Series (Science): Green Machines

Green Machines, Part 5: A Nose For Picking Green

Welcome to the final installation of a 5-part series about environmentally-friendly cars, entitled Green Machines. To read the previous installation, CLICK THIS LINK. To start at the beginning, CLICK THIS LINK. Thanks for reading!

A Nose For Picking Green

With all my research on green vehicles, you might say I now have a nose for picking green.

Hybrid History

For one thing, I’ve learned that Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) have come a long way since the very first HEV. That first HEV was produced in the year 1900 by Ferdinand Porsche. Yes, that Porsche. The same Porsche who later developed fast cars. The same Porsche who as a Nazi, used forced labor in his factories to build tanks for the German war effort. And the same Porsche who served time in prison after World War II, charged with war crimes.

Porsche’s early HEV was called the Lohner-Porsche, and was produced from 1900-1905. It was a Series Hybrid horseless carriage, powered by electric motors, with batteries that were recharged by a gasoline generator. And like a typical Porsche, it was a fast car (by the standards of the day), once setting a land speed record of 37 mph.

A Lohner-Porsche in 1902.

Porsche only sold about 300 of these hybrids, because they were so damned expensive. But the Lohner-Porsche influenced HEV designs for years to come. In fact it was so ingenuous that during the space race, Boeing and NASA studied it while developing the Lunar Roving Vehicle.

Electric cars were the most popular type of motorized vehicle prior to Henry Ford’s invention of the Model T, in 1908. But after that they lost favor to the internal combustion engine, and the kind of range, speed, and affordability that electric vehicles couldn’t match.

It took nearly a century, but in the 1990s battery technology finally improved to the point where hybrid vehicles were able to compete against traditional gas-powered vehicles. In 1997, Toyota introduced its Prius in Japan, then marketed it worldwide, in 2000. “Prius,” by the way, is Latin for “first.” Sales began picking up, so a few years later other car manufactures got in on the action. And now most auto brands offer some form of electric/gas hybrid.

Winnowing the Chaff

Hybrid electric vehicle technology and availability has continued to improve, to the point where I now feel comfortable buying an HEV. Now it’s just a matter of winnowing out the chaff and choosing the best vehicle to suit my needs.

I quickly knocked the Honda CR-V and Hyundai Tucson from my list after I discovered they don’t have a spare tire. That’s a deal-breaker for me. I want reliability, to prevent being stranded, and the tire repair kits that come with those cars won’t help me if I get a blowout in the middle of nowhere.

I also want an SUV that’s large enough to hold all my wife’s and my luggage and the kitchen sink when we go on road trips, so that has narrowed down my choices quite a bit. And I want a Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV). With few PHEVs on the market, I’ve found my list shrinking to a midget stature.

Then I took Driver Assist features into consideration. I like lots of these because I’m lazy. I especially like Adaptive Cruise Control, Highway Driving Assist, Rear Cross-Traffic Warning, Blind-Spot Warning, Park Assist, Surround-View Camera, Automatic High-Beams, Road Sign Recognition, and Intelligent Speed Limiter.

One day I hope to find a car that will do everything for me. This dream machine will wheel me out to the driveway and lift and place me into the driver’s seat. Then it will automatically start right up for me, back safely out onto the street, and zip me off to my destination. Meanwhile, I’ll be able to lay my seat back and take a snooze, only to be awakened by the tapping of a robotic stewardess, asking what kind of soda I want with my chips.

Maybe, just maybe, one day before I die, they will sell cars like that.

Picking Green

But in the meantime, I have to settle for what’s available. Based upon all my picky, finicky preferences, I’ve managed to thin my list of green picks down to three potential vehicles to purchase. These are the Hyundai Santa Fe Plug-In Hybrid, the Toyota RAV4 Prime XSE, and the Kia Sorento Hybrid EX.

They have a base cost of somewhere around $40-$50K. They all plug-in. Their total range is above 500 miles. Their electric-only range is 30 miles, except 42 miles for the Toyota RAV4 Prime. That’s because their lithium-ion polymer batteries get about 2.2 miles per kilowatt hour (kWh), and they’re rated at 13.8-kWh, except the RAV4, which has an 18.1-kWh battery.

They have All-Wheel Drive, which I love. Horsepower is decent, at a little above 225 hp, except that the RAV4 Prime thunders at 302 hp. And they all have sufficient cargo space. Or at least I hope, or I’ll catch hell when I can’t stuff my wife’s suitcases into the car.

I’m going to hold off buying one, though. I think it’s a good idea to let my passions cool, keep my money in my wallet and my options upon until at least the Fall of next year. Hopefully by that time the technology will have improved even more, and the 2023 models will come even closer to approaching my ideal in a vehicle.

Thanks for reading this series on Green Machines. I hope it’s helped you learn a few things about electric and hybrid vehicles. And I also hope that it’s helped you develop a good nose for picking green.

Some of my sources:


18 replies »

  1. “A nose for picking green..” Oh gosh, I am glad that I got my sanity restored at the beach. I can just smile and shake my head now. 🙂

    Your “Green” posts were very informative, good job! And I really want that car that puts you in the driver’s seat and lets you snooze.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. These have been interesting. It’s something I haven’t looked into much, although all indications are that traditional internal combustion powered vehicles will be a thing of the past within a decade, or less. I suspect that the final nail-in-the-coffin will be when another zero gets added to the price at the pump. Gasoline (or some other hydrocarbon) may hang around for awhile, however, if simply due to the infrastructure that would be required to handle trying to power everyone’s cars off the electrical grid.

    One thing I’m curious about is whether these vehicles will be able to survive into a used car market, or if cars (like everything else) are going to be viewed as “disposable” items. Tesla is working toward an essentially injection-molded chassis with batteries as a non-replaceable structural element. Seems wasteful. But it certainly would keep the customers returning.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks. I’m not so optimistic (or pessimistic) about the disappearance of gas-powered vehicles. Going full-electric still seems like pie in the sky for me, until battery technology makes some significant improvements. And even then, as you indicate, the electrical infrastructure will have to improve, to handle all the cars being plugged in.

      I think they may also have to improve the recycling technology of lithium-ion batteries. A throw-away chassis with an encased battery sounds like the opposite of what environmentalists would want. I think there might be some pushback on that.

      Liked by 2 people

      • “Recycling” seems to have become the mantra excusing so much current waste. But things that last don’t keep economies going. Aldous Huxley suggested that kind of cyclic consumerism as a part of his dystopian, Brave New World, back in 1931.

        I’ve never replaced the uninterruptible power supply that keeps my server running here. It’s an old, 90’s era APC that I bought shortly after college. I’ll just swap out the lead-acid batteries in it maybe every five years, and send just the old batteries out for recycling. Newer consumer units are sealed, and simply thrown away after the batteries are done.

        Eventually, governments may require auto manufacturers to standardizes their battery packs. That could lead to hot-swap stations where people could get a quick battery replacement as opposed to a recharge. If you think about it, that would solve both infrastructural and recycling problems. However, I’m sure that manufacturers would lobby against the idea like crazy, as cars would outlast their batteries.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yeah, I bought a UPS a year ago, that seems to be a sealed unit. So in a few years, off it will go to the trash heap, I guess.

          As far as hot-swapping, I think that could become a prickly issue for consumers. After all, when you swap out your used battery for another used battery, you don’t know what kind of quality you’re receiving in return. It could be an even trade, a good deal, or a bad deal.

          Liked by 1 person

          • The idea of hot-swapping batteries is that you only pay for whatever charge is held in the battery. The batteries become communal items (like exchangeable propane or welding-gas bottles), and are simply reconditioned or recycled when their capacity drops below some pre-determined amount… say 80%. In fact, since it’s generally the last 20% of the charge that does the majority of damage to a lithium-ion battery, that can be pro-rated at a higher cost… hence people who want the extra range of a 100% charged battery would shoulder the expense of most of the life of the battery itself. And range becomes a non issue anyway when you can just swing into a corner station and use the loo while a robot swaps in an already recharged battery.

            The rub is standardizing the batteries. The EU has already mandated the standardization of charger systems and receptacles. Even Tesla uses EU standard interfaces within the EU. The big resistance to standardizing platforms comes mainly from manufacturer lobbies… which, unfortunately, are what define government policy in the US.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Well, I suppose over time they’ll work out some sort of system that will be considered fair. And as far as standardization of interfaces is concerned, I imagine those who manufacture adapters would be the ones lobbying the most against standardizing things. Hopefully, they’ll lose.

              Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m on a waiting list at my dealership for a Rav4Prime….you might get your next vehicle before me though 🤣….it’s not looking so good for Canadians outside of Quebec (which is giving huge rebates for this vehicle, so they get first dibs). Thanks for this informative series, TG!


    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re welcome. Here in the USA, the 2022 model isn’t even out yet. When it finally does come out I don’t know if there will be a waiting list. I’ve heard there’s a worldwide shortage of microprocessor chips that’s affecting car production, so that could explain the slow rollout of the 2022 model.

      Liked by 2 people

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