Over the past 10 years, automotive manufacturers have become increasingly aware of their vehicles’ impact on the environment. Honda and Toyota were two of the first innovators in the hybrid-electric market with the Insight and Prius. The promise of hybrid vehicles was that by relying more on electric motors and batteries for propulsion, gasoline consumption would in turn drop.
Other manufacturers have been somewhat slow to release hybrid vehicles at the same rate as automotive giant Toyota. The Japanese auto manufacturer currently has six hybrids (three from Toyota, three from Lexus) in its portfolio and plans to make its entire range hybrid-capable by 2020.
Hybrids are definitely a critical step to making highly efficient vehicles – both gasoline-electric and diesel-electric -- that rely less on fossil fuels. Hybrids have given auto manufacturers expertise in advanced battery technology and electric drive motor development.
If some British politicians were to have their way, however, no new vehicles sold in the United Kingdom would be powered gasoline or diesel by the year 2040. The first step to less dependence on fossil fuels will be higher taxes on the thirstiest vehicles.
British Liberal Democrats are proposing a £2000 (roughly $4,000 USD) yearly tax on gas-guzzling SUVs. The hope is that the tax will dissuade consumers from purchasing inefficient vehicles and hence persuade auto manufacturers to further develop efficient all-electric and fuel cell vehicles.
Manufacturers are currently working on both all-electric and fuel cell prototypes for the near future. General Motors is hard at work on its Volt which will be made available in electric and hydrogen fuel cell versions. Ford has also demonstrated its fuel cell capabilities with the HySeries Drive system while Honda plans to make its production fuel cell sedan available to a select few in 2008.
It remains to be seen how feasible such an initiative could possibly be. Auto manufacturers would surely lobby hard against such actions and European companies like Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini have prided themselves on years of developing potent gasoline engines. A Ferrari with a whining electric motor just doesn’t quite have the same appeal as a screaming V-12 or turbocharged flat-6.