Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Alternative Wheels

There has been a lot of talk lately about alternative fuels for transportation, particularly George Bush's hydrogen economy and Portland's Biofuels law that recently took effect last week... but what about alternative transportation?

Sure, here in Portland we've got bicycles, buses, MAX, streetcar, aerial tram, and not to mention a pretty decent walking environment.

However, while our streets are filled with hybrid Priuses, motorcycles, and scooters galore - the vast majority of people in our city are still commuting via single-occupancy vehicles. In case you haven't heard, using a three or four thousand pound chunk of plastic and steel (up to 5-10,000 pounds for SUVs like the Hummer, Land Rover, or Mercedes G55) to transport yourself and a few bags of groceries a mile or two from the grocery store isn't exactly the most efficient means of transportation: the majority of the energy in the gasoline burned in your engine is used to move the vehicle and air condition the vehicle, not actually move you.

Unfortunately, this means that for the average person in the US, a large percentage of the energy used in transportation (gas burned in your car) is essentially wasted. What if we could simply drive more efficient cars?

As you may have heard recently, Congress recently passed a new set of CAFE standards, designed to legislate an improvement in manufacturer's overall fuel efficiency in the cars they sell. Although this topic is probably better covered by some of the other transportation blogs, suffice it to say that the improvements are too little, too late - and are not likely to be too effective: whereas in Europe they promote fuel efficiency by massive gas taxes, cheap gas in the US has encouraged car manufacturers to waste the efficiencies they have gained in engine and drivetrain technologies by simply increasing the power of the cars they make. As a result, fuel efficiencies in American cars has actually decreased overall since about 1988.

Although there are a growing number of motorcycles and scooters on the streets of Portland today, all but the die-hards will choose to garage them during the winter months. So although they win the gasoline fuel efficiency contest, they will probably never become a primary transportation option for most people due to exposure to the elements while riding. And trust me, I know well from experience! There's nothing like having to don rain pants, jacket, and gloves before each ride - it is somewhat constricting on your winter wardrobe.

There are alternative, efficient vehicles that are now in development that are something of an automobile/scooter hybrid - achieving high fuel efficiences coupled with climate protection:

Enter the Tango

The Tango, a small electric car developed by Commuter Cars, a company based in Spokane Washington, is an extremely narrow vehicle. It features a jet-fighter like cockpit arrangement (driver sits in front of the passenger, not beside) - even narrower than some motorcycles (some jurisdictions even allow the vehicle to lane-split).

Its specs are even more impressive: with a top speed of 150 mph and 0-60mph time of 4 seconds, it will beat the pants off of most cars on the road - although, at its current cost of around $100,000, it is equally priced - although different versions are planned to be released at more affordable price points.

The specs:
  • Width: 39 inches (~99 cm)
  • Length: 101 inches (~257 cm)
  • Weight: 3000+ lb (1360+ kg)
  • 0–60 mph (0–96 km/h): 4 seconds
  • ¼ mile (0.4 km): 12 seconds @ 120 mph (193 km/h)
  • Top speed: 150 mph (240 km/h)
  • Range: 60–80 miles (96–128 km) (Lead-acid batteries)
  • full charge from a dryer outlet (220 volt) in 3 hours; 80% charge in 1 hour

Personally, however, I wouldn't mind driving the Carver - even though its slower and uses an internal combustion engine, it sure looks like a lot of fun to drive!


maybe its just the rockin' jamiroquai tune tho?

Of course, the ultimate in efficiencies for transportation in urban areas would be won by dramatically expanded and improved mass transit in conjunction with safer and expanded bicycle facilities, such as bike lanes. However, we're going to need all the help we can get in curbing global warming.

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