The car of the future finally rolled out at this year’s TED conference, and wow, it looks like the future has arrived. For those of us who are looking to decrease our dependence on foreign oil and lower our carbon footprints, the Aptera may likely become our new standard. It was launched from the business incubator Idealab and has received quite a bit of attention due to its fuel efficiency, affordability, and design.
Some people just don’t get it.Folks in Detroit fall into that category. At this week’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, hybrids, h-cars, and electric vehicles will once again take a back seat to the traditional, gas-burning vehicles that have dominated the world since the 1920s.
According to Wired.com, the showstoppers should be Audi’s R8 diesel concept, pioneered on Lemans raceways, and the turbo-charged, 4-cylinder Ford Explorer America, due to start production in 2010. Both Audi’s diesel engine and Ford’s Ecoboost are touted as “the engines of the future” because they’re both more efficient and cleaner.
Imagine a world in which we can harness the power of the wind to move cargo across the ocean. Um… wait a minute, didn’t that world exist up until just over 100 years ago? After a century’s hiatus, Skysails, a German start-up, is re-popularizing the wind for overseas transit.
And now that DHL Global Forwarding — the ocean and air freight carrier of the Deutsche Post World Net Group — has jumped on board, it’s official: the world of extreme sports has finally benefited the world of global commerce.
Bremen, Germany-based shipping company Beluga has purchased the first of these wind-fuel hybrid ships, the MS Beluga Skysails, and plans to showcase the new technology on a trans-Atlantic voyage this month. Here’s the gist: the Beluga is a typical-looking 160-meter cargo ship with a typical engine, but also includes an aerofoil attached to a 15 meter mast. This “sail” looks like a large paraglider or — like anyone who’s been to Hood River, Oregon can tell you — like giant kiteboard.
If only we could still rely on aerodynamics to make cars cleaner and more efficient. But it’s no big secret that we’re past that point. Still, automakers are forging ahead with super-charged gas-guzzlers like the Furai, and even though it runs on 100% ethanol (cleaner and more sustainable than dinosaur oil), it represents more of the gluttonous, fast-and-furious attitude that has brought the planet to the breaking point.
Mazda has packed all of its most recent gems into the Furai, including the Nagare body shape, the Courage C65 chassis, and a 3-rotor rotary engine — embodying Mazda’s best “zoom zoom”. Furai was pioneered on the racetrack, and according to Franz von Holzhausen, Mazda’s North American director of design: “Furai purposely blurs boundaries that have traditionally distinguished street cars from track cars. Historically, there has been a gap between single-purpose racecars and street-legal models — commonly called supercars — that emulate the real racers on the road. Furai bridges that gap like no car has ever done before.”
This is what I know when it comes to cars: how they look; how they drive; and what they’ve got inside.
Granted, these aren’t the most technical issues, but I’m guessing if I care about these things, others might, too. That’s why I devised the “G” rating system, which we’ll apply to all the hybrid cars on the market. Here’s how it works: we’ll give points out of 10 for each of the following categories: first impression, performance, and special features. A perfect final score would be 30.
First up is the Lexus GS, which pretty much had me at “Lexus”. There’s something about Lexus that I love, and I promise it has nothing to do with memories of cruising the streets of Tokyo in one back in the day. Lexuses are just luxurious. The sleek and sexy GS hybrid is no exception upon first impression, and for that I gave it 10 out of 10.
The GS didn’t disappoint when it came to performance either. Fast, powerful and virtually silent… what else could you ask for in a partner, er… I mean, a car? With amazing braking and suspension, this car was super fun to drive. But back to reality: the GS Hybrid is not the best when it comes to fuel efficiency. 22 mpg in the city and 25 on the highway, which doesn’t wow me. It’s better than a regular GS, which does 17/24 city/highway, but not that much better. So, for performance, the GS hybrid gets an 8.
Dan Tracy just may have revolutionized the boating industry. He may also have found a way to lessen our dependence on oil. How? With a kite.
Bypassing the time honored boat necessity, the mast, Tracy has developed a mechanism that enables his 24-foot Corsair trimaran to be powered by the wind. Looking like a large fishing reel, the gizmo helps steer the kite (the sort that’s used in kite boarding), which – because of its height – is able to harness stronger winds than those found just above the surface of the water.
Last year, BMW released its Concept X6 — and if you didn’t catch it, I’m not surprised. The “concept” is what BMW calls its “cross-over technology” – crossing over from SUV/SAV to a Sports Activity Coupe — basically a small station wagon with a higher clearance. While the cross-over has nothing to do with fuel technology, the X6 will be available in a hybrid and will unveil BMW’s Active Hybrid system.
The X6 should be available in 2009, so if BMW is your religion, this car might just be your next must-have.
But what’s the big deal? BMW is patting itself on the back for its “bold design” that mixes the utility of an SUV with the compact-ness of a coupe. They are touting the X6’s handling abilities – it reportedly handles like a sports car – and its style (it really looks good).
Volvo, in conjunction with aftermarket wizard HeicoSportiv, unveiled some of its latest flair at the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Manufacturer’s Association) show in Las Vegas with its concept E85-burning, turbo-charged S80. The SEMA show is basically an orgy for fast, pimped-out cars (and “trucks”), replete with the obligatory buxom calendar girls titillating teenage hormones. Why Volvo is there, I’m not sure, but the S80 seemed a bit out of place – kind of like a tuxedo at a rodeo.
The S80 could stand alone as an iconic sports car, given its alternative fuel engine (85% bioethanol) and its comprehensive package of sporty bling – including 350 horsepower that will get you from 0 to 60 in 5.8 seconds. All this while maintaining the S80’s luxurious Volvo style.
If you’re the type of person that enjoys flying kites and sailing boats, the Kite Sailing Kitano Yacht designed by German designer Stefanie Krücke is your dream come true. Put simply, it literally has a kite for a sail.
Boasting luxury and eco-consciousness, it looks like it sailed right out of a James Bond flick. But does its sleek design and “look at me” flash live up to its hype?
In other words, why on earth would you trade in your traditional sail for a kite?
According to the designer, the kite has less surface area than a normal sail, but still generates enough force so that even a gentle breeze lifts the hull to a planing speed. Once airborne, the kite is able to reach heights that a traditional sail cannot, and higher altitude allows the kite to find stronger winds, equaling more speed. And on a calm day, it can mean the difference between floating along and actually sailing. In addition, the design includes a hydraulically operated centerboard which allows the boat to sail in shallow waters and littorals (seashore) with less risk. The boat can accommodate up to eight passengers comfortably.
Sometimes in a practical and efficient world, style must give way to function. That said, when looking at the new Toyota Hi-CT concept car, I wonder just how much style we have to give up in order to achieve said practicality and efficiency.
Imagine, for a moment, a Mini Cooper. Nice looking car, right? Now take its nose and smash it so that it extends slightly further than the windshield. Welcome to the Toyota Hi-CT.
It’s like a car after a botched nose job.
But looks aren’t everything. True, the Hi-CT will facilitate travel in cities where traffic congestion is high, but along with its compact size, it’s the vehicle’s power source that’s of real interest here. The Hi-CT is powered by a hybrid drive-train, which combines a 1.5-liter gasoline engine with an electric motor.
The American auto industry giants just took another big hit. This time it didn’t come from the latest Japanese or German invention that gets better mileage on a smaller engine; the hit comes from a guy in his garage in Witchita, Kansas: Johnathan Goodwin. He is making America’s biggest, hulking SUVs more efficient, less polluting, and beefier on the horsepower.
How’s he doing it? His latest project, according to fastcompany online, turns a jet turbine into a super-efficient battery charger – in a Hummer. The jet doesn’t drive the powertrain – sorry Batman fans – it chips in only when the “supercapacitor” batteries are running low. These batteries kick, providing over 600 horsepower (over 2 times the gas engine). Fuel efficiency? Burning biodiesel, it runs about 60 mpg. Goodwin also incorporates a hydrogen-injection system that cuts in half the already-decreased biodiesel exhaust, creating the meanest, greenest thing I’ve seen.
There are two distinct theories of gas-electric hybrid design. The first is to make them look different from typical internal combustion engine cars, so that people driving them feel apart from the rest of the pack. The second is to bury the hybrid system in an otherwise conventional car, making for a stealthy application of the same technology.
Strangely enough, given that the last Honda Insight rolled off the assembly line last year, the Toyota Prius is currently the only example of the obvious hybrid. The Toyota Camry, on the other hand, may well be the best current example of a stealth hybrid — and that’s because they don’t come much more conventional than the Camry.