Are Aluminum Vehicles Any Better Than Hybrids?
We’ve seen a lot of innovative new technology this year that’s especially focused on fuel economy. There are more hybrid and alternative fuel-powered cars than ever, often being marketed as the future of the auto industry. However, with alternatives to hybrids like lightweight aluminum vehicles, the question is:
Is Elon Musk crazy for investing in electric-powered vehicles?
Hybrid Tech Talk Trumps Aluminum Vehicles?
Though some of you might think he’s crazy for other reasons, electric batteries aren’t necessarily a bad idea. The real question is: Why isn’t every car a hybrid if they’re so revolutionary?
The answer is multifold, centered on the fact that the technology isn’t quite there yet. Because batteries are still clunky, volatile bundles jammed underneath most hybrids, they’re not selling too hot. Not as hot as good old-fashioned, all-gas engines, anyway. Plus, aside from the all-electric Tesla Model S, most eco-conscious vehicles don’t exactly scream “sporty.” If you’re looking for something that does zero-to-60 as fast as a moped, hybrids are for you. Otherwise, you want an all-gas engine.
One of the biggest problems auto manufacturers have come across is the cost. According to Forbes, one of the only reasons hybrids are slightly competitive when it comes to pricing is the fact that government subsidies and rebates cover a large part of the cost. We’re talking $7,500 on some models. Because the cost is so high, automakers like Ford and Land Rover can offer lightweight aluminum vehicles (the F-150 is 700 lbs lighter thanks to this method) that are considerably more efficient, handle better, and go faster at a reasonably comparable price.
The “Lightweighting” Alternative
Volvo has been investing in lightweight design since the early ‘70s, and with much success. Its LCP2000 model (which stands for Light Component Project) made use of magnesium, aluminum and carbon fiber to create a 700 lb car which reached about 60 MPG. By replacing almost everything but the A-beams in a pickup cab with aluminum, these methods are easy to implement despite the cost of materials.
Plus there’s the glaring fact that batteries are hard to make. Lithium-ion batteries have materials that have to be mined in Canada, refined in Russia and China, and sent all over the world to be used in conjunction with electric motors. As noted by How Stuff Works, despite that little green leaf on your Prius, it still has quite a nasty carbon footprint if we include the manufacturing process. Admittedly, a diesel F-350 is considerably worse for the environment in the long run.
If We Only Had a Brain
So, what’s the ideal solution for better fuel-economy? Though it might sound a bit like the end of The Wizard of Oz, you’ve had the answer all-along. Just click those ruby red slippers together and drive better. Careful driving habits can significantly improve your fuel economy–even double it in some cases. Brake as little as possible (without crashing, of course), accelerate slowly, and turn down the A/C.
Although hybrid technology has come a long way, it’s still in the early stages. In a few years, when the technology is widely accepted, we’ll have better manufacturing infrastructure and it’ll be cheaper. By combining lightweighting methods and sleek, affordable technology, there might be a future for alternative-energy designs after all.
Improvements on the Way: New Toyota Prius to borrow parts from a hybrid Le Mans racer
Sebastian is currently a graduate student living in Dayton with his lovely wife and crazy cat. He’s worked on a range of things in the past, from travel brochures to local politics. He’s ruined almost every car he’s had by taking them on road trips, but that doesn’t stop him from planning new ones. He reads excessively in his free time and is a nerd for classic movies and good beer.