Another month, another car show. This time, it's beautiful Geneva, Switzerland that plays host. Of course, there is the usual lineup of high-horsepower gas-guzzlers and record-breaking supercars, as you would expect at any car show. And, at one time, those are what drew people in; but that might be changing. Because in Geneva, as has been the case at other car shows over the past year or so, electric cars of some sort have started to become the star attractions. And judging from the lot that are appearing on the floor at this car show, it looks like manufacturers are starting to see the light about the reality in marketing and selling these products to the public: it's not that electric cars don't have to be different from normal cars; it's that electric cars can't be any different from what we drive today. At least, not in looks and performance.
The thing is, if you're going to make a major dent in the market with alternative-fuel vehicles, you need to make them as practical and convenient as normal petrol-powered cars. People's attitudes towards cars and transportation will eventually have to change, but that's going to take a long time; perhaps a generation or two. In the meantime, they won't accept paying a premium for a car that has less range, room or power than the petrol-powered car they drive now.
Take the 918 Hybrid that Porsche debuted in Geneva. As you'll read on mo4, this stunningly beautiful car - easily the best-looking one in the car maker's portfolio - is a petrol-electric hybrid that performs like a supercar yet gets microcar-like fuel economy. Right now, there are well-heeled enthusiasts absolutely salivating at the thought of plunking down their cash for it, and that's something that every manufacturer wants.
The thing that pure electric cars can't do - at least, at the moment - is alleviate consumers' fears; the fears of being left stranded on the side of a motorway on their way to work because their battery ran out of power. Or, the fear that the big, expensive battery in their car will have to be replaced in five years. Whether legitimate or not, these fears are keeping consumers from considering electric cars as a viable mode of transportation - and keeping them from opening their wallets.
And that's where these plug-in hybrids or extended-range electric cars come in. Lotus debuted its Evora 414E Hybrid, a car that is, in my opinion, the type of hybrid that makes most sense for consumers. The majority of drivers wouldn't go beyond its 50km battery-only range during the course of a day, but if you did and began to run out of electricity, a small petrol engine would kick in to charge the battery that powers the two electric motors. There would be no fear of being stranded; and, it being a plug-in, but you could conceivably go an entire year on a single tank of petrol. It's the same idea as the upcoming Chevrolet Volt saloon, which will fit four people comfortably at a reasonable price. And what this system does is allows people to consider this as a primary vehicle instead of just a second car for the city.
There will be a time when most commuters will buy and drive cars that don't use petroleum to power them. There will be a time when electricity, hydrogen and who knows what else will power everything on our roads. But that time won't be for a while; at least 20 years. In the meantime, we can significantly decrease our reliance on petrol (and, of course, diesel) and our overall emissions without ditching fossil fuels altogether. And, without losing the convenience and love affair we now enjoy with the car.