The recent announcement of the high-performance Tesla Model 3, the all-electric, 200-mile range, reasonably priced sports car sedan attracted the consumers like no other recent new vehicle.
If Telsa can meet the demand of 400,000 wannabe buyers who each deposited $1,000 to get the new model 3, the car industry could change. That’s if the Tesla delivers the vehicles in 2017, as promised.
The car industry will finally have an alternative vehicle that’s infiltrated mainstream with a car that doesn’t have the look and stigma of the Toyota Prius.
Tesla Model 3: Game Changer?
Most major car manufacturers offer at least one hybrid model. But the family of Prius vehicles that includes five models combines to outsell all other alternative fuel or all-electric vehicles combined.
Together, the alternative fuel segment of the auto market accounts for only about three percent of yearly new car sales in the United States.
But if the new Tesla materializes, the niche market’s number could get a powerful jolt.
But what exactly defines a hybrid or alternative fuel vehicle?
Hybrid vehicles operate on a combination of gas and electric motors. They debuted in the United States in 1999 with the ill-fated, two-door Honda Insight. It looked liked like a peanut on wheel. But the Insight won numerous innovations awards and it achieved EPA averages of 61 mpg in city driving and 70 mpg on the highway.
Hybrids, like Tesla Model 3, defined
The original Insight, which went out production in 2006, wasn’t marketed well. And a few months later it was overshadowed by the introduction of the 2000 Toyota Prius, a hybrid sedan. The Prius had already been successful in Japan for four years. Its momentum continued in the U.S. and prompted the current ever-increasing trend. Every major and niche manufacturer has incorporated hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles into their lineups.
But it didn’t happen quickly. By 2004, only four auto manufacturers offered hybrid vehicles in the United States. But seven years later, more than 30 hybrid options were available. According to J.D. Power & Associates, the global market research firm based in Costa Mesa, Ca., 159 models of hybrid car models are now available in the U.S.
The increase has occurred for several reasons: increased influence from the environmental movement, pending federal regulation for improved gas mileage and a wishful collective public desire for less reliance on foreign fuel. Most important, hybrid, electric and other alternative fuel vehicles, commonly referred to as “green cars,” reduce the car emissions damaging the earth.
The mandatory gas mileage average increase is the easiest to reason quantify. Under the new EPA and Department of Energy guidelines, U.S. Auto fleet passenger cars must achieve an average of 54.5-mpg by 2025.
According to J.D. Power, the growth of hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles is promising. It reports by 2025, more than one-third of passenger vehicles will be equipped with alternative powertrains and operated with alternative fuels. About 17.5 percent of the vehicles will be hybrid gas/electric hybrids powertrains (HEVs) and plug-in hybrids. Plug-in electric hybrids will comprise about a five percent share.
Telsa Model 3 helps define terms
But there are also drawbacks to the technology. For car buyers seeking superior cargo space, hybrid engines require large battery packs and restrict trunk space. And although electric vehicle range has improved, many plug-in electric vehicles require frequent charging, resulting in the drivers’ hesitancy to embrace technology because of “range anxiety.”
Buying a hybrid car, of course, requires at least basic knowledge of the options. Here are the main terms:
Hybrid cars (HEVs): The engine combines the use of gasoline and electric motors to achieve improved gas mileage. The most common current technologies include regenerative braking, electric motor assist and automatic engine start and shut off.
Electric vehicles: Plug-in battery powered automobiles propelled by electric motor(s). The engine derives power from lithium-ion batteries (Nissan Leaf) or battery packs (Tesla). The batteries are recharged via commercial or home charging units.
Hydrogen vehicles : Hydrogen is used in an internal combustion engine, or mixed with oxygen in a fuel cell to run electric motors.
Biodiesel fuels: Renewable sources, such as vegetable oil from cooking or soybeans, animal fats, or algae are used to operate a diesel engine.
Alternative fuel vehicles: Cars that operate on fuels other than gasoline. In addition to hydrogen and biodiesel, other alternate fuels include non-fossil natural gas, bio-alcohol, non-fossil methane, ethanol and propane.