A Fresh Look at Alternative Transportation and Energy

More choices are beginning to imerge…

by Joey Delli Gatti

Since gas prices have gone up to $4 per gallon over the last few weeks, I have seen and heard a lot more motorcycles on the road.  My brother just bought a Honda 1300R and my neighbor just bought a Honda CRF150F for $1,500.  They both get better than 40 MPG.  My wife says that motorcycles are fine if you aren’t married to someone who cares for your well-being and if you have a death wish.  So what about the rest of us?  What about for us poor people who can’t just sell our second cars.

Honda 1300R
a 2009 Honda VTX1300R

I tend to try and ride my $70 WalMart mountain bike to school. My wife drives around our children in our 19 MPG, 2002 Chevy Venture. We originally bought this specific minivan mainly because of its fuel economy.  It was the best minivan purchase for our family of five.  Before buying, we carefully calculated how much we would be paying per month on average for fuel.  Since that time, gas has gone up $1 per gallon!  So, bye bye name-brand Cheerios, and hello to exercise.  

Because I am a techie fan, I keep up on advances in neat things like alternative energy and fuel sources.  I am also a Corporate Finance major.  As such, I also know that if America’s dollars stop going towards expensive oil, the business world will still find a way to sucker that money out of us for our alternate fuel choices.  The truth is, the more dependent we become on any fuel source, the greater economic and political power the alternate-fuel suppliers will gain – and don’t expect them to be any less merciless.  

Still, $.20-.60 per gallon sounds really nice.  So, after doing a little bit of research I came up with a few alternatives:

  1. Buy a motorcycle or moped
  2. Modify an existing car
  3. Buy a new car
  4. Invest in oil

OK, so becoming richer by investing in big oil will in essence make your fuel more affordable.  This doesn’t seem like an answer for everyone though – especially for us environmental friendlies.  The other three options are viable options for a lot of people.

Buy A Motorcycle

Motorcycles and mopeds aren’t necessarily the best choice if you live in an area that gets a lot of snow in the winter; however, if driving around town to work, to school, and to play is what you do the most of, then a motorcycle may be a great option for you.  Getting motorcycle certified is not too time-consuming or difficult for the most part either.  a simple 500 CC motorcycle can be very affordable and will get you around town just fine.  Freeway motorists may want something with a little more power – 750-1100 CCs.  Insurance for a motorcycle is actually less than insurance for a car.

Modify Your Car

My brother’s friend concocted a weird device from a mason jar, some electrodes, some household-liquid mix, and a long pipe.  He swears it adds 35 percent more longevity to a tank of gas.  I’m not willing to do this myself as it seems a little screwy and dangerous.  I have another neighbor who is an auto mechanic.  He took a 70’s sports car, stripped out the engine, and equipped it with an electric motor (buy a really good one here) and a trunk full of batteries.  He has gotten it up to 75 MPH and gets about 87 miles per charge.  It charges overnight by  plugging into his porch electrical outlet.  This conversion cost him $4,000 to do by himself.  

AC Propulsion, for a pretty sum, will convert a new Scion to fully electric.  The converted car will go up to 150 miles on a full charge, takes two hours to charge (fast charge), and will go 95 MPH.  For the car and the conversion done by AC Propulsion, you’ll pay about $73,000.

Another company called Poulson Hybrid, Inc can modify your existing car for under $5,000.  This system consists of a disc attached to each rear wheel, a motor that powers them, and a bunch of batteries.  This system can be installed on virtually any model car.  PoulsonHybrid.com says

The development is based on the observation that only 10-15 horsepower is required to propel a compact or mid-size automobile along a level road at a steady 60-70 mph. leading to the conclusion that this relatively small amount of electric power would be able to cope with 70-85% of normal driving, only aided by the combustion engine during start up and when extra energy is required for acceleration and hill climbing.

The Poulson Hybrid approach

This turns out to be the easiest, most affordable, and most practical solutions for car conversion that I researched.  The company claims $.9 per mile for gas for a compact car equipped with two of these nifty wheel motors.  On a side note, if you park illegally, the towing company may mistake your car as being one that has already been booted.

Some cars have also been able to reduce emissions slightly, along with powering certain electrical components to reduce power consumption by placing solar panels on the roof.  This is also the plan of the upcoming Toyota Prius.  

Toyota has announced to Japanese media that it will equip its new vehicles with solar panels that will power the air conditioning.  Some articles mentioning this, scoffed and claimed that this would do no good to reduce costs or emissions.  Personally, I happen to know that traditionally the air conditioning is run off a belt attached to the engine.  When you turn off the air conditioning, you’ll notice more available power and lower RPMs on steep hills and at intersections.  

Buy A New Car

Hybrids are now more widely available than ever before.  Luckily, Wikipedia had a great list of used, new, and planned hybrid cars.  Two main types of hybrids currently exist: 1. All-electric for the first X amount of miles before switching over to gasoline, and 2. electric-assisted gasoline-powered cars.  To me, the first option seems the most appealing because electric would take care of the majority of my everyday driving.  I could also still drive up to 450 miles on a charge and full tank.  The vast majority of hybrids today are type 2.  Some need to plugged in and some don’t.  

One type of hybrid or alternative car that probably isn’t getting the attention that it should is the BMW Hydrogen 7.  It can switch (at the push of a button) between being hydrogen or gasoline powered and would emit only water during hydrogen mode.

The now-available Tesla roadster

For a base price of $110,000, you can fit yourself with a fully-electric Tesla roadster by Tesla Motors.  It can be driven 200 miles on a charge, goes 0 to 60 MPH in less than four seconds, reaches 125 MPH peak, and charges fully in about 3 1/2 hours.  Total, this car costs $.02 per mile in fuel (electricity).  

While the Tesla would be my current choice with a winning lottery ticket, a more affordable Zap X will be out by 2010 and will sport a price tag of $60,000.  The Zap X will seat four, reach speeds of 155 MPH, and go 350 miles on one charge.  The company also claims that the battery will be able to be fully charged in 10 minutes (who knows where they’ll be sucking power from.  For more info on this car, go to media.cleantech.com.