Green car round up

The go-to guide on car buying has launched a new list, its “Top Green Cars of 2008” rankings, along with Kelley Blue Book Green, an informative new resource to help consumers find the car to match their price range, green motivations, and fuel-efficiency preferences. Judged mostly on fuel economy (but also with a nod to comfort, technology, and performance), the 2008 list puts the Toyota Prius at the top—no surprise there—followed by the Honda Civic Hybrid. Midway down the list is the Mini Cooper, which is by far the prettiest of the bunch.

This may be the list to watch as the trickle of plug-in electric vehicles picks up its pace. GM recently announced that its Volt, slated to roll off the production line in November 2010, switched its engine from a three-cylinder to a more fuel-efficient four-cylinder variety that should yield greater economies of scale for the car giant—all good reasons that make one wonder why they didn’t pick it in the first place.  Tesla Motors delivered the first of its Founders’ Series vehicles this month, and more should be coming soon. (Here’s a review of one Roadster, and photos from the first Roadster crash, in San Francisco.)

And if there’s any doubt about the strength of the electric car market, the latest news from Spain should ease those worries—the country has announced a plan to put 1 million electric cars on the road by 2014 as a key component of its energy parsimony movement. “Electric vehicles are the future and the driver of the industrial revolution,” Industry Minister Miguel Sebastian is quoted as saying. Send that message to Beijing, where the government is doing all it can to get emissions-spewing vehicles off the road before this summer’s Olympians are forced to blacken their lungs.

But all is not necessarily rosy in the EV world—the chief executive of Zenn Motors, an EV maker, frets about the Earth’s supply of lithium, which could have a troubling impact on the price and availability of the batteries needed to power the cars. Ian Clifford, the Zenn CEO, cites the jump in the price of lithium in the past decade as a sign that demand will continue to outpace lithium production for some time. According to the UK Guardian, experts broadly disagree on the quantity of lithium reserves and on whether the lithium sources we know about can be extracted economically, amounting to uncertainty about both long-term and short-term supply.

Part of the setback has been the historic volatility of the electric car market and sequels to “Who Killed the Electric Car” playing in the nightmares of auto industry execs, which have hindered investment in lithium source exploration. A powerful assist could come from a sharp reduction in the cost of making those lithium-based batteries—that would make the cost of developing and manufacturing the vehicles significantly cheaper, and therefore less risky to the carmakers. To that end, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin believes he has significantly cheaper way to make lithium iron phosphate batteries, using commercially available chemicals and much lower temperatures than typically are required.


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Issue 25

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