Automakers Race to Adapt

In today’s world, concerns for the environment are permeating all parts of people’s lives. From energy efficient light-bulbs to washing machines and airplanes, new standards are being set for the amount of energy consumed by every-day activities. The auto industry has not escaped the trend.

Ever since the commercial drilling and production of petroleum began in the mid -1850’s, technology such as the internal combustion engine have sprung up to revolutionize transportation. However, recent concerns over the volatility of world oil prices and their impact on the individual’s wallet have initiated a debate on fuel efficiency for transportation. One result is the frequently asked question “why pay so much when you can pay less?”.

As a consequence of society’s concerns is that auto-makers are responding to the challenge of making their vehicles increasingly fuel efficient, making it possible for a person to travel longer using less fuel. Forbes compiled a list of the top 13 most fuel-efficient cars in 2008 which featured compact cars such as the Smart For-Two (4.7L/100km) and the Toyota Yaris (7L/100km), to the medium-sized Toyota Prius Hybrid (5.5L/100km) and two larger sedans – the Honda Accord Hybrid (6.2L/100km) and Honda Civic (9.1L/100km). A more recent list compiled by the US Department for Energy shows a more complete picture of the most and least efficient cars.

Another trend which stands out is that consumers are starting to downsize the vehicles they buy. The fact is that a smaller car weighs less and therefore requires less fuel. Automakers have jumped on the opportunity to supply small, yet powerful cars to meet demand. For example, BMW’s Mini, Mercedes’ A-class and B-class, Toyota’s IQ and Yaris models have all shown that compact vehicles are easier to drive inside a city and yet the driver does not lose out on speed on the open highway.

On the other hand, a family of four will have trouble to fit their luggage for the annual camping trip in a Yaris. Automakers have responded to needs such as these by introducing more fuel-efficient large cars and Americans’ beloved SUV’s. Land Rover’s Range Rover Evoque is the most efficient SUV in history. For those seeking luxury, Lexus’s CT 200h is the world’s first luxury hatchback hybrid. In the neat future, BMW is expected to mass produce its fully electric Active E model, which does not compensate fuel economy by downsizing.

Nissan Leaf

Furthermore, the birth of the electric car is set to revolutionize personal transportation, much like the energy-saving light bulb did for lights. Models like the Tesla Roadster, Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf are rising in popularity and proving to the world that there are alternatives to fossil fuels. For example, the Nissan Leaf, which was promoted during the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties 16 in Cancun, Mexico, costs approximately $32,000, has a range of 160 km and can charge 80% of the battery in just 30 minutes. Annual charging cost estimated by thedailygreen.com is $561. The big plus is that there is almost no maintenance cost, since there is no oil to change. All this leads to good value for money.

It is only a matter of time before electric cars become mainstream. The current trend for the market to demand more fuel efficient cars logically ends at models that do not require fuel at all. In fact, the thought that we are still using technology invented in the mid-19th Century is causing a stir in today’s high-tech society. However, this will have far-reaching consequences not only for people’s every-day lifestyle but for oil companies whose profit depends largely on gas-guzzling SUVs. Despite this, it is the individual who decides what mode of transportation they prefer, and not the gas-station.

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