High hopes remain for hybrids
Cutting oil consumption
Hybrids may not be the answer to saving the environment -- but they could be a start.
"If this country is serious about cutting down on oil consumption, everyone is going to have to sacrifice by redefining their idea of what kind of car they need -- and how many they need," Wiesenfelder says. "There are people who think they are making a compromise by buying a hybrid SUV instead of a gasoline SUV. They may be improving their fuel economy by 20 percent, but they could reduce it by 50 percent by getting a smaller car."
There are many non-hybrids that get good
fuel economy, such as the Honda Civic, which
is Wiesenfelder's pick for an affordable car
with exceptional fuel economy. Wiesenfelder
suggests drivers look at gas mileage savings
instead of the technology that gets you from
one place to another. "You'll find that
most hybrids are more efficient than the non-hybrid
versions of the same car, but that doesn't
mean there aren't other non-hybrid efficient
vehicles out there."
Industry experts are excited about a new wave of plug-in series hybrids that are expected to hit the market two product generations from now. Series hybrids feature all-electric operation and reduced fuel consumption when running on generator power. And as volumes increase, they could become more affordable over time, Wiesenfelder says.
He is excited about the Chevrolet Volt, which runs exclusively on
electricity and uses a small gasoline engine
to charge its battery pack. The
battery pack is recharged via a wall outlet
or an onboard generator. When running full
electric, the Volt can deliver about 40 miles
of driving and a top speed of about 100 mph.
"It's actually the type of hybrid that existed 100 years ago," Wiesenfelder says. "We've come full circle."