Combustion engine gains currency in the green car market

    There’s plenty of green at the Philadel­phia Auto Show this year with new all-electric and hybrid vehi­cles. For the well-heeled green con­sumer, there’s a new lux­ury elec­tric vehi­cle from Fiskar going for $100,000 dol­lars. But for those of lesser means, even the much-maligned inter­nal com­bus­tion engine is sport­ing some shades of green.

    Kevin Maz­zu­cola is the exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Auto Deal­ers Asso­ci­a­tion of Greater Philadel­phia. Maz­zu­cola says the old trade­offs that used to con­front car buy­ers look­ing for top fuel econ­omy may no longer apply.

    “It used to be, the bet­ter gas mileage, the greener the car, the less per­for­mance,” says Maz­zu­cola. “That’s not the case any­more. You don’t have to sac­ri­fice one for the other. You have V6’s that get 300 horse­power but they’re get­ting over 30 miles to the gal­lon. Not 40 or 45 (mpg) like the green green car, but con­sid­er­ing 30 miles to the gal­lon at 300 horse­power, it’s a great compromise.”

    Maz­zu­cola doesn’t see the com­bus­tion engine going any­where near the trash heap of his­tory. In fact, flip­ping through some old Philadel­phia Auto Show brochures that date back to the early 1900’s, Maz­zu­cola made a discovery.

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    “There was an adver­tise­ment for elec­tric vehi­cles,” he said. “The ad said we are mov­ing toward elec­tric. The inter­nal com­bus­tion engine will go by the way­side, it’s dirty, it’s this, it’s that and that was 1910 or ’12. And here we are 100 years later, dif­fer­ent vehi­cles. But still, you’re start­ing to see a jostling between the two tech­nolo­gies and it’s 100 years later and they’re say­ing sim­i­lar things.”

    Obvi­ously the com­bus­tion engine won out over elec­tric 100 years ago. Why? The elec­tric car enjoyed pop­u­lar­ity in the early 20th cen­tury. But the intro­duc­tion of the mass pro­duced Model T Ford, along with the desire for long dis­tance dri­ving and greater horse­power, helped shove elec­tric mod­els off the market.

    Fif­teen years ago, Toy­ota intro­duced the hybrid Prius in Japan, which has led the way for hybrid and elec­tric cars. At this week’s auto show, Toy­ota is offer­ing test rides around a Monop­oly track in their lat­est Prius V. (V is for versatility)

    The V is mar­keted as pro­vid­ing enough space for kids and all their stuff. Josh Plum­mer takes me for a ride around the course, past Board­walk and Con­necti­cut Avenue.

    “This Prius V that we’re in uses the same tech­nol­ogy as the reg­u­lar Prius,” says Plum­mer.  It has a 1.8 liter four cylin­der, it has 134 horse­power that gets 42 miles per gal­lon com­bined. It has 60 per­cent more room than the stan­dard Prius, and 80 per­cent more stor­age space than most small SUV’s. The Prius V starts at  $26,400, fully loaded you’re look­ing at $36,000.”

    It’s that $26,000 to $36,000 dol­lars that had many car buy­ers choos­ing lesser fuel effi­ciency in the past. In fact, hybrids and elec­tric vehi­cles account for only 3 to 4 per­cent of new car sales.

    Those costs are going down, but at the same time the old dirty inter­nal com­bus­tion engine is improv­ing its fuel efficiency.

    Take a car like the 2012 Chevy Cruze, whose inter­nal com­bus­tion engine gets a com­bined 42 miles to the gal­lon with a man­ual trans­mis­sion, and costs less than $20,000 dol­lars. Kevin Maz­zu­cola says that’s where the mar­ket is today.

    “We can talk about where the mar­ket is going, and the elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of vehi­cles but right now, right here, today in Philly and around the coun­try, it is those 4 cylin­der engines that are pro­duc­ing much bet­ter per­for­mance at a much higher level of mpg’s.”

    When it comes to alter­na­tive fuels like nat­ural gas or hydro­gen fuel cells, Maz­zu­cola says the infra­struc­ture just isn’t there yet for con­ve­nient re-fueling.

    The 110th annual Philadel­phia Auto Show runs until Feb­ru­ary 5.

    Read the story on StateImpact Pennsylvania.

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