Green With Electric Envy

One of the current topics of today is gas prices. You can’t turn on the TV or open a newspaper without finding a story about how much gas costs. Consumers everywhere are making changes. I ride my scooter as much as I can to help reduce how much gas I use for my commute. My car – a 2001 Nissan Sentra GXE – which I paid off in March 2008 and gets around 30 mpg on the average. I don’t have an exact figure of how much I’ve saved, both gas and money, but I’m sure it’s a nice sized dent of what others are spending that drive bigger cars or get less miles-per-gallon with their vehicles.

With the price of a gallon of gas at $4 [give or take 10-20 cents nationwide], people are wanting change. They want to save money. They are tired of big oil. But other than the ten or so models of hybrid and electric cars available today, there is not a large selection of options for someone who is both environmentally conscious and wants to reduce their reliance on gasoline for their daily commute. Change is coming, but not soon enough.

Chevy Volt
Chevy Volt
Original image found at chevy-volt.net

More than a year ago, GM announced the Chevy Volt, an electric car of hybrid proportions. It’s not a 100% electric car, as there is a gas engine under the hood. Technically, this makes it a hybrid. The talking heads at GM have been downplaying the word “hyrbrid” as to not lump it in with the current breed of hyrbrid vehicles on the market now. The Volt is technically defined as a plug-in hybrid, meaning you can charge the batteries without using the gas engine to charge them. You have a charging station installed in your garage that you plug into the Volt nightly, which takes approx. 6-8 hours for a full charge. Then when you drive off the next morning, you get about 40 miles of run time on electricity before the gas engine kicks in and starts charging the batteries.

The Volt will be available in 2010 and according to recent reports, more than 30,000 people are lining up to get one. And at a estimated cost of $40,000, it’s almost double what an average economy car costs, but (obviously) more efficient. Exciting, but two years is a long time to wait. Gas could easily be $5 a gallon by then. What consumers want is change now.

It Could Have Been Better By Now

General Motors, who recently posted a $15 billion loss, is trying to scramble, like all of the car makers, to produce cars that are either more fuel efficient or vehicles that use an alternative form of fuel. And many of them are announcing vehicles, like the Volt, that won’t be available for a couple more years. Personally, while I applaud their efforts, it’s a bit late in the game. A deathbed repentance if you will, to try and make things better. Well, back in 1996, a lot of companies like GM had their chance to make a change. GM was at the forefront of change with the electric car.

GM EV1
EV1
Original image found at Modern Racer

In 1996, General Motors came out with the EV1, an all-electric vehicle. I won’t bore you with all of the details, which you can read here. But just to summarize, it was a leased vehicle that had a strong following at the beginning. It was the start of what would have been the change to alternative fueled mainstream cars. There were some glitches and other shortcomings [like a short run time on each battery charge], but over the years, that all could have been worked out, getting these out there to consumers. But GM deemed it a failure and by summer of 2003, all cars were recalled, removed from the roads and either donated to schools or destroyed. There is a great documentary film called “Who Killed The Electric Car?” that brilliantly documents what happened, complete with first-hand accounts, discussions with owners, official statements from those that worked on the project and the group that attended the final protest/standoff when they hauled the cars away.

Now GM is claiming the Volt is the next step from the EV1, even going so far to announce that people who worked on the EV1 project are part of this new endeavor. An expected announcement, since it is a given that anyone that was familiar with the events surrounding the demise of the EV1 would be soured on any future work that GM would be involved in. Which is the same sour expression I had when I first heard about the Volt. My thoughts were, “Well, there’s 11 years that we could have been so much further along towards adopting electric cars.”

Don’t get me wrong. I really am happy about any progress made towards reducing our reliance on fossil fuels for transportation, regardless of who is behind it. But you have to wonder how serious people are taking GM for this Volt project and the longevity of it. I’m sure some are being open-minded, but the company is in a different place than they were 12 years ago. They are hurting big time. They have no choice but to finally embrace a change of how they make cars. It’s too bad they couldn’t have been smarter, because if they would have, it could have been them at the top of the heap, producing reasonable electric cars that most of the buying public could afford. But this is where we are today, everyone rushing to be part of the “me too” marketplace and still a couple of years out before they can deliver an overpriced product for the consumer.

Nissan Puts Their Plug Into The Electrical Outlet
Cube
Original image found in the post on Jalopnik.com

While we are on the subject of ‘vehicles a couple years out’, Nissan just announced their all-electric car a couple of weeks ago. The test model they showed looks very similar to a Scion xB. While I’m not that fond of the boxy design, I’m really looking forward to seeing what the final specs will be when it comes to the US in 2010. Yes, this one is also two years away, but it’s another option we will have at that time. I’m a fan of Nissan and I could see myself being an owner, quickly getting over my dislike for the body style in favor of driving a car that uses NO GAS.


My Plans For the Future

So you ask.. what are my plans for the future for personal transportation vehicles? Let me outline what I am thinking about.

  • Riding my scooter – As most of the regular visitors to this blog know the love I profess of my Honda Metro scooter in my Scooter Sunday posts, it has been the biggest thing I’ve used so far to change my commuting habits. I take it instead of my car to work, to the store, to run small errands and it has become my vehicle of choice when I need to go somewhere [when I am not required to carry large items or additional passengers]. We are planning on getting a second scooter for my wife next year, which will help her save energy and money in her local travels. We are looking at both gas and electric models, depending on what is both practical and affordable at the time of purchase.
  • Reducing trips – When we do take either my car or my wife’s truck, we do what we can to reduce multiple trips. If we are out, we plan to get all of the items we need in one trip, not driving all over to save a buck on some item. It’s much more cost effective to pay a little more and just purchase the products we need at one or two stores. Believe me, this helps a lot and goes a long way to not only reducing the gas we use, but reducing the effect on the air and environment.
  • Walking – I need to exercise. As I recently told another blogger, I plan to start an exercise program that will help me reduce some of the load I’ve let collect on my body. Why get in the car to go 4-6 blocks when you can walk. My step-daughter lives 4 blocks away. Where possible, when we go over, we walk. Of course, with winter coming in four months, that may not be as feasible, but while it’s 80-90 degrees out, we plan to walk instead of drive. Same with some store visits. We live about 4 blocks from a couple of stores and the last couple of trips we made were on foot. So not only do we get exercise, we also leave the car and truck at home, further reducing our oil consumption.
  • A new blog site – In an effort to really stretch myself thin with yet another project, I am working on a new blog that I will launch soon. It’s going to be based on cars, vehicles, transportation and everything that has to do with how we get around. I’ll announce it here on this blog when it’s ready.

Let’s Hear From You

So what have you done to reduce driving? Walking? Biking? Scooter? Bus? Train? Tell me. I really want to know. And the more details, the better.

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