Environmental Cars are Sexy
Researchers from the University of Michigan said this week that the crop of new cars and trucks sold in the U.S. in October are the most efficient ever to hit American roads. Their average fuel was 24.1 mpg combined. That’s a four mile-per-gallon improvement from five years ago.
This gain in fuel efficiency equates to a collective savings of $8 billion a year at the pumps, according to Natural Resources Defense Council. That’s just the beginning. Consumers should expect billions of dollars of additional relief on fuel costs in coming years—as the country’s fleet makes steady increases to a whopping 54.5 mpg, the target established by Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations by 2025.
The trend shows how important it is to make slow and steady incremental improvements in fuel efficiency—across the entire fleet of cars and light trucks. These are critical evolutionary improvements derived from more efficient gas and diesel engines. But hardcore environmentalists want to see changes that are revolutionary, especially considering recent severe weather patterns that many scientists link to global warming.
The key to popularizing the next wave of hybrids, electric cars and clean diesel vehicles, surprisingly, might have little do with whiz-bang engineering—and more to do with style. If cutting-edge green cars stand a chance of being adopted by mainstream buyers, they are going to have to look cool.
“We want to emphasize the fact that an environmental car can look sexy,” said Henrik Fisker, designer of the sleek Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid. The 2012 Tesla Model S, an all-electric car, looks like a Maserati or Aston Martin. BMW will soon introduce a full line of snazzy carbon-fiber electric cars. And even the hybrid gas-electric stalwart, the Toyota Prius, could get a sex-appeal makeover.
Bloomberg reported this week that Toyota is studying whether to keep the Prius’s aerodynamic wedge-shape for the 2013 model. If the company makes a change, the Prius could look less like a nerd-mobile, by taking on more muscle, racecar curves, or urban chic aesthetics. Toyota’s consideration to broaden Prius’s appeal coincides with record sales of the model. Toyota is on track to sell about 1 million Priuses globally this year—if you include the entire line of models from the compact Prius C to the Prius V wagon. Just think how many would sell—and how many gallons of fuel we would save—if the Prius was, well, attractive.
As green cars ditch their “eat your vegetables” persona, the question is cast back to consumers: What kind of looks would get you to put a high-mpg gas or electric car in your driveway?
Photo Credit: Tesla