Those of us of a certain age remember with great fondness, gathering the family together on Sunday afternoons and going for a drive just for the sake of watching the scenery pass by through the windows of our huge family sedan. There was no particular destination, and there was no rushing to get there. It was purely enjoying the car as a means of recreation. And what huge automobiles they were—huge and completely fuel inefficient.
Back then fuel economy wasn’t such a big deal. Gas was costing like fifteen cents a gallon. You’d roll into the station, ask for a “dollar’s worth”, get nearly seven gallons of gas ($28 worth today), and cruise until your heart was content.
Then came the 1973 Oil Crisis; suddenly Americans actually had to pay attention to how much gas their cars consumed. Lines at gas stations became commonplace, Odd/Even rationing rules were put into place. (Cars with license plates ending in an odd number could buy fuel on odd-numbered days (March 1,3,5,7,9; cars with even numbered plates could buy gas on even numbered days March 2,4,6,8,10, and etc.). Further, a national speed limit of 55 miles per hour was imposed to reduce fuel consumption.
With scarcity of any good or service comes price increases, and Americans started to demand more fuel-efficient cars. Around this same time, the environmental effects of releasing long-buried carbon into the atmosphere as a result of burning gasoline became a significant issue as well. Today, while the gas lines have subsided, fuel economy and environmental responsibility remain significant concerns. Over time, the marketplace duly responded to these trepidations with a host of technological developments.
The Alt Car Expo, the nation’s leading forum for green car ride and drive, public education, and demonstration of the latest green technology vehicles, showcases a number of those technological innovations. Presenting an extensive array of green vehicles in one place, the AltCar Expo features electric, hybrid electric, natural gas, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles; offering a glimpse of the future of mass transportation in the United States.
Having been around since 2005, the AltCar Expo has seen tremendous growth in the alternative fuels segment of the marketplace. When the event started, apart from diesel-powered models, the only alternative fuel vehicle offered by any automaker was the Honda Civic Natural Gas. Further, there were only three hybrids on the market back then; Honda Insight, Toyota Prius, and Ford Escape.
Over the ensuing years, choices have expanded considerably. Reflecting this, the AltCar Expo has hosted the national debut of the Chevrolet Volt, the national reveal of the natural gas powered version of the Ford F-150, the global debut of Honda’s Plug-in hybrid and the kick off of the Nissan LEAF and Toyota RAV EV national tours. For 2014, there are some 17 vehicles on display, with 13 of them available for test drives. This includes the first public opportunity to test-drive the hydrogen fuel cell powered Honda FCX Clarity in Northern California.
The Expo also featured a number of alternatively powered trucks, in addition to an electric school bus. Organizers stress one of the oft-overlooked aspects of AltVehicles is trucks and buses could do a lot to alleviate emissions concerns because so many of them are on the road everyday. Further, fleet-oriented vehicles like these are perfectly positioned to run on alternative fuels because they are so closely monitored, return to the same location every day, and offer the added benefit of lowered operational costs.
What follows is an overview of the vehicles on display at the recent AltCar Expo held in Richmond, Calif. on March 14th and 15th of 2014. The next event will be held in Irving, Tex. March 27th through the 29th.