Fuel Efficiency and the Future of the Automobile

The 300-MPG Car That's "not allowed" in the U.S.

Don't believe everything you read. Volkswagen brought their new XL1 to America on a publicity tour, but you won't be able to buy one on this side of the Atlantic. Conspiracy theories abound, but after reading this review of the hybrid in Wired we're convinced that is has more to do with demand and price than it does with a conspiracy. WV only plans to make 250 of the hybrid supercar, and is still considering a lease-only program.

photo credit Wired.com

photo credit Wired.com

Injecting some reality into the fuel discussion

According to the New York Times, Vehicle Fuel Efficiency Reached a High in 2013, up to 24.9 mpg from 20.1 mpg average for cars sold in October 2007. And while there is continued pressure to meet rising Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, there are also consumer and market pressures at work in this debate.

U.S. DOE Alternative Fuels Data Center

U.S. DOE Alternative Fuels Data Center

The Data on Alternative Fuels

The U.S. Department of Energy charts average retail fuel prices in the U.S., and notes that "as gasoline prices rise, alternative fuels appeal more to vehicle fleet managers and consumers." Score one for team obvious. Everyone likes spending less to get places. The question is, which fuel is going to make that possible?

What gets maximum MPGs?

This list of top 10 most fuel efficient vehicles on cleantechnica.com is loaded with pure-electrics. And Tesla just happens to be one of them. The Tesla works by replacing an internal combustion engine with an electric motor, which is in turn powered by a lithium-ion battery. You charge that electric motor via a wall socket or charging station.

photo credit teslamotors.com

photo credit teslamotors.com

The Hybrid Solution

While the all-electric model is wonderfully efficient, it lacks some of the advantages of a gasoline engine. Namely range. A gasoline-electric hybrid solves that issue by adding an internal combustion engine to the mix, charging the battery and adding additional power as needed.

What about Diesel?

Diesel is coming back in a big way. The smoky, loud diesels of the past have been replaced with clean-burning, turbo versions that put out more power and get more MPGs than their predecessors. There are some drawbacks, however. The U.S. tax structure means diesel is more expensive than gasoline in the states. Overseas, the opposite is true. The reduced demand for diesel also means there are less places to buy it when compared to gasoline.

The Alternative, Alternative Solution

Thankfully, all of these trends are converging and evolving every day. New innovations like the camless engine will increase the efficiency of traditional internal combustion engines, likely stretching the use of gasoline into the future. At the same time, electric and hybrid-electric engines will continue to improve and take market share. And Diesel will still be chugging along, both here and around the rest of the world.

What's it all mean?

ABC News says it means we're going to pay more today for a new car and pay less to drive it tomorrow. The way gas prices are going, that doesn't sound so bad. What do you think? Are you ready to go all-electric or are they going to have to pry you away from that gas pump with two hands? Share your thoughts in the comments below.