For as long as we’ve been able to take to the roads in cars and other vehicles, we’ve striven to push technology forward and find a better, cleaner way to get around. Of course, the simple solution is simply not to drive anywhere; however, that’s not really practical in today’s society. With carbon emissions becoming a hot topic among the public, it’s no surprise that car manufacturers have started to develop vehicles that don’t run using the ‘traditional’ internal combination engine. Lots of the big name car makers are now looking into creating cars that run purely on electricity; but with hybrid cars already becoming the norm, will pure electric vehicles ever become the new standard? Let’s look at just a few of the pros and cons of each of these green technologies.
Since the early 2000s, hybrid technology has been becoming more and more popular. The first commercial hybrid and perhaps the most well known is the Toyota Prius. In essence, a hybrid vehicle combines both the internal combustion engine and an electric motor so the car can be powered by one, the other, or both. This essentially doubles the fuel economy of the car and allows it to get close to 100mpg (in the case of the Prius), if road conditions and driving style is correct. A hybrid works by having the petrol engine charge the battery as the car runs, giving the driver the ability to switch between them.
In a Prius, the electric engine will actually take over from the combustion engine completely at speeds less than 40mph, making this kind of driving highly economical. One of the key benefits of hybrid vehicles, at least in the eyes of a normal motorist, is its fuel economy and low carbon emissions. The downside of hybrids is that, because the technology is still in its infancy, the choice of vehicles is still fairly limited. Having said this, there are now many big-name car makers who are creating hybrid cars, including Lexus and Honda – and finally bringing hesitant people out of their computer seating to invest in the new technology.
‘Pure’ electric cars
Look back over the many years that science fiction has been popular, and you’ll see that electric cars have been one of mankind’s dreams for a long time (along with, of course, the flying car). Whilst there are now pure electric vehicles available to buy, the technology is very new – so new in fact that the few pure electric cars that are available are price-restrictive. Manufacturers like Nissan, with their new ‘Leaf’ car, are leading the pack on this front, and it’s now fairly realistic that you could completely replace your petrol car with these seemingly futuristic options. However, along with the issue of price, pure electric cars have a few more problems that hybrids do not.
Charging, for example. Even on the latest models, it will still take about 8 hours to charge the battery – let alone the fact that the driver has to find an appropriate charging point. The range is also a concern that some people have about electric cars: how long can a cargo on one full charge of the battery? Well, in the case of the Nissan Leaf, the car will do around 70 miles on one full charge. Bearing in mind this car takes 7 hours to charge, the numbers just don’t add up for people who commute or want to drive further than 70 miles in one go – and that’s a lot of us! Perhaps the biggest gripe with the new electric cars, though, is that the battery will only last five to ten years before needing to be replaced. And a replacement can cost tens of thousands – which is an unthinkable price for the general public.
It seems that, at least for now, the way forward lies with the hybrid. It’s a technology that’s had over ten years to mature and it’s being adopted by more and more car makers. Pure electric cars are the clear winner from an environmental point of view, but the technology needs a lot of work before it can replace the internal combustion engine on a day-to-day basis.