Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Progress Report: My Ideal Hybrid-Electric Vehicle

Reports are emerging that GM is working on a plug-in electric hybrid vehicle, one that would run primarily off an electric engine, but also use a diesel or electric engine as a generator. According to this LA Times article, a prototype may be revealed at the North America Auto Show in Detroit in early 2007, but production would be a ways off after that.

Even if GM delays or doesn't actually come to produce this particular vehicle, this is a good sign. Lithium-ion battery development has made plug-in hybrids into a very feasible alternative to the traditional internal-combustion vehicle, and the batteries just keep getting better.

Ford also appears to be heading in this direction, according to recent promotional materials.

So, it now appears that Ford & GM are the top front-runners in the race to produce my ideal diesel-electric hybrid vehicle. Unless Toyota announces plans to upgrade their hybrid system significantly, make a plug-in electric version, and make a version that runs on diesel, that is...

This just in: A British company has taken a Mini Cooper, tossed out the engine, transmission, exhaust system, transaxle and braking system, and replaced them with electric wheels (electric engine on each wheel) plus capacitors, batteries, central computer, in-vehicle display... and a very small fixed-RPM internal combustion engine, which acts as a generator. The thing can apparently go at least 30 miles purely on electricity, outrun a Porsche 911 off the line, get up to 150mph top speed, and average 60-80mpg when running in mixed mode off the battery. Capacitors, apparently, are the key to the vehicle, as they allow electricity from braking to be stored and then released immediately at 10x the rate of batteries, allowing for kick-arse acceleration and braking power. Note that I didn't mention brakes? The electric engines *are* the brakes, and special software allows them to provide both anti-lock braking and anti-skid acceleration!!

Another update:
This blog post is a nice, articulate cry for more diesel-electric hybrids. I think a lot of people are now coming to realize that diesel-electric hybrids really will bring the best of both worlds, and allow for the greatest versatility. Especially if they're plug-in diesel-electric hybrids.

So, the technology is slowly coming together, folks. The vehicles of the future are almost here. My 2000 Saturn SL2 may finally be eclipsed by a vehicle that outperforms it in every way, including fuel economy, acceleration, deceleration, passenger/freight capacity, and ability to traverse rough terrain/high clearance areas.

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