Within the past decade, it’s safe to assume hybrids have undergone not just a makeover with efficiency, performance and overall appearance, but also familiarity in the driver conscience. We’ve gone from hearing about just the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius to welcoming the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan LEAF, SmartCar, Mitsubishi iMiEV and other future entries to the hybrid/EV market. Even well-known models like the Civic, Camry, Audi A3 TDI, VW Jetta, Fusion and others have started making specific gas-electric vehicles to increase not just MPG standards, but options when selecting a trim.
It’s no longer a myth or a fad that Hollywood celebrities tried to cook up in their off time at the turn of the 21st century. Buses are being made to run on biodiesel (Willie Nelson’s chugs along on a mixture of soybeans and vegetable oils). Determination to create full-fledged hydrogen cars as a worthy competitor to EVs is still pressing on. And even though the latter is more or less still ironing out the kinks, it’s at least in the news. The days of reading endless articles on The Myths of Hybrid Vehicles is being shoved aside by rising Prius sales across the globe. Basically, the popularity and familiarity of hybrids with the everyday driver has a fairly bright future.
But there’s more work to be done to make it even more so. And I’m not talking about changing the technology and capability of a hybrid to eventually start flying like a scene straight out of Back To The Future: Part II, or transforming into rail cars that cling to buildings and drop you off at your home or apartment, a la Minority Report (although you’d think that’d lower people’s auto insurance premiums if we magically woke up to fully auto-driver assistance).
No, the fact of the matter is supply and demand need to be better segmented in a number of ways. Better awareness on the perks of a hybrid is one thing. Opening up more charging stations across the country, so an EV or plug-in hybrid driver isn’t forced to zap his home energy bill every week, is another. That said, here’s a list of ways to turn automotive analysts’ predictions on hybrid/EV sales five years from now – projected 5% market share by 2015 – into reality and then some.
Continue To Work On Charging Station Proximities
A Frost & Sullivan report hinted that by 2017, there could possibly be around 4.1 million charging stations scattered across the United States. And at the current pace, it could exceed that. Just as of April 2011, there were approximately 750 stations raised across the country. As of August 2012? Try 4,806. That’s a significant bump to be proud of, for sure. But the distance and availability of a charging station to certain states is the issue.
While they dominate the West and East Coast, the middle of the country has’t quite shared the same love. Whether it’s because of choice or the amount of hybrid/EV owners in a given radius is a question for another time.
You can check out where your city/state sits on the EV charging station map courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy here.
But, when the demand correlates with the supply of plug-in hybrids and EVs, it’s more comforting and obvious for charging stations to have kept up with the rise as well.
Perks Shall Be a Thing of The Past
Being an early adopter to anything has its perks. You have something shiny and new to show off to your friends and family and those just walking by. There was the envious stares when you said how many MPGs your hybrid or EV eschewed over their conventional ride. And you got a tax break, or you were designated your own, special lane in California to “zip” past rush-hour traffic.
But the tax breaks are, for all intents and purposes, about finished. And those carpool lanes in California that were opened to super-ultra-low-emissions vehicles (SULEV), ultra-low-emissions vehicles (ULEV) and the EVs? They were briefly given the boot, but later reinstated up till 2015. Although hybrids aren’t allowed through them anymore. They got the boot. At some point or another, the SULEVs, ULEVs and EVs may probably lose that perk, too.
Point is, perks shouldn’t be the defining reason you write off hybrids and EVs or completely think they were a con the entire time (not that you’d think the latter sentiment…). Any car can have a perk that looks appealing for a while. It starts off as a fad because it’s new, but over time, it’ll just become commonplace. That in-car navigation setup that your Honda Accord had five years ago will probably be standard five years from now. Same for heated seats, blindside assistance, etc.
But the one perk (well two, actually) that hybrid cars and EVs and other alternative fuel vehicles will have is that of efficiency and eco-friendliness. And that’s a trend-setter that’ll only get better through advanced engineering a decade or so from now.
Bringing More Emphasis To Trucks
Fuel efficiency as a key component to hybrids and EVs has probably been hit over the head so much so that it’s arguably the one spec that most everyone is aware of right off the bat. Although, MPG numbers do vary with certain vehicle classes. A compact might absorb better stats than an SUV, or an exotic car might lose out to a sedan. Sometimes MPG numbers are reduced a bit because of the performance demand for a certain vehicle. And trucks certainly lose a little more steam.
With that said, there needs to be even more hybrid MPG magic in the mix. Especially towards a particular vehicle that tends to enjoy prime seating on the year-end sales charts. Ford and Chevrolet and GMC have done their due diligence of making a hybrid truck, with the Silverado, Sierra and F-150 being rolled out recently. And there are plenty of rumors of Toyota showing the same attention to either its Tundra, Tacoma, or both.
And one author even suggested at what the future could hold for an EV pickup truck.
But put all of those ideas aside if the MPG standards aren’t beefed up down the road. While great strides have been made with MPG increases in standard trucks, imagine the day when a hybrid truck can garner around 30-35 MPG and still not lose out on the towing capacity or other hauling specs?
One good way to consider the rise of the hybrid and EV movement onto highways and byways across the globe would be to consider how meteoric a rise the SUV had in the early to mid-1990’s (I’d include the Humvee, but that hysteria went the way of the dinosaur because of fuel costs, among other factors). What the SUV brought to the driving landscape was something fresh, expansive and, no pun intended, utilized a number of driving needs for many people.
The hybrids, EVs, and other alternative fuel vehicles have that special mojo as well. It’s just a matter of time before it’s completely realized.