Combustion engine gains currency in the green car market
February 1, 2012By Susan Phillips, of StateImpact Pennsylvania
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.
"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.