Saturday, September 17, 2011

Reinventing the Wheel

During the summer I was in the fast lane of the 401 highway when I came alongside a car I didn't recognize. It turned out to be a Chevy Volt, the General Motors entry into the electric car market. GM has been doing really well with internal combustion engines lately but the Volt is looking forward in the way the Nissan Leaf is looking to an alternative form of energy source to get our vehicles from one place to another. I noticed that at the Earth Care conference I attended in Colorado five of the cars were Prius's, the hybrid by Toyota, an indication that some Christians connect their driving choices to their faith.

In a way these "forward looking" vehicles are actually "retro" at the same time. In 1900 about a third of the cars on the road were electric and there were hybrids as well. In 1910 the New York Times was extolling the future of the electric car and by 1915 ten US companies were making electric vehicles. Today there are experimental vehicles running on compressed air, but even they aren't new. In the 1930's there were seven different compressed air vehicles. Somehow the early promise of what we now consider alternatives to "real" engines was pushed into the background.

We just bought a fairly fuel efficient gas burner to replace our geriatric station wagon. The electric and hybrid choices didn't work for our needs (how do you carry those kayaks?) or were too expensive. I do feel a bit guilty and I will keep an eye to the future possibilities.

Could driving a electric or hybrid car be an expression of faith? Are internal combustion engines a dead end? Would you drive a hybrid or electric if the price was right?


IanD said...

Thanks for the lesson in automotive history, David. And nice work on the new car. Fare the well, noble wagon ....

Certainly, we've all got to do our environmental part when it comes to making wise vehicular purchases. I bought my Highlander in 2002, just as gas prices and Al Gore brought temporarily brought the class to its knees. Next time around, I will be downsizing!

That said, if you look on either side of yourself as you rip down the 401, it's pretty apparent that the age of the big car and loaded truck is far from over.

Susan said...

David - what about the bigger challenge - not owning a car but taking public transit or cabs or renting/sharing a car for holidays or using electric bikes or walking.
For me, it was either rent an apartment or live in a car and I chose to live in an apartment and during the 2 years that I could afford to buy a car - I was so use to walking/public transit/cabs that I decided not to buy a car. Cars are expensive.
For some people cars are a necessity of their work life. For other people, cars are symbol of their independance - I have heard a great many seniors in previous congregations bemoan the fates/life when they either had their licence taken away and/or had to give up their car. Not having a car does not make you dependant in life. But I, found the greatest challenge in not owning a car is learning to ask people for a ride to events, parties, church, concerts, plays or family gatherings. The people I ask are more than willing to give me a ride but I feel like I am imposing on them when I ask for a ride.

sjd said...

The car is a deeply engrained part of our culture. I remember the excitement leading up to my 16th birthday in anticipation of getting my drivers lisence. Growing up in a small farming community a drivers lisence was freedom. Nothing was close enough to use alternate forms of transportation. Car pooling was the other choice, but if you were the driver you were in controle. If you owned your own car you were really something!
Living in a city like Montreal, Toronto, or Vancouver there are alternatives that make sense. Just about everywhere else publice transit has serious limitations due to lack of population.
The internal combustion engine is undergoing a multitude of changes. They are seriously reducing the level or emmissions they are allowed to produce. So much so that Caterpillar, one of the most notable builders of diesel engines in the world has ceased production of engines because they are unable to meet current Tier 4 EPA emmission standards. Other companies such as Ford, and GM have added afterburners to their diesels in a effort to reduce harmful emmissions. They actually have a combustion chamber after the engine where Uriah is injected to burn at a higher temperature to burn off particles that were left over from the initial burn in the cylinder.
Other companies like Dodge and John Deere are using EGR valves, exhaust coolers, and another turbo, to send the exhaust through the engine again to burn off particles, and gain energy from it. No second fuel (Uriha) needed. The problem is it's expensive and bulky.
The point I'm making is that most of us will not stop driving, and there is serious investment, and legislation in place to reduce green house gases.
The question is why didn't we do this sooner?