Solar powered vehicles and flying cars are happening, but it will be decades before anyone anywhere in Canada will use them to go back and forth to the mall or even test drive one. Much more experimentation and testing and evaluation is required before any carmaker can mass-produce them.
Commuter cars, aka city or micro cars are just now becoming more visible as part of the drive to alternative transportation.
Different reasons compel motorists and industry to change to the new genre of automobile:
• Conserving quantity and cost of petroleum fuel
• Increasing cost and lack of parking spaces
• Congested and polluted city cores due to large engines and vehicles
Canada’s wide open spaces and previously imexpensive fuels have allowed us to travel in what some people call ‘land yachts’. Sitting comfortably with three persons in front or back was the norm a generation or two ago. Since that time our population has doubled, ownership and use of vehicles has increased many-fold.
No matter what type of a car one might drive, it is almost impossible to cross Ontario in one day; from Ottawa to Thunder Bay is more than 1,500 km, from Halifax to Whitehorse more than 7,000 km.
Asian and European countries are more densely populated, distance traveled is shorter, streets are narrower, especially in older communities, and vehicles have never been of the size Americans and Canadians are accustomed to.
Not only are cars and engines getting smaller, various sources of energy other than gasoline are being tried as well:
• Diesel, bio-diesel and Ethanol
• Internal combustion engines (ICE) running on hydrogen (H2)
• Compressed natural gas(CNG) and liquefied propane
• Hybrid-electric powertrains of various arrangements
• Electric vehicles with battery only – or with ‘range extender’ generator
• Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV)
• Air or steam powered cars
• Solar powered by photo-voltaic panels generating electricity
We are used to seeing ‘three-box’ cars; one compartment for engine, one for passengers and one for luggage. The change to electric motors will bring with it a change of shape: so called one-box cars. Because the new generation of cars is smaller, they are lighter and require different materials and construction methods.
From the design stage onward the new crop of cars will be different. They will interact with our phones and computers, and they will be safer by interacting electronically with each other and with the infrastructure.
As long as the “infernal consumption engine” (ICE) is propelling us, many improvements are still possible: low resistance tires, new and lighter materials, eight-speed transmissions and heat recovery systems from radiator and exhaust will help to preserve precious petroleum.
Any beneficial change can be interpreted as a contribution to alternative transportation.