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Plugging in for the environment


To that end, we will likely see a mixture of technologies, including biofuels, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), electric vehicles (EVs), and fuel cells, in addition to our conventional fossil fueled vehicles. -Dahlia Garas, Program Manager, PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) Research Center, UC Davis
Within a remarkably short period of time, the growing scarcity of fossil fuels has been hammered home to virtually everyone as the price of gas climbs on a monthly basis, affecting even those of us who rely on public transportation. Perhaps only a generation ago, terms such as “global warming” and “greenhouse effects” were the exclusive domain of scientists and academics, now they pepper the vocabulary of everyone from the President on down to entry level factory workers, and putting us all on the same page about the importance of reducing our dependence on foreign oil and the need to address our worldwide climate change.
The fact that this nation has received what may be construed as a crash course in human induced global climate change in such a small span of time is not as mind boggling as the realization that we may be forced to undergo a drastic life style change in a similarly short period of time.

How things work
There are a surprising number of substitutes to choose from including substances such as ethanol, which is derived from the same alcohol that gives beer, wine, and hard liquor their potency, but are known to emit more pollutants then gasoline and have raised concerns about creating future food shortages since it has been traditionally made from food crops such as corn and sugar. Methanol has an extensive history of use in motor sports including drag racing and the Indianapolis 500, but has corrosive effects on many metals; and natural gas, which is cleaner but has a reputation for less then adequate power.
Thus far, the most viable alternative may be the plug-in hybrid. Currently, there are quite a few on the market, with any number being in development for release in the immediate future. They include hybrid versions of old stand bys like the Honda Accord and Civic, the Lexus GS Series, Nissan’s Altima, the Saturn Aura, and a new version of Toyota’s venerable Camry. In short order, variations are expected from such established marquees as Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Chevrolet, CMC, Ford, Land Rover, Mercury, Peugeot’s Citroen, Porsche (a hybrid version of its Cayenne SUV), who coincidentally introduced one of the first hybrids back in 1898, and Volkswagen, end most likely several more flying under the radar.
Electric motors are more efficient then their gas counter parts because they only use the amount of power necessary to propel a vehicle. The downside is that they often need assistance via its battery when going up a hill, or to pass a large semi-trailer truck. Conversely, a gasoline automobile generally has enough power to negotiate most situations, but that power is wasted at least 90 percent of the time.
Electric vehicles have the additional ability to take advantage of “regenerative braking,” that is using the electric motor to slow the car and collect its kinetic energy for storage in its batteries for later usage. The act of slowing down can also be used to charge the battery for additional efficiency. Toyota’s Prius uses an innovation called the “power split device,” which allows the vehicle to act as a “parallel hybrid,” meaning it can use either its gas or electric engine to power the car, or together in tandem. Electricity usually propels it up to the 40 MPH range, after which the gas mode takes over. Reportedly this vehicle never needs to be recharged, with the only drawback being battery longevity, which is one of the chief concerns surrounding hybrids, along with their expense.
One option is lithium-batteries. First utilized in mobile phones and consumer electronics like lap top computers, have a distinct advantage of their light weight, but are susceptible to temperature fluctuations, as well as safety issues (remember those stories about iPods and laptops bursting into flames?). Separate groups within the U.S. are said to be experimenting with phosphates, while Japan and Korea are developing magnesium, which is highly flammable and can cause suffocation when exposed to air. Nickel metal hydride and lithium remain the leading contenders in the U.S. for battery research.
Another more traditional option of propulsion are diesel engines, which have the distinction of going much further on a tank then gasoline, but produce significantly more pollutants. Reportedly, Europeans have developed diesel engines so clean they won’t even stain a facial tissue places over the exhaust pipe (although diesel is traditionally more expensive then gas without the additional costs of research and development). Each propulsion system has its benefits and limitations.

How green are we? (Basic desires fulfilled)
“Give me a break! I’ve got news for all the latte-drinking, Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing, trust fund babies crowding in to hear him speak! This guy won’t last a round against the Republican attack machine. He’s a poet, not a fighter.” – Clinton supporter Tom Buffenbarger stereotyping the average Barack Obama supporter
It’s hard to see how the above statement specifically pertains to the African American car buying public since it was an attempt to imply that the Obama’s political base is largely affluent and well educated, and Hybrid owners are regarded as sophisticated, literate, and aware of environmental issues.
Car buying has long been recognized as an emotional decision apart from the need for transportation, which has given rise to the practice of branding in the form of grill logos, known in the trade as “badging.” And, most of the hybrids on the market have some visual designation, which may be a purchase incentive.
Chris Chaney of Strategic Vision, a market research firm in San Diego, spoke at length to Our Weekly in an exclusive phone interview about the art of gauging the predilections of the car buying public, including black motorists. Marketing gurus attempt to predict the purchasing inclinations of people by utilizing a combination of systematic data gathering and analysis, both qualitative through tabulation of percentages and numbers; and quantitative, obtained using one on one interviews in an effort to pin point potential customers..
“Data mining” for quantitative research is an especially complicated process that is generally transitional (meaning that the purchasing environment constantly changes and is rarely static), and involves finding an incentive to get subjects to complete the eight page questionnaire that Strategic Vision mails out. During the course of compiling this article, Chaney and his colleagues experienced frustration over the difficulty of getting adequate numbers. Out of a survey of 400,000 mailed questionnaires, they procured only 65 responses from African Americans.
From this paltry return, they determined that a contradiction was in place. While African Americans had only marginal interest in hybrid ownership, the questionnaires indicated that they were the ethnicity most concerned about the environment, with Hispanics a close second. This flies in the face of qualitative returns that suggest blacks are interested in the purchase of hybrid for the most part.
Going back to the emotional component of auto buying, men are known to purchase Corvettes or other high performance cars as an expression of their virility while upwardly status seekers may buy a BMW or Mercedes to let the world know they have achieve success, career wise or financially. Following this train of thought then, there is a certain logic leading to the revelation of the most popular hybrid among African American buyers: the Lexus RX 400h, with the Camry Hybrid by Toyota second.
The purchase of the Lexus hybrid therefore fulfills two basic desires: the Lexus marquee announces that the owner (especially the upwardly mobile professional) has arrived, while the ‘hybrid’ badge signifies a lofty concern for the environment, in much the same way that it does for members of the white community. Maybe we are all much more similar then we’d admit but on the other hand, it does give credence to the initial cited generalization, and we can see that there is some truth to stereotypes. The contradictions remain with us.

Gauging our progress
Since the automobile has been with us for nearly a century, with all the well documented concerns about air pollution and fuel emissions, its hard to believe that its introduction onto the passing landscape was heralded as an environmental break through, giving civilization a welcome reprieve from the health hazards of horse waste material deposited on streets and roadways.
The presence of equine fecal material was compounded by the whims of the weather. Rain transformed the streets into slick rivers of watery manure for pedestrians to negotiate, while dry conditions and traffic mashed horse dung into fine dust that blew into people’s faces and into open windows, producing both a nuisance and a health hazard.
In addition to these offensive byproducts, animals used for streetcar and commerce had unusually short life spans of less then five years due to mistreatment and overwork, and often died in the streets they toiled in. Major metropolises such as Chicago and New York annually removed thousands of caresses from roadways. The flies and other parasites they attracted encouraged the spread of cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and other infectious diseases, especially those of the waterborne variety.
This little tidbit of historical trivia is included here to illustrate the reality that every so-called “technological advancement brings with it significant drawbacks, often not initially manifesting themselves, but becoming apparent over time. Another notable example has been nuclear power, widely acclaimed before the ramifications of radiation sickness were realized.
All of these solutions need extensive study and tinkering. The newly created (January, 2007) research center at UC Davis concentrates on electric hybrid vehicles by working closely with regional utilities, governmental organizations, and the automotive industry. Program Manager Dahlia Garas who previously worked at Southern California Edison (SCE), boasts vast experience in hybrid vehicle design and testing, emphasizes the gradual transition from a transportation system dominated by the oil industry to one marked by diversity.
Edward Kjaer (pronounced ‘Care’) is a native New Zealander who began his career in the auto industry and spent 15 years there before moving to SCE (with 300 EV electric cars out of 5000 vehicles making it the largest hybrid fleet) 12 years ago, where he is now director of Electric Transportation serving as a bridge between the two industries. America has been coddled in its position as the globe’s leading fossil fuel consumer, as Kjaer estimates it uses some 25 percent of our planet’s total resources with just three percent of the population. This is true even now, as gas prices in other parts of the world regularly clock in at six to nine dollars a gallon. The generations following World War II experienced a period of unprecedented growth with the expansion of the highway system in the 1950s, culminating in the emergence of gas guzzling muscle cars and huge luxury sedans in the 1960s.
The first oil crisis of 1974 was perhaps a precursor to the situation we’re in today. It in turn was preceded by international events including the Yom Kippur War of 1973, which induced the OPEC nations into drastic price hikes. Though at $3 to $12 per barrel, it’s almost a joke compared to present day prices in excess of $100. This in turn set the stage for the first real invasion of foreign imports. Japan, whose products had been synonymous with “cheap,” especially drew throngs with radical new production technologies coupled with cars with small engine displacements.
Kjaer points to a parallel today, as the American mantra for bigness had claimed a share of 52 percent of the market for SUVs up until as recently as 18 months ago. As a consequence of events on the global stage including 9/11, the Gulf War, and friction with oil rich Venezuela and its oppositional head, Hugo Chavez, fuel prices have sky rocketed. Sure enough, there has been a gradual shift to “crossover” utility vehicles (or CUVs), which attempt to combine the roominess and comfort of an SUV with the fuel economy and practicality of a smaller vehicle. Prime examples include the Honda CR-V, and the Toyota Rav-4, which attempt to be a marginal compromise between the desire for comfort and performance and the practicality of decent mileage (an issue that expands in step with gasoline prices).
Curiously, Kjaer and Galas are both associated with hybrid plug-in technology, but embrace a combination of energy alternatives as the evolution from conventionally powered cars shifts to a mixture of new technologies that will gradually gain consumer acceptance.
As has been demonstrated when so-called miracle drugs become available, there are often side effects. One notable example is the polio vaccine, designated to be a preventive measure, but which can revert to a contagious form of the disease it was meant to address (although the chances of this are perhaps one in 2.4 million, according to the U. S. Center for Disease Control). The final assessment therefore must weigh the over all benefits to the risks involved. There is no magic bullet. Instead, Kjaer and Galas agree that since America is such a large market, multiple energy solutions are needed.

Automotive Spin

By Gil Robertson IV
OW Contributor

Saturn Vue
With the introduction of its Hybrid vehicles GM is making it clear that they’re on top of the public’s growing concerns to our environment and globe warming. So it’s no surprise that Saturn recently unveiled it Vue Green Line. Featuring environmentally friendly technology, Saturn Vue’s performance and handling delivers a convincing argument for the day when “green” cars aren’t so uncommon.
Wow Factor and Ride: Speed and agility were not lost on the Vue. Equipped with a 2.4L DOHC 16V, 170 HP, 4cyl engine, alongside its Vue Green Line Hybrid system, this car drives like a dream. The ride with this car is so smooth and consistent that I couldn’t tell when I was riding through convention means versus green technology. Regardless, it’s a sweet ride.
Comfort: Furnished with cruise control and map lights, plus comfy leather seats offers drivers a grand driving experience. The rear fold back seats accentuated with cargo organizer is added value that will insure your ability to load everything you need for your journey.
* Vue Green Line Hybrid System
* Trans Hybrid Enabled 4Sp Auto
* Battery Rundown Protection
* “Eco” Fuel Economy Indicator
Spin Control: Fuel-efficient, stylish and reliable, the Saturn Vue effortlessly upholds its famous pedigree. Affordably priced with a MSP beginning at under 23,000.00 and you can’t lose with this car. Given the precarious state of our environment driving this car is not just sexy, but the thing to do.
Grade: B+

2008 Silverado 1500 4WD Crew CAB LT2
Wow Factor: I had one of my best driving experiences behind the wheel of this truck. With its amble space and sharp on the road handling, the 2008 Silverado is a multi-purpose vehicle that performs well on a variety of road terrains. Its eye-popping exterior, makes the truck a head-turner as well, which is always an added boast to a driver’s ego.
Ride: Equipped with a 4.8-liter V8, 295-horsepower engine, the truck averages 14-mpg in the city and 19-mpg on the highway – excellent value for a truck of its size. Added value comes from the Silverado’s four speed transmission and superior front and rear suspension system which will offer drivers easy handling on everything from steep inclines to busy city streets. The truck’s sturdy build creates a smooth, in-control feel on the road.
Comfort: The truck’s power bucket seats are large and exceedingly comfortable. The navigational and radio controls are easily seen and located, which is a big deal when you’re driving at night or in potentially hazardous road conditions. Another feature that I really like was the leather wrap tile steering wheel.
Spin Control: Priced at $43,000, the 2008 Silverado is well worth the money. Perfectly suited for both everyday and off the road tasks; the truck provides a perfect balance of “bling” and functionality that road warriors today are looking for in their vehicles. .
Grade: B+

2008 Taurus X
I felt an immediate connection with the 2008 Taurus X from the moment it entered my driveway. Outfitted with impressive upgrades, the full-size car delivers a sturdy confidence that will appeal to a variety of driving personalities.
Wow Factor: Exterior-wise the Taurus X is not a bling car, but it is thoroughly modern and succeeds in offering comfort and reliability. However, its most impressive feature is its roomy interior that allows drivers to move loads easily or pack the whole family in for a ride.
Ride: Featuring a solid Ford D 3 platform that supports a 3.5-liter V-6 engine and six-speed transmission power train, the Taurus X handles itself confidently on a variety of road types. The car’s AWD system delivers added value that enables solid driving maneuverability on sharp curves and busy city traffic.
Comfort: The spacious interior of the Taurus is great news for drivers, but this car is also equipped with a superior suspension system. For added value, the car is accented with a handsome interior package that includes easy to access controls and greater rear seat legroom, that will certainly leave your passengers happy.
Spin Control: With a base price starting at just $30,000, the 2008 Taurus X is a good buy. It’s an attractive and practical car that’s more than capable of handling the various demands of today’s drivers.
Grade: B

2008 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS
Smart, reliable and surprisingly stylish, the Mitsubishi Lancer GTS made a winning impression on me from the moment it arrived in my driveway.
Wow Factor: Beginning with its beautiful frame, the Lancer GTS demonstrates why it’s a winner in its class. Its front grille has a chrome accent which delivers a degree of “bling;” drivers will also be impressed with the overall “balanced” feel of this ride.
Ride: Powered by a 42.0L MIVEC (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve-timing Electronic Control system) engine that features a 16-valve that outputs 152 hp, its 5-speed manual transmission gives the Lancer GTS great handling and control under various road conditions. Of added value is Mitsubishi’s innovative RISE safety body, which offers drivers extra protection out on the road.
Comfort: The Lancer GTS is loaded with great comfort features starting with its 6-way adjustable driver seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, with mounted cruise control and audio switches, and dual front cup holders – a must-needed feature for drivers who spend a lot of time on the road. The car is also outfitted with a superior sports-tuned suspension, front Macpherson struts and a rear multi-link suspension system, which adds a stability and confident flow to your on- the- road experience.
Spin Control: Alongside its generous fuel efficiency (21 MPG city and 29 MPG highway), its base MSRP starts at $21,600. The Lancer GTS is a great buy. In fact, I would consider it a phenomenal buy!
Grade: B

2008 Malibu 1LT
I knew the car was “hot” from the moment it arrived in my driveway, but I was still surprised by the number of gawks and positive comments I received during my week in the Malibu 1LT. After only one day, I knew that I was in for a great deal of attention while sporting this ride.
Wow Factor: Much like the iconic Southern California coastal city that shares its name, the 2008 Chevy Malibu is not only appealing to the eye, but it exudes a personality that’s loaded with sexual energy. First of all, its clean and sleek exterior indicates stamina and durability, and if that’s not enough, its long wheel base gives the car an elegance missing from other cars in its class. .
Ride: Well, let’s start with its drive train equipped with an Ecotec 2.4L DOHC 4-cylinder engine and a 4-speed automatic transmission – Heaven! The performance and handling of this ride achieved on various road conditions is fantastic, and will leave you looking for an excuse to get in this car and just drive.
Comfort: Chevy has loaded the Malibu with all the extras drivers have come to expect in this price class. From its two-toned interior with sexy names like Cocoa and Cashmere, to its manually controlled lumbar driver seat and driver information center. This car will leave you feeling in- control and satisfied with your on-the-road experience.
Spin Control: With a base price starting in the low $20,000, the Malibu LT delivers unbelievable value for the money. If that weren’t enough, it’s fuel efficiency (rated 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway), should totally close the deal for drivers looking for a mid-size vehicle.
Grade: A

Nissan Pathfinder – 2008
The new 2008 Nissan Pathfinder truly fits the bill as an all-purpose mid-size SUV. This ride even looks the part – with exterior features offering a personality that blends elegance alongside a confident “can-do” feel. The “08” Pathfinder demands respect on the road, a fact that I discovered first-hand during my busy week with this ride.
Wow Factor: Power and diversity are the distinguishing factors of the 2008 Pathfinder’s appeal.
With its new physical and mechanical upgrades, the Pathfinder easily handles a variety of tasks from hauling heavy-duty loads, to navigating the busy streets of a metropolis.
Ride: The key to the Pathfinder’s power is its V8 engine that’s capable of generating up to 310-horsepower, and its 5-speed manual transmission. I was impressed by its authority on winding roads and its maneuverability in stop and go traffic.
Comfort: The Pathfinder has an excellent interior space and easy access to its control features. The front cabin’s power-controlled bucket seats are comfortable, while its second and third row are easily managed. A superior suspension system brings great added value and confidence to your on-the-road experience.
Spin Control: With a MSP starting at just under $26,000, the 2008 Pathfinder is very competitively priced, especially when you factor in all of its amenities. With its fuel efficiency rated at 15 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway, this ride will attract favorable attention from a variety of car buying demos.
Grade: B

Yukon Denali
I didn’t know what to expect from the Yukon Denali, but when it entered my driveway, I knew I was in for a good time. What was immediately noticeable about the Denali was that it strikes the right balance of bling and practical comforts, making it a good buy for consumers. A big and spacious car, the Denali offers a versatility that’s capable of handling off-road and big city driving with ease.
Wow Factor: For a big car, the Yukon Denali gives the impression of a luxury vehicle. Perhaps, that is due to the bold, but intelligently design exterior.
Ride: Unlike some SUV’s driving the Denali is not intimidating; it handles is steady and light and with it’s new boxed frame gives the driver great on- the-ro The 5.3 liter V8 engine is another plus, which alongside its state-of-the-art suspension system gives the car great performance on both city and off- road conditions.
Comfort: The Yukon Denali is able to accommodate 6 to 9 people (depending on size), and is loaded with comfort features. From the adjustable pedals, to the control instruments and gauges that are easy to read and reach, this car was clearly designed to provide its drivers with ease behind the wheel. I really liked the new halogen headlamps that aided visibility at night, and also the abundant storage space located not just in the rear of the car, but all around for added convenience.
Spin Control: With its smooth dual handling on all types of road environments, the Yukon Denali is the perfect SUV. Although its price tag ($40,000+), and gas mileage (13 mpg city / 19 mpg hwy) might concern some consumers, the Denali is a good investment for those fortunate enough to take it home. Driving this SUV was really a memorable experience.
Grade: A

Honda CR-V
Honda’s signature compact SUV has been a hot commodity since it was first unveiled over 10-years ago. Well equipped and highly functional, the CR-V in typical Japanese fashion offers balance, in terms of performance and aesthetics, making it a good buy for potential consumers.
Wow Factor: Although it is not a “wow” car in the traditional sense, the CR-V does feature a sleek exterior and roomy inside that delivers a good impression for the road. Its numerous safety features are also impressive, and the CR-V has received 5-star frontal and side impact honors from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Ride: The CR-V is outfitted with a 2.4, four-cylinder engine that delivers great mileage and reliability. It is further accentuated by a five-speed automatic transmission making it a solid performer on various road types.
Comfort: The CR-V is able to accommodate up to 5-passengers and offers ample cargo capacity for the average driver. Its well-designed, user-friendly instrument panel and easy to use controls are another big plus. As is standard for all Hondas, the CR-V has numerous safety features that include: inside curtain airbags, driver and front-passenger side airbags, active front head restraints, stability control, antilock brakes and a tire pressure monitoring system.
Spin Control: From every standpoint, the CR-V is a good investment for motorist. It’s easy on the pocket (MSP starts in the early $21,000) and is durable, reliable and offers enough bonus features to keep the average driver happy.
Grade: B