Automotive Industry: As Gasoline Prices Soar, Car Owners Turn To Hydrogen And Electric Vehicles as New Alternatives

(published 2008)

Auto makers are staring down the barrel of a completely new age of vehicle manufacturing. Environmental concerns, international unrest and consumer needs have changed significantly over the last several years, and automakers have responded.

Hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) have made their way into mainstream America with Honda, Toyota, Chevy and Ford are producing hybrid models of some of their more popular vehicles, but there is more that needs to be done to ensure the needs of consumers and the environment are met.

Auto manufacturers are considering the use of electricity, hydrogen and biodiesel as an alternative to gasoline that currently fuels 99.9 percent of vehicles on United States roads, but progression seems to be slow at best when compared to the moves made by other governments to ensure that dependency on oil does not control all aspects of citizens’ lives.

Biodiesel has been used by farmers in Europe since the 1990s, and Brazil and South Africa have both made pushes to adopt and promote the use of biodiesel as an alternative to gasoline and diesel, according to environmentally friendly blogs.

German car manufacturer BMW has produced a hydrogen powered vehicle that is currently on the market in its native country, and companies and organizations throughout Europe are considering electric cars as a solution to gasoline.

The American Oil Crisis

The Middle East holds the key to the largest oil reserves in the world. A 2006 study in Oil & Gas Journal found that Saudi Arabia, followed by Canada, Iran and Iraq, have the largest oil reserves in the world. Saudi Arabia holds the top spot with 264.3 billion barrels

Canada lags behind Saudi Arabia by almost 100 billion barrels. According to the same study, the United States clocks in eleventh with 21.4 billion barrels in reserve. While the U.S. lags behind the top reserve by over 200 billion barrels, it is the largest consumer of oil.

According to a 2005 survey by Gibson Consulting, the U.S. consumes over 320,000,000 gallons of gasoline per day or 21,930,000 barrels per day. That works out to roughly 3700 gallons of gasoline per minute. 60 percent of the oil consumed by the United States per day is imported.

There is a significant disconnection between the production of domestic oil and the consumption of oil in the United States, forcing the nation to rely heavily on imported oil. The imports are largely based in the Middle Eas, and are often considered to be the leading cause of tension between the United States and nations in the region.

The current spike in oil prices is directly correlated to the rising tension of the current war in Iraq. Previous oil crises were all heavily impacted, if not completely caused by, tension in the Middle East.

The 1979 oil crisis in the United States started in the wake of the Iranian Revolution. The Shah of Iran fled the nation and protests all but halted the Iranian oil sector. While Saudi Arabia upped production in an attempt to make up for the lost volume in Iran overall production fell 4 percent, forcing widespread panic.

Prices soared in the United States, and the Carter Administration was forced to institute price control. The 1980 invasion of Iran by Iraq only exacerbated the oil crisis and put a complete stop to exports of oil from the nation.

Following 1980, oil crisis prices dropped significantly across the world but the damage apparently had been done, and consumers looked towards more economical means of transportation; fearing another oil crisis.

To date, oil prices have risen significantly over the last several years. As of press time, average gasoline prices in New York City are $3.25 per gallon. There is substantial fear the oil is closing on peak prices and could likely hit $4 per gallon or more by the summer.

In 2005, the U.S. Department of Energy published a report titled Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, & Risk Management. It stated, “The peaking of world oil production presents the U.S. and the world with an unprecedented risk management problem. As peaking is approached, liquid fuel prices and price volatility will increase dramatically, and, without timely mitigation, the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented. Viable mitigation options exist on both the supply and demand sides, but to have substantial impact, they must be initiated more than a decade in advance of peaking.”

The Road to Alternative Fuel

The gas crisis in the 80s all but ended the muscle car age of big American V8 motors and allowed imported four cylinder cars to hit the mainstream and eventually control the automotive market. These years spawned the idea of making fuel efficient cars to save the consumer money on gas, while helping to become more environmentally friendly.

Emission standards tightened significantly and America was flooded with new compact cars that boasted 30+ mpg tags.

During the 1990s, the SUV began to reign supreme. With the oil crisis a distant memory, the Sport Utility Vehicles marked by American companies became the car to have. While the SUV has done well for over a decade, the current oil situation has slowed the sale of such vehicles, and consumers are once again looking towards economy cars as a solution.

Hybrids have taken America by storm and foreign car companies, such as Honda and Toyota, have relished in profits because of it.

Hybrids run on gasoline and electricity and are much better for the environment. The original concept was simple: it uses a battery when the car is at idle and switches to using gasoline when the car needs the power to accelerate.

Modern advances in hybrids have switched to using the energy from the vehicle braking and convert it to charge the battery. Some hybrids only use half of the cylinders during regular driving and only activate all cylinders when the driver fully steps on the gas pedal.

Honda has always been a front runner in hybrid technology. The company came out with the Insight in 1999, which allowed the driver to get over 40 miles per gallon. Honda currently has a Civic hybrid that costs around 22 thousand dollars, pricy by Civic standards, but the 45 miles per gallon average is worth the extra cost to some consumers.

Toyota rivaled Honda with the Prius since 1998. Released in Japan in 1997 and the United States in 1998, the Prius has dominated the world market, and is now the most efficient car in the United States as of 2008. It is almost a thousand dollars cheaper than the Civic hybrid, though the appearance may not be as appealing to the eye as the Honda is.

The Hybrid Camry and the Hybrid Highlander may eliminate style concerns for some consumers.

The Hybrid Camry gives consumers in the market for a larger sedan a gas friendly option while the Highlander offers all the benefits of an SUV while keeping gas mileage in check.

All of Toyota’s hybrid options range from the mid to high $20,000 range to low $30,000 range.

If style is an issue, and the consumer cares about fuel efficiency and luxury, BMW’s new zero emissions 7 series, Hydrogen 7, is available for the German market. While no official plans have been announced to bring the car to American shores, the car gives luxury loving and environmentally conscious consumers something to swoon over.

While the American market is preparing for its eventual introduction, shoppers can own one now for a hefty price tag – $100,000.

What is Next?

While BMW has made innovative moves in the German market, there are significant problems that need to be worked out with the BMW. It is a gasoline and hydrogen hybrid, which means it uses both at varying times, and it is not as efficient as far as energy is concerned compared to other models. Though it boasts 260 horsepower, it lacks the range- it can only travel 62 miles without needing a hydrogen refuel.

The solution lies back in the hands of Honda, with a hydrogen electric motor. Honda has been at the cutting edge of electric automobiles since the 1980s with the EV Plus, a concept of a fully electric and rechargeable car. Years of automotive engineering and development have paved the way for the new FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicle.

The FCX Clarity uses an electric motor that is extremely efficient and produces zero emissions. The FCX Clarity does not need to be plugged in to recharge, a problem that has plagued automakers who have worked on electric cars.

A fuel cell stack takes hydrogen from a tank under the trunk and combines the hydrogen with oxygen to create electricity. This newly created electricity is what is used to turn the electric motor and power the car.

The revolutionary vehicle will be available in southern California within a few months on a strictly lease basis, according to the official Honda website.

Southern California gets the first crack at the new vehicle due to the location of the hydrogen refueling stations.

The car will come at a cost of $600 a month over a 36 month lease for consumers.

According to, hydrogen is the way of the future. The company is working on extracting hydrogen from natural gas and using it to power the household as opposed to standard electricity. They are making it possible to recharge the hydrogen car from the same hydrogen/electric system in the home, making it extremely efficient and hassle free for the consumer.

Do it Yourself

Americans seem to be faced with three options: pony up and pay the high price tag of hydrogen vehicles, deal with the ever deepening gas crisis, or go hybrid while still looking at the price of gas per gallon.

Not everyone can afford the expensive hydrogen cars, and if cost of gasoline is the main issue, there may be another way. purports to have the answer. They claim to have a do-it-yourself kit that can use regular tap water to partially power 99.9 percent of the cars on the road, claiming to double a car’s gas mileage. It will also generate cleaner emissions.

The kit uses the car’s battery to separate the molecules in water into a gas called Hydroxy (two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen). They claim that this gas burns efficiently and is stable. As for cost, the website has the kit listed for $50 now. There is also about $60 worth of raw materials needed that must be purchased from a local hardware store after receiving the kit.

For the mechanically inclined, this may be an extremely worthwhile venture. The website also has a 100 percent full money back guarantee for about three months after purchasing, so those who find it to be too difficult should have no problem getting a refund.

The mechanically inclined U.S. population has the option of creating their own “green” car. A 16 year old by the name of Andrew Angelloti converted his car to run completely on electricity. According to “Angelloti converted his very own 1988 Mazda pickup to run on electricity last year, using $6,000 he had saved up from his part time job as a life guard. He built his truck using 20 flooded lead acid batteries to create 120 volts, which he couples to a 60 HP 9” electric motor.

Angelloti may be one of the younger eco-minded modifiers on the scene, but he’s not the only one. In 2006, Gregg Kleiner reported for the Oregon State University about a professor who planned to drive cross country on biodiesel.

According to Kleiner, David Heckelman planned a journey across the U.S. in his 4×4 with the environment in mind. “Chemical engineering professor from Oregon State University is so committed to touting the benefits of biodiesel that he’s embarking on a solo, month-long, cross-country crusade that will take him more than 6,000 miles across the nation and back in his 3/4-ton Dodge 4×4 pickup truck.”

It is clear that there are many alternate fuel sources on the market, and with the recent rumor of gas going up to four dollars a gallon, the appeal of them has gone up. Since hydrogen is an easily renewable resource, with great efficiency and power possibilities, it is likely the way of the future. It may only a matter of time before the combustion engine is obsolete and quiet electric cars take over the market.