The Technology Is There, So Why Aren’t You in a Zero Emissions Car?

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Image: NEMPA

Automotive technology has come a very long way over the last few years. Fuel efficiency is better and seeing hybrid and electric cars is no longer out of the ordinary, but there’s one problem. No one is buying into the whole zero emissions thing right now even with a growing number of options that are significantly better for the environment.

This was the topic of conversation at the NEMPA/MIT Technology Conference held this year at the MIT Technology Center. It’s an annual event organized by the New England Motor Press Association along with MIT to focus on technology issues in the automotive industry. The topic this year was the challenge of getting people to buy into zero emissions vehicles (ZEVs).

You might remember a few years back when gas prices were frighteningly high and everyone was clamoring to get into a more fuel efficient car. There weren’t even a heck of a lot of hybrid options out there at the time so people were on waiting lists for cars like the Prius. Then gas prices came down and our priorities changed.

The expert panels of speakers included representatives from General Motors, Toyota, MIT, and the International Council on Clean Transportation. They represented different groups all trying to convince consumers to go green and get into a zero emissions car.

Image: NEMPA
Image: NEMPA

If you look just at the cost of gas, that might not convince you to get into a ZEV, but if you look at the environmental impact, then it’s a no-brainer. Bob Perciasepe of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions gave a great example of the impact of ZEVs.

A hybrid produces roughly three tons of carbon dioxide annually which is a lot less than a beast like a Hummer at ten tons. Your traditional gas car probably falls in the middle somewhere, so you can feel good if you’re driving a hybrid. If you want to feel really good, then look at a ZEV. They come in at 60% more climate-friendly than even a hybrid. That’s a significant difference.

Pure electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are out there and they’re much more environmentally friendly than even the best hybrid on the road. The problem is, people are loathe to embrace this new technology and want to stick with what they know.

Image: NEMPA
Image: NEMPA

There are concerns about electric vehicles and their range, but the network of public charging stations continues to grow as does the speed at which they can fully charge a vehicle’s battery. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are lagging behind on refueling options making them an even tougher sell. The infrastructure doesn’t exist in a way that makes most people comfortable.

It’s like that old line from Field of Dreams. If they build it, they will come. The next time you’re in the market for a new car, take a second look at ZEVs and consider not just the dollars in your pocket, but the pollution in the air and how much you can help by going zero emissions.

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1 thought on “The Technology Is There, So Why Aren’t You in a Zero Emissions Car?

  1. “Pure electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are out there…”

    Really? Where?

    Tesla (which last I heard has a waiting list for every model they make) which the auto MFGs and dealer mafia seem dead set against the public being able to buy – banned from selling cars in ~30 states?

    And there’s the Nissan Leaf, which has a love it or hate it styling.

    And supposedly VW has an eGolf, which may or may not only exist in the TV ads (I’ve never seen nor heard of one other than their TV spots).

    Just looked up the eGolf online… only available select states (11 states, if count DC), and a paltry 83 mile range. So, yeah…

    Ford has their electric Focus, which is both affordable and attractive, but only has a range of 76 miles.

    There’re the two new ones from BMW, both of which I’ve actually seen on the roads around here. Neither of which are very affordable (they’re Bimmers afterall) or practical as a primary vehicle though.

    What other pure electrics are there?

    There’s also the Chevy Volt, which technically is a pure electric drive, it just totes around it’s own little petrol-powered generator. I’ve actually been puzzled about why Chevy didn’t seem to sell more of them…

    And what fuel cell vehicles are out there right now, widely available?

    For most people, the buck still stops at their pocket book though. ZEVs and hybrids still carry a bit of a premium over their petrol counterparts, though we’re getting closer to price parity, and Ford in particular has made it a point to try and price their hybrids the same as the gasoline models.

    “Range anxiety” is still an issue for a great many people, especially those of us that live in “flyover” country. As you pointed out though, that issue is being mitigated and getting better, but it’s still an issue.

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