At the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show in 1995, General Motors unveiled an Impact, the first electric vehicle on display for the public. Hydrogen cars were being hyped as saviours of the environment: the future. Fast-forward eight years. So, where are they all?
Re-designing engines to use hydrogen compacted in fuel cells to create enough electricity to power a new engine while generating zero pollutants may seem complicated. It is. But there is an even bigger problem that is easier to understand yet more difficult to fix. People won’t buy cars they can’t re-fuel. And fuelling companies aren’t about to invest millions to create a nation-wide fuelling infrastructure for cars that don’t even exist yet. Chris Banks, a Ford Canada spokesperson, points out, “People don’t want to change.” But thanks to hybrid vehicles, which use both gas and electricity, getting drivers to make the switch may become less challenging.
The Ford Escape Hybrid, coming out this fall, will have two engines: one for gas, one for electricity. The gas engine will ensure you can drive as usual. Meanwhile, regenerative braking will store energy created every time you use your brakes to a battery for an electric engine that will power the car—saving you gas.
However, fuel cells and electric vehicles are very expensive. “You can buy the normal Escape for $30,000. We can’t charge $50,000 for the Hybrid,” says Banks, “Consumers don’t want to have to make a compromise.” So auto manufacturers are constantly challenged to modify electric vehicles to make them faster, get better mileage and be comparable in price to gas-powered engines.
Although electric cars may seem to be a realistic vision for our distant future, they may have already been a part of your past. Odds are that your great great great great grandparents might have owned one, or perhaps driven around in one. In 1900, electric and gas vehicles shared the muddy roads for a while. However, gas was four times cheaper than electricity at the time. Also, gas engines made cars a lot lighter, which was an important selling feature since cars often got stuck in the swampy paths before concrete was used to pave the way. So, gasoline became the standard.
Since that time, here’s what we’ve learned. The environment is dying. The ice caps are melting, smog is smothering, gas is no longer very cheap and the pollutants it generates are destroying the world we live in.
Fortunately, progress is being made. Next year California will run the first North American hydrogen fuel cell refuelling facility for electric buses, while Europe has already begun testing. Iceland has also taken a step into the future with the opening of the world’s first hydrogen filling station. At the opening, the Industry Minister announced, “What is happening in Iceland will show the rest of the world that hydrogen fuel is a real, commercial possibility.”
Written by Faze contributorJames Chung