Cars of the Future

We Can See the Future … and It’s Very Green

By Keith Turner

As children, when we dreamed about the “car of the future,” it probably had wings and looked a lot like the vehicles zipping around outer space in the Jetsons cartoons.

Well, you can say goodbye to George and Jane Jetson, and hello to “Tesla,” “Volt” and “Phill.”

Those are three examples of fuel-efficient vehicles that are on the market now, or soon will be. While the style and size of the Tesla and the Volt seem more suited to a driver salving his midlife crisis rather than shuttling a growing family, all three represent a wide-range of fuel choices and flexibility for future families who have no intention of slowing down for a silly fossil fuel crisis.


Here’s a sneak peak at what’s here now, or on the horizon, for future green vehicles:

• Plug-In Hybrids – The wildly popular Toyota Prius is due for its third upgrade in 2009, but it may not be quite ready to include a “plug-in” option currently being tested. Plug-in hybrids recharge their batteries by plugging into a home electrical outlet, providing more power to extend the range of electric-only driving.

General Motors is developing a plug-in, electric/gasoline hybrid called the Volt, and other manufacturers, including Ford, Honda and Volkswagen, may not be far behind.

• Solar-Powered Hybrids – Rumor has it that Toyota is also testing a Prius with a solar panel on its roof, providing electrical power to the fuel-efficient hybrid. The panels are not large enough to produce electricity to run the car, but they could power the air conditioner, which is a great draw on the Prius’ small hybrid engine.

• Electric Vehicles – Who said the electric car is dead? A company by the name of Tesla is already producing a sharp-looking roadster that is 100 percent electric, super speedy and costs over $100,000 to start. If you want one, get in line. They are in limited production, and there’s a waiting list.

• E-Flex – According to, the General Motors E-Flex system that debuted in the prototype Chevrolet Volt could power an electric-drive vehicle with batteries, a hydrogen fuel cell or a hybrid electric power plant running on gasoline, diesel or an alternative fuel like ethanol.

• Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCV) – This system utilizes an electric motor that is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell battery that never needs gasoline. Many automakers are developing FCVs: the Honda FCX Clarity will be available for lease in Southern California in 2009, and General Motors is hosting “Project Driveway,” a promotion that invites families to test a prototype Chevrolet Equinox FCV in daily driving. You’ll also find FCVs in many commercial fleets, where hydrogen filling stations are readily accessible.

• Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) – If you travel, you’ve probably already ridden in a CNG-powered vehicle because many airport shuttle buses are powered by compressed natural gas. This process consists of compressing natural gas that is clear, odorless and non-corrosive to pressures of up to 3,100 pounds per square inch. Last year, Honda made a big splash by introducing its Civic GX with an at-home CNG filling station called, appropriately, “Phill.”

• Air-Powered Cars – Tata Motors of India has a license to build air-powered cars – vehicles that run on air pressure – and Ford is reportedly working with UCLA to bring the concept to the United States. Current prototypes have a top speed of about 70 mph and can travel a distance of more than 100 miles before the air pressure canisters must be refilled.

For parents who are interested in what the world will be like when their kids become parents, the future of the auto world looks very bright . . . and very green.



Keith Turner is an automotive writer and the father of two teens. His reviews can be found at and


6-part Family Friendly Car Buying Guide:

  • When Go Means Green: Earth-Friendly Family Cars

  • 5 Common Myths About Hybrids 

  • 10 Tips for the Tank  

  • Clean Diesel and Biofuels: A Quick Look at Alternative Fuels

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