The Problem With Alternative Fuel Vehicles


Americans, gear heads, and my fellow Jalopniks, we have a problem. That problem is alternative fuel vehicles. And no, it's not range anxiety.

The problem with the alternative fuel vehicles being offered to us is they are either boring or outright impractical. First, lets look at the gasoline-electric hybrids out there. Well, on second thought, let's not, they are all ugly. All jokes aside, lets start with the star of the show, the Toyota Prius. Sure, the Prius currently gets somewhere around 50 mpg highway, but that's the only great thing about it. It started off looking all right, not really anything to brag about, but it wasn't that far off in looks from a Corolla or a Civic, it looked like what we were used to. The problem came when they decided it would be a good idea to make it look like a doorstop on wheels. Of course they did it for a reason, better aerodynamics for better efficiency, But at what cost? I'm all for fuel-efficient cars but not at the cost of beauty. I think that Honda has the right idea when it comes to hybrid vehicles, providing a hybrid version of the Civic that looks just like the base model. Although at the same time Honda, with their new CR-Z, has seemed to discover a problem, making a hybrid vehicle sporty and exciting.

Which brings us to the next, slightly more exciting possibility, electric cars. Tesla has already proven without a doubt that electric cars can be made just as fast, exciting, and beautiful as their gasoline powered brethren. Now I love the Tesla, watching it speed by in almost complete silence can send shivers up my spine, I even had some hope for the Chevy Volt when I first saw some of the concept drawings. The problem with electric cars though is that they are almost completely impractical. Who wants to have to wonder if they remembered to charge their car before work every morning? We have enough electronics to worry about keeping charged, who wants to add their car to the list? Sure, the range of the cars will only get better as time goes on and the technology improves but it will still never fit the automotive lifestyle that we are all used to. We need vehicles that we can get in and go whenever we need to and be able to refuel while we are out and about. That's something you can't do with an electric car unless they develop some sort of quick charging station to replace gas stations. Can you imagine wanting to take your car on a weekend getaway a few states away but not being able to because you would have to find someplace to charge your car for 12 hours? I can see electric cars as fun track toys, cars for driving around town in, or maybe your commuter car if you work close enough to your home. Sadly, as a complete solution to our fuel problem, I just don't see it; we need something that works with how we already drive.

If you haven't guessed it already, that solution is hydrogen-powered cars, at least in my view. There are a few reasons that hydrogen-powered cars have such promise. The first is the fact that it is pretty much an unlimited resource and if we moved to hydrogen-powered cars we would most likely never have to worry about a fuel source again. The second is that the infrastructure for hydrogen-powered cars fits perfectly with what we are used to. When you are running low on fuel all you would have to do is pull into a hydrogen pumping station and fill up, just like you would with gasoline. In fact, California has already done this with its Hydrogen Highway, proving that the infrastructure for hydrogen-powered cars can be easily implemented. Now of course there are some problems with these cars. Right now your only real option is the lease-only Honda FCX Clarity and, lets face it, it suffers from the same problem as the Prius, its looks. Also, you would need to be living in California to get one and also be fairly lucky because they only lease out a few hundred at a time. What the automotive industry really needs to do is combine zero-emissions, fuel-efficient hydrogen-powered cars with the looks of cars like the Tesla. Although building hydrogen-fueling stations would take time it is certainly possible and would be easy for the country to get used to. Maybe they could even combine the hydrogen fuel cells with technology from the electric cars for some power increases, sort of like what Honda did with its V6 Honda Accord back in 2005. Well, one step at a time I suppose.


I am just afraid that at the rate we are going with alternative fuel vehicles the car will become nothing more than an appliance. Cars should be fun, fast, and beautiful to look at, not plug-in like your refrigerator and look like one too. Hopefully the auto industry can produce some cars that look like the Tesla but with the promise and practicality of the FCX Clarity. I don't want to someday be talking to my grandchildren saying "Back in my day I walked up hill to school both ways, and we drove cars for fun!"

This piece was written and submitted by a Jalopnik reader and may not express views held by Jalopnik or its staff. But maybe they will become our views. It all depends on whether or not this person wins by whit of your eyeballs in our reality show, "Who Wants to be America's Next Top Car Blogger?"

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Matt Brown

Hydrogen may be the most abundant element in the universe, but it doesn't exist in neat little piles for us to shovel into our cars. one of the most common ways to get hydrogen is to crack natural gas, which results in the same emissions/reliance on limited resources you get with gasoline.

I ride a motorcycle with a shorter range than the Tesla Roadster and I've not once forgotten to fill it up. I see no reason why I would forget to charge a roadster. in fact, if i just plugged it in at night like my cell phone, I probably would never have to think about charging it. add to that the upcoming battery technology like lithium air and cobalt ion batteries and we may very well end up with electric cars that have ranges of 3000 miles. then the equation switches and gasoline cars become the hassle.

I still don't understand why so many jalops don't like electric cars; the basic layout begets performance. the center of gravity is unbelievably low, and the powertrains weigh so little. even with the current battery technology, larger cars see less of an impact on the weight of the batteries compared to large engines and transmissions. The Model S will weigh less than a comparable, more expensive 5 series, and will almost certainly give it a run for its money on the track.

Sure, the cars out now and in the next few months might not be exactly what you're looking for, but don't hate the technology just because it takes time to reach the potential.