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. Skeptics scoffed—but they fell silent right around when the millionth Prius rolled off a showroom floor. Which of today's wild and wacky hi-tech enviro car concepts will become tomorrow's Prius? Let's look at some contenders.
BMW Hydrogen 7
The BMW Hydrogen 7 steers through the ultra-clean hydrogen highway in a different direction—because it isn't a fuel-cell vehicle. Instead of using hydrogen to generate electricity in a fuel cell, the BMW Hydrogen 7— essentially a 7 Series sedan—burns liquid hydrogen in its conventional V-12 engine. The Hydrogen 7's tank acts like a giant thermos because the temperature of hydrogen must drop down to about 400 degrees below zero Fahrenheit before reaching a liquid state.
Toyota A-BAT Concept Hybrid Pickup Truck
When Toyota unveiled its super-sized Tundra pickup a couple of years ago, environmentalists went apoplectic. In response, Toyota produced a kinder, gentler concept hybrid pickup in the form of the Toyota A-BAT. Powered by a 4-cylinder gas engine combined with Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive, the A-BAT was unveiled at the 2008 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Aesthetically, the A-BAT takes on a tight aerodynamic look. It also touts translucent solar panels in the top surface of the dashboard to capture sunlight and convert it into energy.
Honda CR-Z Hybrid
Shifting to smaller and lighter vehicles is about the quickest and easiest way to reduce the environmental impact of our cars. But compact cars never have been big sellers in the United States. Honda tries to reverse the trend with the CR-Z concept, first introduced at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show. Light, sporty and futuristic are the keywords. The use of glass on the roof and hatchback carry the theme of air, light and spaciousness—as does the use of mesh materials in the interior. The company recently announced that the CR-Z hybrid will move into production, with a release in the next couple of years.
Saab Biopower Hybrid
Two of the most widely discussed approaches to reducing carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles are the use of hybrid technology and the use of biofuels. It doesn't take a big a leap of the imagination to wonder about combining the two strategies into one car. Enter the Saab BioPower Hybrid Concept. Saab dubs the concept as "the world's first fossil-free hybrid vehicle." And if all that wasn't enough, the Saab BioPower Hybrid is a convertible—which completes the eco-fantasy of a guilt-free high-performance drive through the country.
The Achilles' Heel of electric cars has been the limited range they can travel between charges—and overnight recharge times. The Subaru R1e could help change that. The diminutive two-seater, about 20 inches longer than a Smart fortwo, is anything but revolutionary during its time on the road—top speed of 65 miles per hour and a range of 50 miles. However, the time to recharge the 346-volt lithium ion battery pack has been reduced to about 15 minutes. That could help usher in the age of electric cars.
General Motors unveiled the Cadillac Provoq at the 2008 Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas. The din and decadence of a consumer gadget expo gone wild was the perfect setting for taking the wraps off the Provoq. The vehicle stores its hydrogen in not one, but two 10,000-psi composite fuel tanks mounted under the cargo floor. And it's a plug-in hybrid with His and Hers charging ports, left- and right-hand inserts incorporated into the front fender vents. A 70-kW motor is posted up front and two 40-kW motors are tucked in the rear wheel hubs. Solar panels integrated in the roof provide help to power onboard accessories and lights, and front grille louvers that close at highway speeds provide better aerodynamics. The use of recyclable soy-based material in the Provoq's interior completes the picture of an over-the-top green machine.
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