For many years, auto consumers complained about the pollution that was caused by gasoline-powered vehicles. The carbon monoxide and particulates that were released into the air from the tailpipes of millions of cars and trucks contaminated the environment. This led to the creation of electric and gas-hybrid vehicles. The idea was for these cars and trucks to rely less on fossil fuels and more on cleaner-burning ones - which would ultimately help the environment.
But is it possible that we've been operating under false assumptions? In other words, could alternative-fuel vehicles be no better for the environment than their gas-guzzling counterparts? Or even worse?
Believe it or not, the answer is yes. In fact, it's happening right now in China.
Like many countries, China has been looking for ways to increase the number of electric and/or hybrid vehicles on the roadways. In 2009, Beijing created initiatives with such names as the "New Energy Vehicles Program" and the "Ten Cities, Ten Thousand Vehicles Program." China has also pledged to commit $15 billion dollars over a five-year period toward constructing and selling electric cars to its citizens.
Sounds great, right? Here's the problem: the electricity that fuels these new vehicles comes from power plants. And what is used to generate this valuable electricity? Yup - fossil fuels. In fact, about six out of every seven Chinese power plants need fossil fuels to operate; and of these, all but 5% rely on coal - which is known for spewing dirty and unhealthy pollutants into the air.
The bottom line? A study by researchers at the University of Tennessee has found that on an emissions-per-passenger-kilometer basis, electric cars in China produce 3.6 times more polluting particulates than gas combustion engine vehicles do. Of course, this pollution is distributed differently; while the air around the vehicles themselves is cleaner, the environment in areas where power plants operate is much dirtier and more harmful to humans. In China's case, that means urban area environments improve at the expense of rural environments.
While the results of this study are surprising, they do not conclude that a similar phenomenon is taking place in the U.S. or other Western nations. Power plants in America are more energy efficient and often use cleaner-burning sources of fuel to generate electricity; so weighing auto pollution levels in the U.S. vs. China is not an apples-to-apples comparison.
Besides, we're still better in basketball - which is all that really matters anyway.
But the basic concept behind the research still holds true in the West: alternative-fuel vehicles do not completely eliminate the pollution caused by gas engines - although they do move it closer to the power plants. This notion serves to remind Americans that improving the environment can only be accomplished using a comprehensive approach to power generation - instead of an overly-simplistic, myopic effort to boost the numbers of hybrid or electric vehicles in consumers' garages.
Image credits: blogs.reuters.com, motoringtv.com, time.com.upi.com.
Tags: safeauto, safe auto, auto pollution, car pollution, hybrid car, auto insurance, car insurance
We frequently hear about "car buyback" programs that are promoted by auto dealers. For instance, General Motors and Chrysler are partnering with Ally Financial in a program that gives a new vehicle buyer the option of selling the vehicle back to Ally at a predetermined price after four years. But a new GM program announced this month is markedly different from a traditional car buyback offer. The U.S. automaker is giving new Chevy Volt owners the opportunity to sell their hybrid cars back to GM.
Why? Because of concerns about battery fires.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducts crash tests on different vehicles to gauge how well they survive impacts and protect passengers (and auto insurance companies take the information learned to heart). After carrying out side-impact crash tests on Chevy Volts, the NHTSA discovered that in three instances, the car's battery caught fire. These fires did not erupt right after the crashes; instead, it took anywhere from 7 to 21 days for the ignition of the blazes to occur. And the fires only appeared when the battery remained connected to the engines after the crashes (which is contrary to instructions found in the user's manual).
It is important to reiterate that no Volt owners have had their batteries catch fire after a crash. In fact, General Motors dispatches a team to drain the batteries of Volts whenever they are involved in collisions (which are identified through GM's OnStar system).
Nevertheless, the American carmaker initially decided to offer a vehicle loaner program to the owners of the 6,000 Volts currently on the road who were concerned about this issue; and then amended that statement to include the buyback offer.
GM officials have stated that the Chevy Volts are still safe, and explain that the buyback offer is only for the benefit of their customers' "peace of mind." In fact, GM CEO Dan Akerson has said that if the company feels it is necessary, GM will recall all of the Chevy Volts currently in use in order to fix the problem.
General Motors' proposal to buy back new Volts is certainly unusual and rare. But is it an example of exceptional customer service by an automaker who is sensitive to the public's uncertainties about new hybrid technology? Or is it the first step in attempting to avert what could be a potentially disastrous problem for a company that is trying to bounce back from bankruptcy and a government bailout? Only time will tell.
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Tags: safe auto, safeauto, chevy volt, hybrid car, battery fire
We like hybrids: they save gas, they’re safe, they come with reasonable car insurance rates, they help cars last longer, and they're an all-around good idea. But some are better than others, largely because hybrids are designed less for heavy-duty work and more for stop-start traffic. That fact won’t stop carmakers from shoving the new technology into vehicles that can't really use it and probably should instead just get cleaner engines. Here are the five worst offenders, some of which are even worse than their gas-slurping cousins, according to the data on Edmunds.com.
Cadillac Escalade Hybrid Cost: $73,850 Mileage: 20 city/23 highway Cost of the Gas Equivalent: $63,170 Mileage of the Gas Equivalent: 14 city/18 highway
Of the five worst on this list, the Escalade is not so bad. OK, it's not great: you're only getting six more miles per gallon, and five more on the highway. And you'll be paying $10,000 more for the privilege.
Believe it or not, that's the lowest premium you'll pay on this list for a hybrid ... and you'll get the most miles out of your car.
Chevy Tahoe Hybrid Cost: $51,665 Mileage: 20 city/23 highway Cost of the Gas Equivalent: $38,450 Mileage of the Gas Equivalent: 15 city/21 highway
As bad as it may sound to shell out nearly $15,000 more for two extra miles per gallon on the highway, believe it or not, the Tahoe is not so bad. On the other hand, that's a bit like saying a punch in the face is better than a kick to the groin: sure, technically it's better, but you're still paying a fortune for ... uh ... no savings.
Chevy Silverado Hybrid Cost: $39,265 Mileage: 20 city/23 highway Cost of the Gas Equivalent: $21,495 Mileage: 15/city/21 highway
Well, we do have to give Chevy some credit: at least they're consistent with the gas savings. Unfortunately, they're also consistent in the premium you'll pay to say your car runs on batteries: it'll run you nearly $20,000 extra this time for a pickup that seems environmentally conscious.
GMC Sierra 1500 Hybrid Cost: $39,635 Mileage: 20 city/23 highway Cost of the Gas Equivalent: $21,945 Mileage of the Gas Equivalent: 15 city/22 highway
We'll give GMC this: at least they're trying. They’re obviously not trying too hard, although the five mile uptick in city driving is a decent improvement. Then again, we really hope nobody is buying a pickup truck if they're just driving to an office job during rush hour ... especially at nearly twice the price!
BMW ActiveHybrid X6 Cost: $88,900 Mileage: 17 city/19 highway Cost of the Gas Equivalent: $59,300 Mileage of the gas equivalent: 16 city...and 23 highway.
Then there's this disaster. The X6 is not exactly popular among car reviewers, but the most jolting thing about this crossover SUV is the fact that it has lousy mileage for its class, let alone for a hybrid. In fact, as you might have noticed, you get more bang for your buck by simply using a gas engine and staying away from stop-start traffic. Not to mention that it costs almost $30,000 more. For that, you might as well buy the gas engine and just pick up another gas-powered car for a spare.
Here's what we're wondering: nobody over in Germany looked at those numbers and thought releasing this car was a bad idea?
Tags: safe auto, safeauto, hybrid car
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