Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Will the Automotive Industry Go Green?

Probably few people today have heard the song, "He'd Have to Get Under, Get Out and Get Under (to fix up his automobile) but it was an Al Jolson hit in the roaring 20's. And its popularity was no doubt due to the fact that just about everyone then could relate to car problems.

However, mechanical problems are not the only ones caused by the evolution of the automobile. But in spite of all the problems, America soon became a nation dependent on cars. There are a plethora of suburbanites throughout the country who have no access to schools, stores, banks, and medical facilities, etc. unless they drive. In addition to all the other caps she wears, the modern mom is a chauffeur. She must ferry the kids to school, to practice, to games, to extra curricular activities, to parties, and then must drive to a convenience store to buy aspirin.

But all of this driving contributes to the environmental problems of our time. Auto exhaust is one factor involved in global warming, acid rain and polluted air.

The exhaust fumes contain carbon dioxide. This is one of the gases in the air that traps heat thereby leading to global warming. Burning gasoline also produces nitrous oxide, which is a major component of acid rain.
And when all of the hydrocarbons and nitrous oxides are exposed to the ultraviolet rays of the sun, ground level ozone forms resulting in dirty air.

Through various disposal systems, used fluids, such as brake fluid, transmission fluid and anti-freeze have penetrated our water systems causing water pollution. The accidental oil spills during which barrels of oil are dumped into the sea also contribute to water pollution.

In spite of these problems, America remains "a nation on wheels" and is so known throughout the world. And the environmentalists efforts to take Americans out of their vehicles might be as useless as "putting Humpty Dumpty together again."

However, sky rocketing fuel prices might make the American auto world greener as people begin to downsize in earnest. Over the years, Americans have developed a love for large powerful automobiles that are 'gas hogs.' But with the escalating price of gasoline, people seem to be more willing to embrace smaller, more energy efficient vehicles.

Another solution gaining more momentum is alternate fuel. Electric cars have been around for quite a while but they have never been taken seriously. Now the electric powered Smart Car can be seen on the streets of Manhattan. And an English manufacturer, Tesla Motors, is starting to market an all-electric sports car, the Tesla Roadster.

But perhaps the most avant-garde of all is the hybrid car/motorcycle such as the Monotracer, a recent brainchild of Peraves of Switzerland. Although the latter does burn fuel, due to the light weight, the fuel consumption is minimal.

A major concern with launching these small, lightweight vehicles on the road is safety. Traditionally, passengers in larger vehicles fared better in collisions than those in smaller vehicles. However, manufacturers are eliminating these dangers by air bags, and cell like enclosures designed to protect the occupants.

But if all the vehicles on the road were small vehicles, the safety problem of collisions between the large and the small would be eliminated. Will this ever happen?