalists. I had the opportunity to test some of these future cars on the Consumer Reports test track in Connecticut, including two fuel cell vehicles – the Chevy Equinox and the Honda FCX Clarity. We also engaged in a two-hour q&a discussion with automakers to discuss feasibility, projections, and tech specifics of the vehicles on hand. My favorite part of the event, however, was the opportunity to discuss the emergence of the Myers Motors NmG, a personal electric vehicle that is a resurrection of Lee Iacocca’s Sparrow.

Driving both the Honda FCX Clarity and the Chevy Fuel-Cell Equinox was quite impressive. Both handled very well (especially given the rainy conditions at the time) and felt smooth on the road. The hum of the electric drive powertrain was exciting and I experienced fast pick-up on both vehicles. As a model intended specifically for fuel-cell technology, the FCX dashboard controls felt a little foreign at first, but I quickly assimilated. The Equinox, on the other hand, features standard controls – an intentional move by Chevy to enhance consumer familiarity. Another difference between the two vehicles is fuel efficiency equivalent. The FCX experiences greater fuel efficiency equivalent from hydrogen than the Equinox, due to less weight, a tailored design, and Honda-patented fuel cell technology. I was told by a Chevy representative, however, that as Chevy begins tailoring a specific model for hydrogen fuel-cell technology (versus using a pre-existing model design), that fuel efficiency is expected to increase.
Still, it seems as if we are still far from a national (or even regional) “hydrogen highway.” During the q&a discussion, we learned that hydrogen fueling stations are still sparse and that government support and energy provider support for station-building is waning. More research is being put into producing hydrogen from sustainable energy sources, as well as into making the technology affordable for everyday consumers.
Although I didn’t get to drive it around, the Myers Motors NmG looked especially fun. In a talk with company representative Rick Clester, I learned that Myers Motors is an entrepreneurial company that bought the patent technology for what used to be the Sparrow and zipped it up for today’s market. It is a sporty and spunky design, highway-legal, and goes up to 75 mph. It has an all-electric range of about 60 miles and retails for $30,000. The NmG seems especially tailored for the commuter, but also has space for light cargo in the back.
As the discussion came to a close, I had the opportunity to ask carmaker representatives whether the bill to provide $25 billion in low-interest loans from the U.S. Government to facilitate clean car development should be shared with entrepreneurial companies working in the same direction. The bill, which was passed on Saturday and is the largest amount of money ever provided to automakers in U.S. history, is primarily directed to help GM, Ford, and Chrysler. None of the carmakers responded, but hopefully the government support provides the necessary leverage to get the cleanest cars on the road in the shortest possible time.

Shannon Arvizu, Ph.D., is a clean tech educator and cutting-edge consultant for the auto industry. You can follow her test drives in the cars of the future at www.misselectric.com.

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