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Vehicle world of tomorrow

10/15/02 12:00AM By Ruth Page
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(Host) Car manufacturers are working on new vehicles that reduce our dependence on imported oil. Commentator Ruth Page points out that the hybrids using both gas and electricity are already on the market and are selling better every year.

(Page) When I stopped by Patrick Gym on the UVM campus September 29, I found myself in the Vehicle World of Tomorrow. There were electric vehicles; hybrids using both electricity and gasoline; an 8 foot vehicle like a glorified golf-cart (strictly for short runs in your home community); a Ford Company fuel-cell vehicle using only hydrogen gas for power; plus one big old bus.

Yes, old bus. Three girls from Lake Region High School got a 1972 Volkswagen van and fixed it all up, repainted its outside, replaced the aging wiring, and installed big solar power units on the roof. It looks like a perambulating greenhouse. Thirteen percent of the bus's power is solar. One of the bus's modernizers, Roberta Pitkin, proudly showed off all the changes the three young women had made, adding, "I just LOVE cars."

A Honda that got its power from natural gas has low emissions and a long vehicle life. Like the other gasoline-saving cars, it had far more gadgetry under its hood than yours and mine do, so gas-station employees will need to learn a new way of checking out the action under the hoods. Both FedEx and UPS have some trucks burning natural gas right now, and they get 25 miles per gallon. The gas tank at the rear of the car holds the equivalent of eight gallons of gasoline and emits only one-tenth the emissions of ordinary gasoline-engine vehicles.

Most exciting was the Ford car powered by a fuel cell using hydrogen. Its only emission is water vapor. Some day we'll stop at a hydrogen-fuel station for a fill-up of the most abundant gas in earth's atmosphere. Our car engines will combine hydrogen with oxygen to produce electricity. An engine component will convert the electricity for use by a special motor that converts it into the mechanical energy that makes the wheels go 'round.

A number of the unusual vehicles on display already sell for just $20,000. Fuel-cell-powered cars are the best bets for the future, but it's likely to be more than a decade before anybody but Bill Gates can afford them. Scientific American had a detailed article about how these cars will work. They'll be the perfect pollution solution. What the magazine didn't mention, after pointing out how fuel-cell engines can be available to everyone everywhere, was what that'll do to an already horrendous traffic problem. Once everybody knows their car, tiny or huge, has no bad emissions, our highways may become bumper-to-bumper traffic from factory to everywhere.

This is Ruth Page, hoping to see many more gas-saving vehicles and many fewer SUVs on our highways in the coming years.
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