What’s Driving Future American Auto Development?

By Jim Offner
January, 22, 2009

Plug-in electric hybrid cars may be the wave of the future, but there will likely be more than one new wave hitting the beach. Autos powered by hydrogen fuel cells, natural gas and biofuels are still in the running. With the build-out of a new infrastructure, a future of many fuels may be in the making.

Hybrid cars now produced by Toyota, Honda and other mainstream automakers are veritable gas hogs, says Felix Kramer, founder of California Cars Initiative. Not that he doesn’t appreciate the technology that has led to mileage ratings in the range of 40 to 50 miles per gallon of gasoline.

Still, that amounts to child’s play, compared to Kramer’s dream of plug-in hybrids that squeeze out 100 mpg or better. While gasoline has powered the automotive age since the turn of the 20th century, its days as a car’s chief fuel are numbered, he maintains.

So far, there are test vehicles that run on hydrogen fuel cells, natural gas and alternative fuels. Honda has been testing its hydrogen-powered FCX Clarity. Chevrolet’s Volt, a plug-in that General Motors (NYSE: GM) purports can drive 40 miles on pure battery power, is due out next year.

They’re merely scratching at the periphery of the real solution, though, says Kramer, which is closer than many people might think.

Electricity, he says, is the future of automobiles.

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