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Alternative-Fuel Vehicle Recommendations? 1080

Posted by Cliff
from the ditching-the-gas-guzzlers dept.
Ellen Spertus asks: "My husband and I lease a pure electric GM EV-1, which we love, and need to replace our second car, a conventional Honda Accord, which recently died. We'd get a second EV-1, but GM has stopped making them. I haven't been able to find any available all-eletric car with the range (>=50 miles roundtrip) and speed (>=65 mph) that I need. Does the Slashdot community have any experience, wisdom, or advice on choosing an alternative fuel car?"

"I'm currently considering:

We test drove a Toyota Prius today, and it seems like a nice car. It's said to provide a quieter and more comfortable ride than the Honda Insight, and it uses pure electric power at low speeds. The Honda Insight, on the other hand, has better gas mileage. I could refuel either at regular gas stations. The Honda Civic GX would need to be refueled at special stations, but there are many where I live and work, the San Francisco Bay Area. The GX is the lowest in emissions, which would qualify me to drive alone in the carpool lane. All of the cars are about the same price, around $20,000 new. Used cars are also available."
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Alternative-Fuel Vehicle Recommendations?

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  • BIODIESEL (Score:5, Insightful)

    by carlhirsch (87880) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:13PM (#3850392) Homepage
    Biodiesel [biodiesel.org] is one alternative energy means that I think has real potential. Apparently there's all sorts of new grants available for folks wanting to get involved.

    Just don't try to start that french fry grease up on a cold morning.
    • Re:BIODIESEL (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TheRedHorse (559375)

      To learn a little bit more about Biodiesel [biodiesel.org] try HempCar.org [hempcar.org], the hemp car (as the title may suggest) is a car developed to run on hemp as a Biodiesel [biodiesel.org]. They are currently driving it across Canada. Sure, not a commercial solution and probably not legal in the US. but it gives you an example of one Biodiesel [biodiesel.org] solution.

      • Re:BIODIESEL (Score:3, Informative)

        by SWroclawski (95770)
        This is unnecessary.

        Diesel vehicles will work with biodiesel "out of the box". In fact, biodiesel is the original fuel that diesel engines were designed to use, oil-based fuels came after the engine and refining techniques were used to make it simulate the naturally occuring oils.

        Also, biodiesel is less harsh than oil-based diesel, helping the car last longer.

        As to the smell- while biodiesel does have an odor, so does petrol.

        - Serge Wroclawski
    • by ProfBooty (172603) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @01:49PM (#3851357)
      Get a Volkswagen TDI model (http://www.tdiclub.com/). In the US they have TDI jetta's, beetles and golfs (nearly every model in europe has a TDI, passat, lupo etc). In the US they are only rated for about 90hp(and 155hp of torque stock, they can get up to 115hp fairly easily), but get 49MPG (over 700miles a tank) for highway mileage. The TDI lupo (only in europe) is rated for 90MPG and costs far less than a honda!

      They do offer a 150hp TDI engine in europe which still gets really good gas mileage, but won't run on current US grade diesel (which is real poor). There is even a TDI GTI! VW/Audi sells six different diesels in Europe (1.2l, 1.9l - 90hp, 1.9l - 110hp, 1.9l -115hp, 2.5l - 150hp, V8 3.3l - 225hp[available soon]) compared to only the 1.9l - 90hp available in North America. When mentioning these horse power figures though, we must also think where this power is available. On the 1.9l 90hp it peak torque is available at just 1900RPMs with 155 ft/lbs torque up to the V8 3.3l which generates 355 ft/lbs torque between 1800 and 3000RPMs. I guess we can only dream of these really high output models.

      Diesel is good, unfortuneatly it got a bad name in the US due to the amount of black smoke earlier cars and big trucks would put out (about 2% of US cars are diesel compared to over 25% in Europe. A properly tuned diesel shouldnt spew black smole and has gobs of torque which is great for driving around town(you won't win a drag race).

      VW is really the only auto manufacturer who still offers diesel cars, and their prices start around 15k. Plus you get a car which is much nicer than a civic both on the in and outside.

      I expect more manufacturer's to bring diesels over to the US once the fuel standards increase.

      On a side note, is there any technical problem which has stop diesel electric hybrids in cars (they have diesel electric trains). Seems to me you would get a more fuel efficent car than a gas electric.
      • Hear hear. With in the last couple of issues of Car & Driver, the TDI VW's were found to be much more efficient, and fun to drive, than the Honda Insight. Also, you can by a VW, where as the hybrid vehicles usually come with a fairly restrictive lease (or so I've been told).

        I got stuck driving a Toyota Prius for a couple of days while my car was in the shop. No acceleration, almost dangerously top-heavy with a short & narrow wheelbase & width, the car was absolutely no fun to drive. The high-efficiency diesels are the most practical way to go.

        YMMV.
      • On a side note, is there any technical problem which has stop diesel electric hybrids in cars (they have diesel electric trains). Seems to me you would get a more fuel efficent car than a gas electric.
        I guess the quick answer is "no". But just FYI, a diesel-electric train works differently than a gas-electric hybrid car.

        The diesel engine in a train does one thing: it turns an alternator to produce electricity. This electricity is then used to run the electric motors to turn the wheels.

        The hybrid cars usually still have the engine hooked up to the wheels using a driveshaft, and the electric motor just supplements the engine (or vise-versa).

      • On a side note, is there any technical problem which has stop diesel electric hybrids in cars (they have diesel electric trains). Seems to me you would get a more fuel efficent car than a gas electric.
        Perhaps it has to do with the way the gas/electric hybrids operate. The hybrids frequently kill the engine when it isn't needed. This is fine if you have a big enough electrical system to accomidate it. In fact these hybrids are super efficient in that area.

        Diesels on the other hand take a bit more juice to get going, even with the new TDI technology. Perhaps this shifts the balance away in favor of having to run the engine more often, ofsetting the potential gains. From a technical standpoint, diesels are much more suited to continuous operation. One big reason emergency vehicles where persuit speed isn't critical (ambulance, fire truck etc) use diesel is that they are content to be idling at the scene for hours at a time. (This is in addition to the availability of low RPM high torque). Gas engines on the other hand, build up carbon and the plugs can get fouled up if they idle for too long. Most police departments get rid of their vehicles well before 100k miles, in part because of the loss of performance due to excessive idling. Yet, my town will keep firetrucks until the bottom rusts out 20, sometimes 30 years - then they sell the engine to the public/another department and convert the leftover body to scrap metal.

        That is also your tradeoff; while diesels are well suited for extended idle situations, they aren't as well suited for frequent on/off use. Instead, this is where they get their buildup, constant temperature fluxuations in the engine block and short runtime. Think about the train (as someone else did) - they fire that sucker up in the morning and don't shut it down until they get wherever, even if they are stopped for an hour. On/off every other block is quite a different usage :) And this is the big advantage of hybrids - they start and stop the engine frequently in the course of normal operation.
  • Takara (Score:5, Funny)

    by Apreche (239272) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:14PM (#3850396) Homepage Journal
    Has made this really cool 1 seater.
    At about 10,000 US each it's a bargain.
    http://mdn.mainichi.co.jp/photojournal/index.htm l
  • Big fan of CNG (Score:2, Informative)

    by DeafDumbBlind (264205)
    CNG cars are popular in some places in Europe where gas in pretty damn expensive. I know that they have trouble starting in really cold weather, but you should be ok.
    • I also "vote" for the CNG because of it's classic car look (even though it may be hard to make a 'statement' with it).

      Being that it's the best for the planet (your words) that is you best choice.

      However, I maybe the only one who thinks the Insight is 'cool'. I checked out the Apple VR images and I'm even more impressed.

      Tough choice, but go for the most anti-oil... my 2% of a euro.

    • In NZ, CNG has been a very popular alternative fuel source for years now. (LPG -- liquefied petroleum gasoline -- is also used, but is much less popular.) At a guess, it's probably been available for over 20 years. People will buy a standard petrol car, then have it converted to use CNG as well. This entails the piping being run into the engine, a fuel gauge (typically an LED display with four coloured bars) being installed on the dashboard, and the tank itself being installed, usually in the boot/trunk (which significantly cuts the available luggage space).

      Once you have a car converted in this fashion (cost used to be about NZ$1500, I think, so roughly US$850), you can drive it using either fuel source. CNG can be a bit harder to start in cold weather, and cars with CNG tanks didn't get the same range on a full tank of CNG as on a full tank of petrol. (This will obviously depend on the size of the tank -- the nature of the conversion I've described places some limitations on the size of the tank you can use.) The recommendation for such vehicles is to try to run one tank of petrol for every three or four tanks of CNG, mainly so the tubing for the petrol doesn't clog up resulting in your being unable to run on petrol if you have an emergency (like running out of CNG).

      Petrol stations will often have a CNG tank beside the petrol pumps (much like a lot of service stations in the US have diesel pumps). Significantly fewer have LPG tanks, due to its lack of popularity. Filling a CNG tank is pretty simple -- you unscrew a cap on a valve, put on the CNG hose (rather like using a bicycle pump), and then let it go. I think from memory it automatically cuts off when the tank is full.

      I'm too lazy to look up any information on how clean CNG really is, but it certainly smells better than petrol fumes! I also don't know what the distribution of natural gas fields are like on a global scale -- anyone else have such details? Would a nice side consequence of greater use of CNG be to decrease dependence on oil fields which are mostly located in politically unstable areas of the world?
    • Re:Big fan of CNG (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ackatack (310522)
      Last year I did a 45 page report for my Environmental Studies class on alternative fuel vehicles. What I found is that CNG is, at this time, the more economical, environmental, and reliable choice. California no longer allows for vehicles that have been converted to burn CNG from LPG because they proved that the aftermarket kits that are sold here deteriorate over two years which leads to higher emissions. As for the safety concern, CNG vehicles have stronger tanks that must be checked every year. Another fact to consider is that being as methane doesn't pool, when the fuel tank is crushed, like gasoline, some critics suggest the fact that CNG cars are safer than their LPG counterparts. CNG vehicles get approximately the same range off of one tank of fuel as LPG cars. Finally, with the surging costs of gasoline and electricity in the SF Bay area, I'm from Walnut Creek, it makes financial sense to go with the CNG vehicle.

      P.S. If you have a hard time believing any of this stop for a moment and think about UPS which maintains one of the biggest, if not the largest, fleets of CNG vehicles. It had to make sense to some of their bean-counters.
  • retro electric car (Score:2, Interesting)

    by lo_fye (303245)
    these babies are SLICK! they're in Toronto :) http://www.feelgoodcars.com/
  • by redfieldp (549286) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:16PM (#3850427)
    The The Honda Civic Hybrid [honda.com]? It uses gas and electric, and gets pretty sweet mileage, plus its battery is self charging....
    • by Coolfish (69926) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:31PM (#3850579)
      The Jetta TDI has better mileage than the Civic hybrid.. in fact i believe it has the best mileage for any vehicle that still uses a fossil fuel of any sort.

      http://www.vw.com/engine/index.htm?locnav=jetta
      • And motorcycles? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Tenebrious1 (530949)
        in fact i believe it has the best mileage for any vehicle that still uses a fossil fuel of any sort.

        My Suzuki motorcyle would get over 50MPG on the highway (as long as I kept it under 85mph). Even the Honda Goldwings with the 1.6L engines were rated at 50MPG on the highway. Many mopeds and scooters get even higher mileage, some in the 100MPG range. Of these, some don't qualify to be ridden on an interstate, but most are vehicles that require plates and license to operate.

        eCycle [ecycle.com] (oops, is that a deep link?) is working on a hybrid motorcycle that gets 180MPG (using diesel by the way). Pretty cool machine, I'd love to try one out, but with a top speed of 80, it would barely keep up with traffic on NY/NJ highways...

    • Yeah I'd go with the Honda Civic hybrid over the Honda Insight.

      The new Civic has the second generation electric assist engine as an option... The insight was first generation.

    • I recently had the pleasure of riding in one of these cars, and they're way nifty. Four of us drove from Washington DC to somewhere in central Pennsylvania and back again (about 4 hours at highway speeds each direction) on about half a tank of gas. It lasted a long time between tanks in the city too, even with all the stop'n'go driving of DC. I was *incredibly* impressed.

      It had plenty of amenities too (CD player, AC, power locks and windows), rode quietly, was comfortable enough for a long trip, and didn't feel like it would blow away in a strong breeze. If I hadn't already purchased a new car 2 years ago, I would seriously consider one of these.

      Of course, my opinion doesn't substitute for research, but on an aesthetic level I was happy as a passenger, and on a techie level I was all tingly at the thought of the reciprocating brake system recharging the batteries as we glided (glode?) to a halt.

      GMFTatsujin
  • by Anonvmous Coward (589068) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:17PM (#3850429)
    ...but what about the Flintstones car? Methane emissions were low and it ran on calories. =)
  • Convert a car (Score:2, Interesting)

    by shepd (155729)
    Many cars can be converted to run on Natural Gas. Ask someone locally with a car that runs on it where they got theirs done.

    Just note that you'll probably lose a lot of trunk space unless you want to risk running out of Natural Gas between trips.
  • Ethanol (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lord_Slepnir (585350) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:19PM (#3850450) Journal
    If you live in the Midwest, it's very feasable to use a conventional gasoline car, just fill it up with ethanol [ethanol.org]. It burns cleaner, hotter, and more effeciently than traditional gas. More importantly, you will be supporting a fuel source that can be grown out of the earth, and unlike oil, you won't be giving your money to a foreign dictator or Texas oil-baron.
    • More importantly, you will be supporting a fuel source that can be grown out of the earth, and unlike oil, you won't be giving your money to a foreign dictator or Texas oil-baron.

      As a Texan (not, sadly, an oil baron) and an ADM stockholder, I'd appreciate y'all taking his advice. More ethanol is better for all of us, or at least for me as the ADM stock price rises.

    • As I recall, most car manufacturers will quickly void your engine warrantee if you use fuel with too high an ethanol content. I don't have my manual available at this moment, but I distinctly recall such a line in my new lawnmower manual (obviously a lawnmower engine is not equivalent to a car engine).

      As for the ethical bit -- didn't know Canada was ruled by a dictator, but I do know they're where the US gets the majority of its foreign oil from.
    • Re:Ethanol (Score:2, Informative)

      by cDarwin (161053)
      If you're concerned about maintaining your warranty, you might also look into flexible fuel vehicles [iowacorn.org], which run on ethanol/gasoline mixtures (some up to 100% ethanol!)
    • Re:Ethanol (Score:5, Insightful)

      by swb (14022) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:52PM (#3850816)
      I'm not opposed to fuels created from plants grown in the ground.

      The bad things with Ethanol are:

      1) Its a false economy. Subsidized by lots of taxpayer dollars (direct, and indirect via forcing it into mixtures with gas). Its really just a crutch for farmers who can't quit the corn habit and ADM, which can't quit the free-government-money habit.

      2) It mostly (exclusively?) uses corn as its source, and I'm not convinced that corn is the best crop to provide a fuel source. What about hemp or some other crop that might require less insecticide, fertilizer, etc etc.

      3) It's kind of fuel-intensive to make. Planting, harvesting, fertilizing, insecticiding, AND DISTILLING all take machines that use fuel. If you get 20 gallons per acre (totally made-up) and you use 20 gallons per acre (again, totally made up) to make it, how "fuel efficient" is it?

      4) There have been complaints about ethanol wreaking havoc with engines. I'm pretty sure I've seen warnings in owners manuals not to use too high of an ethanol concentration.

      I'm sure there's a plant-to-fuel combination thats a winner -- low mechnical input to growth and harvesting, low energy input to distillation. Unfortunately I don't think ethanol is it -- its a way to get more money to corn farms in the midwest with some marginal pollution and oil dependency benefits.
      • Re:Ethanol (Score:3, Informative)

        by M-G (44998)
        It also contains less energy per gallon, so your MPG goes down when burning ethanol. So you have to have more tanker runs to the gas station, more electricity spent pumping that fuel into your car, etc. for the same number of miles driven.
      • Re:Ethanol (Score:5, Informative)

        by maniac11 (88495) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @01:28PM (#3851170) Homepage Journal
        >From Washington Post
        washingtonpost.com

        Ethanol's Ambitions
        Tuesday, April 16, 2002; Page A18

        THE ETHANOL lobby is normally content to fleece taxpayers in two ways.
        First, it promotes public payments to those who grow the corn from which
        ethanol is made: Right now the House and Senate are cooking up a terrible
        farm bill that would lock in 10 more years of subsidies. Second, the lobby
        has used the tax system to penalize gasoline that is not one-tenth made up
        of ethanol: Motorists who fill their cars with ethanol-free gas pay around 5
        cents extra per gallon. Some might reckon two federal favors enough, but the
        ethanol folks think bigger than that. A provision recently inserted into the
        Senate energy bill by Sen. Tom Daschle, the majority leader, and Sen. Jeff
        Bingaman, the energy committee chairman, would mandate a big jump in ethanol
        use and give ethanol producers protection against environmental liability.

        This outrage is disguised in reasonable garb: It is part of an effort to
        promote renewable sources of energy. But ethanol, though made from corn, can
        only loosely be thought of as renewable, since making it consumes nearly as
        much non-renewable oil as the ethanol replaces. Moreover, ethanol's
        environmental benefits are debated: Including it in gasoline reduces carbon
        monoxide emissions but can increase smog. In any case, a sane policy on
        renewables should give promising alternative energy sources a government
        boost, but it shouldn't pour billions in taxpayers' cash into products that
        will never be remotely viable. Remember, ethanol already gets government
        help: Since 1996, crop subsidies alone have been worth nearly $30 billion to
        the industry. Increasing this help would be going too far, even if ethanol's
        environmental merits were more certain.

        Both ethanol's drawbacks are reflected in the Senate's legislation. The bill
        creates a "safe harbor," protecting industry from suits arising out of
        defective additives in gasoline -- hardly a sign of confidence in ethanol's
        environmental merits. It also mandates increased ethanol consumption --
        again, hardly a sign that ethanol expects to gain market share on its own --
        requiring that gasoline refiners step up their use of ethanol from the
        current level of around 1.7 billion gallons a year to 5 billion gallons by
        2012. This mandated tripling of consumption might cause shortages and
        therefore price spikes, especially since the ethanol market is dominated by
        three producers, which could find ways to orchestrate scarcity and pocket
        windfall profits. The biggest producer is Archer Daniels Midland, which in
        1996 pleaded guilty to a charge of price-fixing and was fined $100 million.

        The four Democratic senators from California and New York are calling this
        ethanol provision what it is: a scheme to funnel money to agribusiness and
        corn states at the expense of the rest of the country. One amendment to
        limit the ethanol mandate was rebuffed last Thursday, but there may be
        another chance today. The Senate should back the effort to remove the
        ethanol provision from the energy bill, and Sen. Daschle should not resist,
        despite his farm-state loyalties. Democrats have been trying to score points
        against the Bush administration by demonstrating the link between corporate
        lobbyists and the White House energy policy. If the Senate's Democratic
        leaders now use the energy bill to funnel money to Archer Daniels Midland
        and its ilk, they'll look like hypocrites.
      • Re:Ethanol (Score:3, Informative)

        by corvi42 (235814)
        What about hemp [...]

        Well hemp would be less effective than corn, because ethanol is made from the fermentation of sugars, so the more sugars in the plant - the more ethanol yielded. Yes, one can make alcohols from grains, but the yield is less. Fruits yield more alcholos per volume than grains - corn yields more than hemp. Something ideal might be sugar cane.
      • Re:Ethanol (Score:3, Interesting)

        I don't disagree with the pro-ethanol enviromentals, nor the anti-subsidy libertarians... but let's try to take this one at face value:

        "3) It (Ethanol)'s kind of fuel-intensive to make. Planting, harvesting, fertilizing, insecticiding, AND DISTILLING all take machines that use fuel. If you get 20 gallons per acre (totally made-up) and you use 20 gallons per acre (again, totally made up) to make it, how "fuel efficient" is it?"

        Any it does not cost money to survey, drill, extract, store, transport, store again, refine, store again, transport again, store again, and then dispense petroleum distallates (crude -> gasoline)? Just because half of that labor is done at far lower cost than farm workers (who have a strong lobby with bought politicians) by workers of oil companies who have their own competing political pawns?

        Once again, elements of truth and elements of rhetoric in both arguments. Yes, ethanol burns cleaner and is renewable. Yes, it currently costs more to produce... for a number of reasons. But in either case, it costs money to make money, right? It takes energy to produce portable energy as well. The true technological advantages and disadvantages of ethanol may never be known, thanks to this political in-fighting.

        Sidebar: what about the organized labor lobby for highway workers who pour asphalt every four years on every major road in the US? They have successfully negotiated a decades-long congressional moratorium on deployment on an asphalt replacement made out of the chopped up bits of discarded tires; millions of which fill up plots across America. The cost is half as much, and has twice the durability. So there would be less asphalt produced, and half the labor needed. WE CAN'T HAVE THAT, CAN WE??? Jimmy Smith won't be able to lean on his shovel for fiften minutes out of every hour then go back to grinding up the old road surface for $23 an hour (and pay his union dues) if we take away half of his work!!

        Fascinating, how we let the lawyers, politicans, and corporatists rule us; and all the opposition that is out there are corrupt organizations masquerading as consumerists, special-interest groups, and employee-rights advocates, who are mainly just socialists who get a capitalist-sized paycheck. And we just sit around taking it, saying we'll vote for the other guy.

        Hint: There is no other guy.
    • by Spamalamadingdong (323207) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:56PM (#3850861) Homepage Journal
      Between fertilizer, pesticides/herbicides and fuel required for cultivation, a gallon of ethanol yielding 77,000 BTU of energy requires inputs totalling about 131,000 BTU (if memory serves). In other words, it's a complete boondoggle.
      • Site your sources (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DaveWood (101146)
        This is really important stuff. You may very well be right, and I'm extremely interested in what you're saying, but with specific information like this (where everyone's memories are contradicting each other) it's all meaningless unless you site your sources!

        -Dave
    • Re:Ethanol (Score:3, Informative)

      by mikec (7785)
      It is questionable if ethanol saves any oil at all. In a good year (with high corn yields) ethanol production is slightly energy positive. That is, the energy content of a gallon of ethanol exceeds by approximately 16% the energy that goes into producing it. In a bad year, when yeilds are lower, it can easily require more than 80,000 BTU to produce a gallon of ethanol. (See, for example, this study. It is also questionable if ethanol reduces CO2 emissions. From that standpoint, it would probably be better to grow trees, which would recycle more CO2 than any reduction due to CO2.
      • Re:Ethanol (Score:5, Informative)

        by mikec (7785) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @01:22PM (#3851128)
        Sorry, I accidentally submitted before it was done.

        It is not at all clear that ethanol saves any oil at all.

        In a good year (with high corn yields) most studies show that ethanol production is slightly energy positive. That is, the energy content of a gallon of ethanol exceeds by approximately 15% the energy that goes into producing it. In a bad year, when yeilds are lower, it can easily require more than 80,000 BTU to produce a gallon of ethanol. (See, for example, this study [mcgill.ca].) On average it's probably about a wash. It would be interesting to see what the reaction would be to requiring ethanol producers to use ethanol instead of fossil fuel for all steps in production.

        It is also questionable whether ethanol reduces CO2 emissions. From that standpoint, it would probably be better to grow trees or hemp, which would recycle more CO2 than any reduction due to burning CO2 rather than fossil fuels.

  • by MobyDisk (75490) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:19PM (#3850451) Homepage
    This link [hondacars.com] bypasses the stupid registration form to read the brochure on the Honda Civic GX.
    • Why would Honda think that anyone would give them their name and address, just for the priveledge of window shopping?
    • Don't follow this link if you live in Denmark, because it is illegal! [slashdot.org]
  • by Paraplegic Vigilante (590364) <paraplegicvigilante@yahoo.com> on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:19PM (#3850459)
    Why don't you get one of those old Volkswagen hippie vans? You can plaster it with stickers like "Earth First!" and drive around sneering at SUV drivers all self-righteous like, even though you're polluting more than them. Don't forget the weed though. ;)
    • Boy, is that true! I own a small SUV as I am also trained as an Anthropologist and I am an amatuer geologist, so I do a lot of driving on bad "roads".

      But I can only afford the one vehicle. And after 12 years of owning identical vehicles, I suddenly have had two people make rude comments to me about it as it is an SUV.

      When I am behind a beat-up old Volkswagon or other "cool" car and it is burning oil and belching smoke to the point that I am having a hard time breathing, I can't understand how my modern car with pollution controls and similar gas mileage is worse just because it is 4WD.
    • A well-tuned aircooled VW actually has a very low emissions profile. Once they're warmed up, they are not bad polluters at all, and get pretty good gas mileage.

      Also, people in vw's are using a lot less gas than, say, a Ford Expedition. And they aren't using any of the power on air conditioning.

    • It's all about the Canyonero:

      Can you name the truck with four wheel drive,
      Smells like a steak, and seats thirty five?
      Canyonero! Canyonero!
      Well, it goes real slow with the hammer down
      It's the country-fried truck endorsed by a clown
      Canyonero! Canyonero!
      Hey, hey!
      Twelve yards long, two lanes wide,
      Sixty five tons of American pride!
      Canyonero! Canyonero!
      Top of the line in utility sports,
      Unexplained fires are a matter for the courts!
      Canyonero! Canyonero!
      She blinds everybody with her super high beams
      She's a squirrel-squashin', deer-smackin' drivin' machine
      Canyonero! Canyonero! Canyonero!
      Whoa, Canyonero! Whoa!
    • From Homer to the Max [snpp.com]

      Begley: I prefer a vehicle that doesn't hurt Mother Earth. It's a go-cart, powered by my own sense of self-satisfaction.
      [Begley attaches a wired-helmet to his head and quickly drives off]
  • Simple. Don't (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Tyler Eaves (344284)
    Okay, first let me state a few points.

    1. For any given task, a certain amount of energy is needed.
    2. Batteries are highly inefficient as stores of energy.
    3. Admittedly, gasoline isn't much better, but it is somewhat more efficient.
    4. Highly efficient fueled cars such as the VW Jetta TDI (4 cylinder diesel) can get upwards of 50MPG on the highway, and 40-45 city.
    5. The vast majority of electric power comes from...wait for it.. fossil fuel plants.

    So thus, in the context of a car, you ARE going to consuming fossil fuels directly or indirectly. Given that, to minimize environmental impact, find the most fuel efficient car you can.
  • Along with the best gas milage you get convienince of not driving 100 miles to find a natural gas station.

    Oil is a limited resource, but hopefully sometime soon (crosses fingers) we won't have to rely on it so heavily. GM has a timeline for a fuel cell car in 10 years, the Honda should last you till then.

    The reason I think GM might make it is because unlike most other car companies, they are redesigning everything from the ground up. Most other companies are trying to just plop a fuel cell next to a electric engine and expect it to work. Tho a more complete article is in the new issue of Wired, here is a brief article about it, at Wired.com [wired.com].
  • ...is that they all look like ass.

    I actually semi-considered getting an Insight until I saw the fucking thing. It's hideous! It looks like a squashed milk carton. The one I saw was barf-green, too, which didn't help matters much.

    I ended up getting a 3-series instead, which not only doesn't look like ass, but also has no problem going over 65. (I guess I'm a Bad Person for using a gasoline-powered car though.)

    - A.P.
  • by Ryu2 (89645) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:22PM (#3850487) Homepage Journal
    I'm a very happy owner of the Toyota Prius... I've actually gotten about 55 MPG in city driving, assuming I'm not in a hurry, above even the manufacturer's figures. It has been 100% reliable thus far.

    I was considering the Insight, but it's only two seats, and two doors as you mentioned, so I decided to go with the Prius, as it's basically the same size as any other compact sedan.

    I was looking into pure electric and gas cars, but decided not to at this time, because sometimes I like to take long-distance trips (eg, between the Bay Area, and LA, or to Nevada/Las Vegas) and there are no electric or gas refueling stations for long stretches outside urban areas, making long-distance road trips impossible with these vehicles' current range.

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/toyota-prius/ It might be useful for you as well, although it's geared more towards current owners.

    As for the car itself, It's proven to be 100% reliable thus far in the 14 months that I've had it, and I've been averaging 50 MPG or so. It definitely is worth it, at least for me, since I commute about 45 miles a day round trip.

    If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask me. If you want an independent assessment, john1701a.com [john1701a.com] has a lot of info on it from a owner. The group groups.yahoo.com/group/toyota-prius/ [yahoo.com] has a lot to offer as well with many helpful people.

    Finally, since this is /. after all, there's a growing subculture dedicated to "hacking" the prius (eg, installing MP3 players that integrate with the onboard touchscreen system, or even wiring video input into the screen, installing cameras for seeing when you back up, etc... :-) )
    • Also, the new Civic Hybrid [honda.com] is a full five-passenger hybrid sedan, which really means that there's no reason anyone (who doesn't need a minivan) can't get a hybrid vehicles these days. The Prius and Insight, due to their smaller size, get better mileage, but at 45 mpg city and 50 mpg highway the Civic isn't bad either.
  • by avi33 (116048) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:23PM (#3850496) Homepage
    This one seems to fit the bill, but it just blows away the others in the style department. Too bad that breathy carburated engine sound is replaced with, well, nothing...

    http://www.renewables.com/ElectricSpyder.htm
  • If you are willing to buy a hybrid car, get either the Honda Civic Hybrid or the Toyota Prius.

    The nice thing about a hybrid car is that not only do you get extremely low emissions (both cars I mentioned meet the world's toughest standard for gas-powered automobile engines, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) Super-Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV) standard), but you can refuel from any gasoline station and get way over 400 miles between fillups.

    Note that the Prius does take some getting used to though. The instrument panel is located on the center of the dashboard, the acceleration and braking on the Prius feels a bit different than a regular car in many ways. Mind you, the Prius has excellent interior room and a surprisingly roomy trunk, not a mean feat with space needed to hold the batteries.
  • by jamesmartinluther (267743) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:24PM (#3850504) Homepage
    I took a test drive at the local Saturn dealership and, well, I was amazed at the smooth (and very powerful) acceleration. I had expected anemic performance and what I got was a rather wild drive through the city. While the need to recharge the battery and small size may be serious drawbacks, the sheer joy of taking this car for a spin really made me think about applying for one.

    It is disappointing that electric cars are not yet economically viable. Just take one for a test drive and you will see that there is a lot more work to be done in improving personal transportation.
  • Get a motorcycle with a hack. A used GoldWing with a sidecar will set you back less than $20,000. It runs on regular fuel, and will likely get between 35-40 mpg. You can use the carpool lane solo. You should get almost 200 miles to the fillup and hitting 65 is no problem. Breaking the ton with a hack should be doable.

    An electric car is not an alternative fuel unless all of the power from your grid is via solar or wind (I don't count hydro, as this usually comes from a dam that disrupted local flora/fauna).

    You may also want to consider one of the many turbo-diesel cars available. Gas mileage comparable to the motorcycle with more crash-worthiness.

    In addition, there are many other CNG vehicles available than the Honda. At least there were. Two that I know of are the Ford Crown Vic. and the Ford Taurus. It's possible these are only available for fleet sales.

    Check out corbin motors [corbinmotors.com] for an interesting vehicle called the sparrow. It looks like there are TEN dealers in your area.

    Finally, being in San Fran. with only ~50 mile round trips, what prevents you from using mass transit?
    • An electric car is not an alternative fuel unless all of the power from your grid is via solar or wind (I don't count hydro, as this usually comes from a dam that disrupted local flora/fauna).

      Wind/solar farms are just as disruptive as hydro power. To get the generating capacity of something like Hoover Dam you need many large wind/solar installations, plus the eco impact of manufacturing tremendous amounts of related equipment. People often forget that wind/solar are pretty 'low density' energy sources.

  • Prius (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dattaway (3088) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:25PM (#3850520) Homepage Journal
    My mom had her Prius for a year and loves it. Recently, they took a trip to Minnesota and the cost for gas during the trip was insignificant. While highway driving consumes more fuel due to aerodynamics, I have often been able to get more than 80mpg through the city. If you trick the accelerator pedal, you can get it to run off batteries for several minutes before the engine starts charging and giving a boost.

    The only problem she had with the car so far was running over accident debris that slashed a rear tire. Other than that, its supposed to have an incredible warranty. Something like 10 years. Toyota knows this is an experimental car, so they want to know what kinds of problems we have. None so far.
  • by mgarraha (409436) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:26PM (#3850524)
    Seen on an electric car in Michigan:
    MY OTHER CAR BURNS FOREIGN OIL
    • Re:Bumper Stickers (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Xaoswolf (524554)
      The local theatre group here did a skit like the commercials about not doing drugs where people would come up on the stage, the focused a spotlight on them and say things like
      "I support a foreign terrorist regieme, but what do I care, I like driving my SUV"
      In the end, they gave a message about buying foreign oil.
  • by gelfling (6534) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:26PM (#3850528) Homepage Journal
    What did you do drive it into the Pacific? I leased 3 of them and they were Russian Trucks. Indestructible.

    At any rate the Civic HX is a gas only and gets about 80-85% of the mileage of the Civic electric hybrid. The insight is more of a concept car - only two seats no back at all no storage really. The Prius is an Echo with a different powerplant to give you a sense of the bigger size.

    Toyota is supposed to be delivering a hybrid next year if I remember correctly. Probably based on a Corolla floorpan.

  • a couplet of ideas (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Pauly (382) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:26PM (#3850529)

    First, the Corbin Sparrow [corbinmotors.com] really seems to taking hold in places like Los Angeles and to a lessor degree Atlanta.

    However, the lowest emissions vehicle around is a bicycle [ceejbot.com]. I mean this in all seriousness. The Bay area has a uniquely nice bicycling climate, and since you already have one car, you don't have to give up the occasional hauling-of-big-stuff cars are good at. And don't underestimate the health benefits of such daily exercise. I love it since you don't have to take extra time out of your day just to go to the gym.

    In the Bay Area, there's even a service to shuttle bicycles over the Bay bridge for $1 [transitinfo.org].

    • I've been doing the cycling thing ever since college. My experience is that a ten mile commute is very doable. The best part is that you wind up in killer shape from that. Ideally you'd live on the temperat west coast or the southwest. I dunno too much about the weather patterns of the Southeast, but I'll assume there's a couple of months out of the year where it's too hot to ride. When I lived on the west coast, my bike journeys were almost always in excess of eight miles due to various circumstances. Eight miles is pretty pleasant and fun unless you have to ride through mountains. Fifteen miles is doable, but not if you're on a tight time table and certainly not every day. Living out in the midwest the main problem I have is weight gain during the the two to three months where it's just too cold an snowy to ride. I find that if I'm dressed right, I can ride somewhat comfortably down to 15 degres F. After that I say F*** it. Getting back in spring takes a month before I'm totally with it. The other positive thing about cycling is that public transpotation is increasingly accomadating bikes. In Ann Arbor where I live the buses now have racks. In Philly where I'm going to be living, the trains let you bring bikes aboard during non-peak hours. This really extends your range. The other cool thing that I see happening in urban areas is that cities and conservation groups are making bike trails along rivers and other green ways. Depending on how they're laid out both can really cut down your time even if they don't cut down your mileage. No stoplights and no traffic after all. One not so postive development is that moutnain bike manufacturers are no longer putting brazings on frames for racks sturdy enough to mount panniers. The big thing right now is disc brakes whose fittings supplant those for racks. I replaced my panniers when they wore out with Dana Design Bomb Pack because it's a big day backpack that does not push your head downwards when you sit on the bike wearing a helmet. 'Course I'm still riding the same old bike, but I dream of getting a new one.

  • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:26PM (#3850531) Homepage Journal
    After a year of driving it (on the rare occasions when I can get it away from my wife) it's still an utterly satisfying car, with super-ultra-low emissions (SULEV) and high gas milesage as icing on the cake.

    Society of Automotive Engineers voted it best engineered car of 2001. I think it's the car Dilbert would drive.

    The Honda Civic hybrid is the most direct competition. The Prius transmission is more elegant and *may* last longer, and the availability of pure-electric drive means the engine never needs to do destructive low-speed operation once it's warmed up. You may prefer the feel of the brakes on the Civic, and in ten years I bet it's easier to find Civic parts than Prius parts.

  • by chill (34294)
    Check out the auto part of Ebay. Just last month I saw a CNG converted 2000 Ford Aerostar with 10,000 miles sell for $6,500. Sale was in California.

    Just make sure you can get CNG where you are going. Other than that, BioDiesel is a good alternative.
  • On a side note... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Zen Mastuh (456254) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:28PM (#3850545)
    ...but GM has stopped making them.

    GM stopped making electric vehicles, but they will probably spend $10 Billion over the next several years advertising how green they are.

  • other ideas (Score:4, Informative)

    by dmcmaine (591469) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:31PM (#3850574)
    I've done a bit of research in my quest to find my next car and here's what I found:
    -The current hybrid vehicles, IMO, offer a false ecomony due to their higher sticker price and uncertain disposal/replacement cost for the batteries +/- 8 years down the road.
    -Looking at the Honda lineup it would make more sense economically to purchase the Civic HX Coupe or any other of the other non-hybrid Civics (or 4 cylinder Accords for that matter).
    -Take a look at Intellichoice.com and fueleconomy.gov and do some calculations to determine the real, long term cost of a number of other vehicles (Ford Focus, Honda, Toyota, Saturn, etc)and see how it stacks up to the hybrids.
    -The one caveat is that you need to know what happens what it is time to replace the batteries on a hybrid car.
    -Lastly, check local rebates for buying a hybrid vehicle in your area, that might make up the initial cost difference in buying a hybrid vehicle.
    Good luck!
  • Many people who drive electric vehicles do so because they believe that since they are zero-emission, they do not pollute. However, that is not the case. Remember, the power company that supplies your power to charge the car most likey does so by consuming natural resources (coal, oil, natural gas) or using nuclear power (which has concerns of its own). In fact, you may actually end up polluting more that a convensional vehicle. While the Insight, Prius, and Civic Hybrid are quite nice, I would recomment the Nissan Sentra CA [nissandriven.com]. It is PZLEV (partial zero-emissions vehicle) and is the only SULEV vehicle on the road. The only caveat is that it is only sold in California. Nissan claims that this car pollutes less driving 20 miles than a regular car just sitting in the garage. Definately worth checking out.
  • Car pool access (Score:3, Informative)

    by jchristopher (198929) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:32PM (#3850593)
    As you noted, single drivers in dedicated natural gas vehicles (NGVs)can use the carpool lanes in California. This is a HUGE perk and not to be overlooked.

    At last check, this benefit was not available to hybrid electric vehicles. Especially in a large metro area like San Francisco or Los Angeles this perk alone can pay for itself.

    The California Air Resources board [ca.gov] provides a list of vehicles eligible for the carpool lane perk - choose carefully because not all alternative fuel vehicles are eligible!

    A good resource to learn more is NGV.ORG [216.239.51.100] (I've linked to google's cache... this is a small box, please don't hammer our server.) which provides a list of cofunding opportunities available for natural gas vehicle owners, including tax breaks and rebates from the state of California.

    Good luck in your search!

  • Biodiesel (Score:5, Interesting)

    by otis wildflower (4889) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:33PM (#3850596) Homepage
    Hi,
    Hybrids really don't count IMHO as 'alternative fuel' vehicles, since they use two fuels that are exceedingly ordinary: gasoline and electricity. They should qualify for partial EV credit, and they're great for reducing fuel consumption, but without E85 they just aren't 'alternative fuel'.

    I would recommend a late-model Volkswagen diesel and biodiesel as a true 'alternative fuel' vehicle. Diesels are more efficient, create less CO2 and other greenhouse gases, and last FOREVER. I just recently purchased a Mercedes diesel with 362000 miles on it, and I expect to get at least another 130000 miles on it with proper care and feeding. My car can't take 100% biodiesel without some fuel-line upgrades (bio eats rubber away since it's more oxygenated than petro) but any diesel since 1994 can take 100%. Another option, particularly in colder climes or with older cars, is B20, which is 20%bio/80%petro. Biodiesel doesn't contain sulfur, and is naturally oxygenated enough to prevent smelly particulate exhaust. In fact, tailpipe exhaust smells like french fries ;) Biodiesel is actually technically non-toxic and very hard to burn, and IIRC can be drop-shipped anywhere, so I _THINK_ you could even have it delivered to your house in large drums.. It's expensive (~$3/gal) but it may be worth it to you if you want to contribute to (a)saving the ozone layer and/or (b)keeping US$ out of the hands of despotic Arab states (and their terrorist pawns)..

    Couple interesting Wired links on biodiesel:
    here [wired.com] and
    here [wired.com]

    Even non-biodiesel is a better global environmental choice than gasoline/petrol since it's less intensive to refine. Diesel creates more NOx, large-particulate exhaust and sulfur (which lead to smog and acid rain), but the balance of impact is in its favor overall due to the efficiency of diesel engines. Also, if we could press for low-sulfur diesel, NOx could be handled with catalytic converters.

    Oh, did I mention that biodiesel can be made from any biological substance that contains triglycerides? Hempseed, soybean, even used cooking fats can be 'cracked' into biodiesel, leaving glycerin. What to do with the glycerin though, that's the main Q...
  • Does the Honda have a dead engine that's not worth fixing? If so, consider pulling the engine and replacing it with an electric plant, like this guy did [brassrat.net]. There's not much in the way of off-the-shelf electric cars (the EV-1 was obviously GM's attempt to prove that they're too expensive to sell) but there's a thriving community of people doing EV conversions [jerryrig.com].
  • by zaren (204877) <holdthis@mail.com> on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:33PM (#3850604) Homepage Journal

    Corbin [corbinmotors.com] sells an electric-only model, the Sparrow; they were in the Jet Li movie, "The One", in the final scene about "the cleanest city in America":

    Sparrow's Specifications

    * Onboard battery charger
    * Three-wheeled vehicle registers, insures and parks as a motorcycle
    * 1350 lbs. curb weight, 72-inch wheel base, 57 inches vehicle height
    * 70 mph top speed, 20-40 mile range
    * $14,900 retail price

    The Sparrow II has a 30-60 mile range and a $16,900 retail price. Corbin also advertises a gas-powered car, the Merlin, with "a 300 to 400 mile range on a tank of gas and a projected 70 to 90 miles per gallon", but it won't be out until the fall of 2003.

  • i'm in the process of purchasing a Prius myself, but in the interest of being informative, two more vehicles are:
    • Toyota RAV4 EV [toyota.com] electric, zero-emission SUV
    • Honda Civic Hybrid [honda.com] hybird ULEV (unlike the Prius and Insight, which are SULEVs)
  • by Dr. Zowie (109983) <slashdot@@@deforest...org> on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:36PM (#3850631)
    The Prius isn't alternative-fuel -- just alternative-powertrain. It has loads of cool, geeky features that work together to make ... (drumroll) an ordinary 4-door family car. While I don't have a family (yet) it's nice to be able to throw some friends in the back. Basically, they've used the high-efficiency powertrain to give you a conventional 4-door car with Geo-Metro-like efficiency.

    I've put about 11,000 miles on my Prius in the first year of ownership. About half of them are highway miles on roadtrips; about 10% of them are short (1-2 mile) hops in town. Its lifetime fuel economy is about 48MPG. Range is about 500-600 miles. On the highway it consistently gets over 45 MPG (and I'm not gentle on the throttle -- 70-80 MPH on the level, and I floor it when I'm crossing the Rockies -- I live in Colorado). In town it gets 35-38 for the first mile or two, until the engine is warm -- then more like 48-52.

    The Prius has no transmission at all -- just a second differential that shunts power between two electric motors/generators and the engine. (How it works [insightcentral.net]). It's all drive-by-wire: the gas pedal is just a rheostat connected to the drive computer.

    The engine has a lot of cool stuff to it: an off-center crankshaft, variable compression ratio, and (ISTR) noncircular pistons. Because of the differential it runs at more or less whatever speed the computer wants, regardless of how fast you're going.

    For me (in Colorado) a pure EV was right out because of the low energy density of batteries -- it's hard to climb mountains in a pure EV. The Prius battery is used for load leveling on the engine (gas engines run best when the load is conditioned). Climbing over about 2000 feet vertical at freeway speeds drains the battery, but the computer handles it gracefully and the car just slows down to about 55 mph (on a standard 7% freeway grade). Conversely, coming down more than about 1000 feet of altitude will fill the battery to the top from regen braking, and again the computer does the Right Thing, using the engine as a conventional compression brake rather than blowing up the battery pack.

    So even though the Prius isn't designed for mountain climbing it works acceptably under even strenuous climbing conditions. The interior is roomy and holds five people with no trouble. The trunk is adequate. The ride is quiet, and the gas mileage sure doesn't stink. Cornering is very good: tight turn radius and surprising traction given the high-mileage tires. Clearance is adequate but low: it's 4 inches under load, though the bottom 2 inches is just a flexible plastic air dam -- so you can get over 5" high obstacles without killing the car.

    The Insight gets better gas mileage, looks cooler, and has better acceleration when you actually want it (though I imagine Prius ROM mods will come out one day that boost the acceleration -- the computer really does use conservative settings), but it's also really tiny -- the Insight is more of a "geek sports car". Toyota went out of their way to make the Prius look-and-feel like a basic (if plush) family car, and they succeeded.

  • It looks like you're looking more at an alternative-drivetrain (Hybrid or electric) rather than alternative-fuel (CNG/Hydrogen/M85) car.

    As to alternative fuel - Biodiesel has been mentioned.

    Regular engines can be converted to CNG with relative ease - I once saw a Dodge Spirit (same car I drive) with a CNG fillup. Try to find a design where the fillup connector (big ball-shaped thing in the case of this car) doesn't stick out - it's ugly.

    Engines can also be converted to use M85 (85% methanol, 15% gasoline), but it's not really worth it. M85 is 15-25% cheaper per gallon, but has only 50% of the energy density. Also, methanol is VERY corrosive, so significant portions of the engine have to be replaced with corrosion-resistant parts. Chrysler made a few M85-capable cars (the FFV version of the Dodge Spirit/Plymouth Acclaim and minivans), and replacement parts for the FFV versions are nearly impossible, if not completely impossible, to find.

    Or wait for the likes of the Escape HEV - 40 MPG in an SUV body, pretty amazing. I'd like to see the middle ground - All of the current hybrids and electrics are tiny little ugly pieces of junk. I want a full-size hybrid sedan that looks just like its gas-powered brethren, or a hybrid minivan.

    Of course, the question is, WHY do you want to go alternative fuel? These days there are far worse things for the environment than modern cars - IC engines have come a LONG way in the areas of emissions control. You're not going to save any money - Electricity costs are skyrocketing, and it's been shown that in the end, pure electrics pollute more. (While coal-fired power plants produce less emissions per kilowatt, by the time you factor in all the transmission/charging losses, you're polluting more). Hybrids get insane gas mileage, but at the moment the technology isn't mature enough. You're going to be paying far more in maintenance costs for your unconventional design.

    I'm not saying that IC engines are here to stay forever, just that hybrids are just plain not viable yet and won't be for a few years.

    If you think Honda cares about the environment, you're wrong. http://www.lemonaidcars.com/secret_warranties.htm - Their emissions control systems were so bad from '95 to '97 that they were FORCED by the EPA to repair any emissions problem with those model years for free - And Honda will fight you all the way on those repairs until you threaten to call the EPA on them. The Insight/Civic HEV is just damage control. If they really wanted to benefit the environment, they'd focus on large vehicles first, where hybrid technology can make the biggest difference. (GM had statistics that if one medium-sized city had their buses replaced with hybrids, it would be better for the environment than if all Civics sold in a given year were hybrids. Which is why they're focusing on buses first - You don't see it much, but GM is pushing hybrid technology research VERY heavily. Same with Ford - Their first hybrid release will be the Escape HEV.)
  • by supernova87a (532540) <kepler1@@@hotmail...com> on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:39PM (#3850673)
    Here's [bfi0.com] the Honda website on the hybrid civic.

    I test drove this model a few weeks back, and it was an absolute pleasure.

    The best part? Pulling up to a red light, and sitting there in complete silence, without wasting any gas. Ahh...
  • by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:40PM (#3850687) Homepage
    The Honda Insight is a neat car, there are serious problems with it though...

    The battery pack is replaced often.. If you get one get the hyper-extended warrenty, as you will be replacing that battery pack many many times.. my friend has had his 18 months and has replaced his 3 times.... and from what I hear this is not uncommon for insights that are used as a daily driver in anyplace that is not 70-72degF all the time. winter causes the packs to die horribly.

    weight limit.. I CANNOT ride in his car (Ok I'm a fat ass..) as I with him exceed the car's weight limit completely... most any american couple will do this unless you are in souther california and live the bolimic lifestyle or are not normal weight (180 - 230 lbs typical american weight.)

    finally , they ding really really easy. a pop can has thicker metal. dont lean on it, dont fart at it dont even look at it funny as it will ding/dent instantly.
  • by kris (824) <kris-slashdot@koehntopp.de> on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:40PM (#3850690) Homepage
    Get a diesel car, and fuel it with biodiesel. Driving properly, you get along with ~3 liters per 100 kilometres or even less, and biodiesel is not being made from mineral oil, but plants. Plus, you have about the same performance as a regularly fueled car would have.
  • home made diesel (Score:3, Interesting)

    by paradesign (561561) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:42PM (#3850719) Homepage
    my friends dad, down in dallas tx, makes his own diesel for his vw. he uses the leftover oil from fast food places, that apparently just give it to him. heres a link on another guy whos doing it linky linky [kelseyville.com] he says he does it to recycle, not really for emisions reasons.

    my chouce would be the hybrid electric civic or the vw tdi based cars [vw.com], friends of mine say they are wonderful.

  • by TrumpetPower! (190615) <ben@trumpetpower.com> on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:45PM (#3850743) Homepage

    First a disclaimer: I'm unemployed right now (please check out my resume [trumpetpower.com] and hire me!) and driving a '68 VW camper. I can't afford a new car, but that hasn't stopped me from looking.

    The Honda Insight is a fascinating car. It's as if Honda took every neat new technology they've been working on and crammed it in. Unfortunately, it's small--just a two-seater--and expensive--in the low $20Ks.

    For that much money or less, you can get a Volkswagen with the TDI engine. The two-door VW TDIs (the Bug and the Golf) get better mileage than any other car sold in America except for the Insight. You can drive non-stop from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles on one tank of fuel, and that's a trip I personally would take at elast two days to drive. They're also among the least-polluting cars available, though there are cleaner ones out there. The Bug has (one of?) the highest safety ratings you'll find.

    The catch? They're both turbocharged diesel engines. Wait! Don't run away! A diesel engine doesn't have to be the awful, smelly, polluting nightmare you're all thinking of. When properly engineered, as is the TDI, it's superior to gasoline:

    • Proper fuel management, catalytic converters, filters, etc., can reduce emissions to well below the current average for the American fleet (the TDI makes use of every trick in the book in this regards).
    • Diesel takes less energy to produce. Even if you get the same miles per gallon on diesel and gasoline, fewer barrels of oil were refined to make the diesel.
    • Diesel fuel has more energy than gasoline. You can drive more miles on that gallon of diesel than on a gallon of gasoline.
    • Diesel engines have much more torque than gasoline engines. Americans buy horsepower but drive torque. The Bug with the high-power gasoline engine will do 0-60 MPH faster than the diesel (but not by much) and has a higher top speed, but the diesel will easily beat the gasoline in 0-40.

    But the real thing to do with one of these cars is run it off of biodiesel instead of petroleum-based diesel. Biodiesel is a high-cetane (the diesel version of octane) fuel made from vegetable oil. It's non-toxic; you could drizzle it over your salad...though it'd likely taste awful. The maufacturing process is very similar to the soap-making process; if you've ever made soap in your kitchen, you can make biodiesel in your kitchen. Biodiesel and petroleum-based diesel can be blended in any ratio desired simply by pouring them together.

    The real advantage to biodiesel, however, is that every pound of carbon put into the atmosphere via the tailpipe had been previously removed from the atmosphere by the plant. No increased CO2! (Petroleum-based diesel pumps carbon from the ground and puts it into the air.) And, because the plant pulls more carbon out of the air for itself (instead of just its seeds), each pound of biodiesel results in a net decrease of atmospheric CO2.

    In essence, biodiesel is the solar storage mechanism everybody keeps looking for. Run all those trains, trucks, and power plants from solar power (by way of corn and soy) and reduce dependence on oil all at the same time! All the infrastructure is already in place....

    So, buy a car with a TDI engine, and you get incredible mileage and have the option of using either fuel you can find anywhere or a very environmentally-friendly fuel.

    Now, if only somebody would give me a job, I'd go out and buy one....

    b&

  • Alternative options (Score:4, Interesting)

    by m_chan (95943) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @12:59PM (#3850883) Homepage
    For our next vehicle, my wife and I are considering the Ford Escape Hybrid [hybridford.com]. Overly-wrought flash page without much detailed info, but they basically say it will be an gas/electric combo SUV that gets ~40mpg and they will have a 4wd option, which is something that we actually need and use regularly as an avid skiers and hikers. We need the cargo space for my two large dogs, which rule out existing hybrid solutions; We currently drive a Ford Explorer and await a more fuel-efficient yet not entirely anemic solution.

    Also, we drive an all-electric vehicle which though outside of the poster's requirements, may warrant consideration for anyone doing short-haul driving in sub-35 mph zones: the line of vehicles from GEM [gemcar.com]

    We have been driving one for about 3 months now and use it for commuting to our offices and to downtown Portland. Neither commute requires us to exceed 25mph.

    It has more pick-up than you might think. In the rain, the vehicle does a pretty good job of keeping water off you (my model doesn't have doors). There are doors available, similar to what you would see on a Jeep CJ, as an aftermarket accessory. It is an ideal neighborhood car.

    Here are answers to some of the common questions we get, often in traffic.
    Q. What the hell is that?
    A. A GEM electric car, manufactured by Global Electric Motors [gemcar.com], a division of DaimlerChrysler Corporation. The specific model I have is the GEM E825 Utility Vehicle (Short Box).
    Q. Is it street legal?
    It is on streets with a speed limit of 35mph or below.
    Q. How fast does it go?
    A. 25 mph.
    Q. How far can you drive it?
    It varies based on the terrain you are driving it on and the ambient temperatures, but I have driven it over 15 miles on a charge. The stated range is 35 miles.
    Q. How do you charge it?
    It charges on household current.
    Q. Stats?
    A. From the GEM website [gemcar.com]
    Curb Weight: 1160 lb. with batteries
    GVW: 1850 lb. (Gross Vehicle Weight)
    Width: 55 inches
    Wheelbase: 71.1 inches
    Length: 116 inches
    Height: 69.5 inches
    Turning Radius: 13 feet 7 inches
    Q. Is it fun?
    A. You betcha.
  • Get a RAV4 EV! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cdaveb (84160) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @01:04PM (#3850930) Homepage
    You've missed one of the best options currently on the market for electric car shoppers in California- Toyota has made the RAV4 EV available to the general public for lease or purchase (previously it was only available to fleets). I got one a few months ago and it's been great. Gets 80-100 miles range, max speed 78mph, has a backseat unlike the EV1. I miss my EV1, but the RAV4 EV is a pretty good car and I think it's the only compelling pure electric currently on the market for the general public. The one annoying part is that the RAV4 EV uses a small paddle charger, and there aren't as many of those as the large paddle ones that the EV1 uses. I've never needed public charging myself, but I don't know if that's an issue for you. I suggest checking with Toyota of Palo Alto about the car- they are one of the best RAV4 EV dealers in the area and know their stuff better than most.

    On a semi-related note, in response to all those Slashdot readers who keep spouting the same crap everytime an electric car comes into discussion- yes electrics are cleaner even if you do have fuels like coal as the source (which is not a significant part of the power mix in CA) because it is much easier to clean fuel at one place than in every vehicle, and if you want to calculate environmental effects of the production of fuel, don't forget all the effects of making gas . Additionally, if you have the option of selecting your power source like we did (we chose Commonwealth Energy) you can in fact get your power from clean sources.
  • by ecloud (3022) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @01:10PM (#3851005) Homepage Journal
    Here are some links for you:

    Toyota RA4 EV [toyota.com] - yes it's an SUV but the NiMH batteries are supposed to last 100,000 miles, maintenance free; and it gets 126 miles to the charge; and it has all the creature comforts. I think it's kindof ironic all this high-tech stuff is being put in an SUV. Just think how much better the range would be if they'd put the same powertrain in a sports car with good drag coefficient and low frontal area. But, as far as I can tell this is the best new EV that you can actually buy right now. Only in California, unfortunately. I presume for charging it uses the GM paddle system like your EV1 but haven't confirmed that.

    You could just get a used one on ebay; I was very tempted to bid on this [ebay.com] but decided to wait on an electric for now. Here's an electric S10 pickup [ebay.com]. I test drove one of these once; it's a lot like an EV1, same technology in a pickup. Supposedly you can buy these in California too, but I'm not sure whether new or used. Otherwise they tend to show up as surplus from electric-company fleet programs now and then.

    How has your service from GM been? I was tempted to buy one of these S10s but I figured GM has been acting like they want to forget that they ever had electric cars, so what are the chances of getting good service 5 or 10 years from now? And these things are too complicated to fix yourself, probably. Whatcha gonna do if the inverter fails? AC drives are not common in conversion EVs, and tend to be rather pricey.

    Finally, if you're not on the EV mailing list [madkatz.com], you should be. You will get a ton of good advice there; most of the subscribers are hard-core electric vehicle hobbyists who build their own conversions at home.

    And congratulations on having a brain and being willing to put up with all the stupid naysayers out there, or the ones who keep repeating the same tired old objections about powerplants using fossil fuels (nevermind that they do it so much more efficiently than even the best IC engine) or "why don't you connect a generator to the wheels and make your own electricity." I'm always surprised how otherwise seemingly-smart people will laugh at you when you mention something about electric vehicles. Every new technology has to have its pioneers. And in the long term the earth isn't giving us much choice about switching away from fossil fuels anyway. This is why I do not advocate hybrid vehicles. You can conserve gas with those, but I think in any conceivable future there will always be some alternative way to generate electricity, so maybe electric cars are here to stay in one form or another.

  • So many cars (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jordy (440) <jordan&snocap,com> on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @01:30PM (#3851195) Homepage
    Just a note ahead of time. Some of the cars listed below are only available in certain parts of California and are only available in relatively low numbers.

    Pure Electric:

    2002 The Nissan Altra EV (pilot?) [nissandriven.com]
    2002 Ford Thi!nk City [thinkmobility.com]
    2002 Toyota Rav4-EV [toyota.com]
    2002 Lido Motors Lido [lidomotors.com]
    2002 Ford Ranger EV (fleet only?) [ford.com]
    2002 Nissan HyperMini (pilot only?) [nissandriven.com]
    Selectria Force (out of production?) [solectria.com]

    Hybrids:

    2003 Honda Civic Hybrid [hondacars.com]
    2002 Honda Insight [honda2000.com]
    2002 Toyota Prius [toyota.com]

    Web Sites of Interest:

    EV World [evworld.com]
    US DoE Alternative Fuel Car Buying Guide (many listed) [doe.gov]
    US DoE Alternative Fuel Vehicle Listing (many listed) [nrel.gov]
    California ZEV Buyers Guide [ca.gov]
  • by CDWert (450988) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @01:31PM (#3851199) Homepage
    You gotta love people that dont have a clue,
    PURE electrics are responsible for the generation of more polution than comprable hybrid vehicles.

    No ? Just look around at EV sites and it wont take you long to realized that generating electricity at a plant ??? miles away, transmission loss and all the fun add up to MORE FRIGGING polution in the generation of that electricity than a hybrid creates.

    Not to metnion the long term battery and chemical disposal issues. Thats a whopper too.

    Wait for one of the Borax Powered Hydrogen Fuel cell vehicles from Chrysler. Cost is supposed to be low, and emission zero.

    Barring that look at some of the hybrid vehicles.

    Sometimes I have to question peoples motives of EV , if its convinience thats OK, my neighbor has been using the same elctric lawn mower for 20 years, its easy, quiet cheap, the only thing he spends money on is a new extension cord every 3 years or so after he's chopped his umpteen times. If you are looking at an EV for enviromental reasons, PLEASE get a clue. PURE EV pollute more than hybrids, and some more than LEV.

    My favorite action by an enviromental group was the guys in Calif, that burned an allotment down under construction. POINTS , 1 for burning, 2 like inscurance isnt going to pay and end up cutting more trees to rebuild ? 3, the fumes from all the insulation cooking ? 4 we deforest more area to rebuild an allotment "TREE HUGGERS" were protesting the cutting of trees ?

    I would seriously wait for the Chryslers to be sold they seem AWFULL SLICK !

    http://www.popsci.com/popsci/auto/article/0,1254 3, 212456,00.html

    If you havent seen or heard about it ....
  • Parade (Score:3, Informative)

    by SubtleNuance (184325) on Tuesday July 09, 2002 @01:50PM (#3851363) Journal
    You might like to have a look at this Parade here [attrd.com]

    Specs include:
    Range : 60miles(EV60)/150miles(EV150)
    Acceleration : 8 seconds for 0-60 km/h
    Top Speed : 110km/h


    Made in Korea.

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