For car lovers of a certain age, there was no better time of year than the early fall. That’s when new car models were rolled out by the big car makers who were---with rare exception---all-American. Aficionados would judge the chrome grills, the wind-swept fins and, of course, look under the hood for the behemoth, internal combustion engines that would power these eye-catching land yachts. But that was then.
The big car makers, who are no longer all American, have seen the future. And like the line-song goes, ‘It’s electric!’ General Motors, Ford, Nissan and the other big names in the car game have seen the future and, like the words in another old song, ‘the times, they are a’changin.’
Ford has pledged to spend up to $11 billion over the next four years on electric and hybrid models. GM will be in the game with nearly 25 new electric vehicles by 2023. You name the car maker---American, European or Japanese---and it, too, will be on a new path, the EV---electric vehicle---or hybrid path. The industry is setting its sights on fuel-economy and environmental regulations. It’s also cognizant of a changing market with changing tastes. Well, mostly.
William Bencini, Professor at Colorado State University-Pueblo’s Automotive Industry Management program, understands the direction the industry’s taking but warns that it might be wise to temper environmental enthusiasm. “Is it the end of the internal combustion engine? I don’t know if I see the end,” he said. “The hybrid (still) has an internal combustion engine.”
A hybrid, including cars like Prius, Tesla or any number of vehicles now on the road, are exactly what they sound like. They’re part internal combustion, part electric. And one of their top selling points---the top for many---is they reduce one of the high costs of car ownership: fuel.
“A hybrid is much more versatile than electric,” Bencini said. “The electric car right now has distinct disadvantages.” The biggest disadvantage, said the veteran car guy, “we don’t have infrastructure that is compatible with electric cars if you want to drive for an extended period of time.”
As an example, Bencini said a trip from Denver to Albuquerque, approximately 450 miles, would be easily doable in a hybrid. “You fill up with gas and you can make it.” The car would use both fuel and electricity. The same trip in an electric car would be problematic.
If you want to spend next year’s salary or more, a Tesla---a hybrid---would get you there. A more affordable model, say a Nissan Leaf or a similar model, would get you about a hundred miles down the road before recharging---if you could find a charging station. Most affordable electric cars---$30,000 and under---have a range between of 100-125 miles.
“When I started working on cars, they hadn’t changed anything from when my grandfather was working on things,” said Bencini. “The rate of change now is astronomical.” Over the next several years, he guessed, what you drive will play as a big a role in car choice as how---hybrid or electric---you drive.
Right now, there are built in advantages and disadvantages in these 21st century car choices. Not burning fossil fuels, or at least as much fossil fuel, will certainly clean up the air. How much is uncertain. Hybrids will still be burning some gasoline or diesel. But, until their range---along with power and performance---is improved, electric vehicles will be at a disadvantage.
But one thing both types will have going for them is the $7,500 tax credit that goes along with an EV or hybrid purchase.