Concept Green Cars
Toyota first demonstrated a futuristic hybrid concept vehicle at the Tokyo Auto Show in 1995. The car, which consisted of an electric motor connected to a regular gasoline engine, was called the Toyota Prius. Hybrid skeptics —both at the show and afterward—are now silent, as cumulative global sales continue to surpass all expectations. Which of today's wild and wacky hi-tech enviro car concepts will become tomorrow's practical fuel-efficient vehicles? Let's take a look at some contenders.
The Volvo 3CC concept car, a rocket-shaped three-seater, can accommodate the full range of power systems, from traditional gasoline and alternative fuels such as ethanol, to hybrid and all electric. Three thousand lithium-ion batteries, just like those used in laptop computers, give it the equivalent of 105 horsepower. The 3CC has the aerodynamics of a two-seat sports car, but can slip a third passenger, or perhaps two children, in a single seat in the back.
Ford Mercury Meta One
The Mercury Meta One combines a hybrid transmission with a twin-turbocharged V-6 diesel engine calibrated to run on a bio-diesel blend (fuel made from natural, renewable sources such as vegetable oils). The combination is designed to produce the power of a V-10, with emission levels clean enough to meet California's Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) requirement. Daihatsu UFE III
Daihatsu, the Japanese car company known for compacts, is on the third generation of the UFE (which stand for Ultra Fuel Economy). This mini-hybrid vehicle can transport three people—one upfront, and two in the back. The hybrid system comprises a 660-cubic centimeter direct-injection gasoline engine, two motors, and a nickel-metal hydride battery. Its estimated fuel economy is 169 miles per gallon.
Nissan has developed a bubble-shaped, three-seater electric car called the Pivo—short for pivot. It runs exclusively on electricity. The cabin sits atop a wheeled platform that can swivel 360 degrees, doing away with the need to reverse when emerging from narrow spaces.
The X3 combines a next-generation direct-injection inline six-cylinder engine with an electric motor—and a supercapacitor instead of the rechargeable batteries most hybrids use. A supercapacitor discharges all of its energy in a quick burst of power. Then, the gasoline engine takes over until the regenerative braking can recharge the supercapacitor for another quick burst. The system provides a modest 20% improvement in fuel economy over current models.
The Volta's 3.3-liter V-6 gas engine is located behind the rear axle and isn't connected directly to the wheels. Instead, movement is provided by two electric engines, one per axle, offering the safety benefits of all-wheel drive. But the real gain of packaging a large internal-combustion engine with two electric motors is rip-roaring speed: The 408-horsepower hybrid drive can go from 0 to 60 in 4 seconds.
GM Saab Aero X
The two-seat Saab Aero X doesn't have doors or a fixed windshield. Instead, the entire face of the vehicle opens up. Inside, the Saab Aero X's cockpit completely eliminating conventional dials and buttons. Instead, Saab displays data on glass-like acrylic "clear zones" in graphic 3-D images. The drivetrain is just as innovative as the body design. The Aero X combines turbo-charging and the use of bio-fuel to deliver 400-horsepower performance without burning a drop of petroluem. The V6 engine is fueled entirely by 100% ethanol. This reduces the tank-to-wheel carbon emissions of the vehicle to exactly zero. Can't find pure ethanol? No problem for the Aero X. The engine management system will make adjustments for any gasoline-ethanol blend.
The Volkswagen Chameleon
On the outside, the Volkswagen Chameleon Microbus looks like it rolled right out of the set of a 1960s surfer movie. But times have changed in the world of energy and technology. Volkswagen retrofitted the 1964 Deluxe Microbus for a new generation by installing an all-electric drive powered by lithium polymer batteries. Ten 30-volt batteries under the van’s floor provide a range of about 100 miles. A recharge takes about 6 hours. Surfboards mounted on the roof are lined with flexible solar panels that provide an additional source of energy. The vehicle needs all the energy it can find to power an arsenal of interactive digital cabin features, including imbedded touch-pads and speech activated controls. Don't expect to ever see this vehicle on the road. Volkswagen is using the Chameleon strictly as a marketing tool to showcase a movie-fantasy future of automotive electronics.
The Honda FCX Concept
The Honda FCX Concept uses a secret weapon to deliver more power than its predecessor fuel cell vehicles: gravity. Honda calls it a "3V" system: "Vertical gas flow, vertebral layout, and volume-efficient packaging." In the 3V schema, oxygen and hydrogen flow from the top to the bottom of the fuel cell stack and the fuel cells are arranged vertically in the center tunnel for more efficient packaging of the fuel cells. With these improvements, the FCX fuel-cell car now has a driving range of 354 miles—a 30 percent improvement from the 2005 model—and a maximum speed of 100 miles per hour. The vehicle can driven in temperatures as low as minus 86 degrees Fahrenheit. The super-slick Honda FCX Concept has a long and ultra-low profile that is anything but vertical.
The Sequel is based on a design that puts all propulsion systems, steering, braking and chassis components packed into the car's 11-inch underbelly. By packing all the functionality into what the company calls a "skateboard" chassis, GM claims they'll have greater freedom for the car's interior and exterior design. GM has been working on the skateboard approach for a number of years, and the Sequel is apparently their breakthrough. With the company's advances in fuel cells, by-wire technology, and wheel hub motors, GM has doubled the range to 300 miles—on its hydrogen supply—and halved the 0-60 times to under ten seconds.