The timeless maxim “think outside the box” took on a new dimension at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. After years of technology fits and starts the auto industry, and its partners in related areas, have introduced innovative new products designed to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
The tasks faced by the industry are primarily twofold: the need to achieve greater fuel economy and the necessity of reducing a vehicle’s level of CO2 emissions, also known as its “carbon footprint.”
One company which has creatively addressed this challenge is VIA Motors www.viamotors.com. VIA takes brawny GM pickups and sport utility vehicles and retrofits them with extended range electric drive trains. An advanced lithium ion battery can provide a 40 mile range at 402 horsepower for the vehicle, which is also equipped with a 4.3 L V6 gas engine which can power an on board generator, extending the total range to 400 miles. It can even be used to export power to a remote work site. By targeting vehicles used for business, which is much more mileage intensive, the higher cost is spread out in a way to make the product cost justified. VIA made a big splash at the show when it featured a holographic conversation between Chairman Bill Lutz and Thomas Edison.
Despite its technological breakthrough, VIA realizes their efforts are very much a work in progress. “Each one of our vehicles are fitted with transmitters which relay performance data to our offices in real time,” explains company spokesman Kent Williams. “This information will prove to be invaluable when we engineer subsequent generations of our products.”
One of the strong criticisms of vehicle electrification, however, is that while the car or truck itself may produce zero or low emissions, the energy which goes into charging the batteries most often comes from the common electric grid, which is largely feed by coal burning power plants. The pollution has merely been moved downstream.
While this point is usually true, it ignores the fact that improved energy efficiency can more easily be achieved by advances in power plant engineering than within the small confines of a motor vehicle, a trend which is underway and continuing.
Another company presented a product which completely circumvents this obstacle. Ecojiva www.ecojiva.com, whose focus is not solely automotive, it manufactures and installs creative solutions designed to harness solar energy. At NAIAS they displayed their solar canopy, a product which resembles a miniature car port, but with photovoltaic panels on its roof and two charging stations at its base. The device allows the owner of an electric or plug in hybrid or extended range car or truck to charge the vehicle at their convenience. Energy can be uploaded from the panel to the grid during daylight hours and “retrieved” at night. In addition, the significant capacity of the panels can be used to power the owner’s home, reducing the carbon footprint, not to mention the electric bill. Larger versions of the canopy are also being developed for commercial applications, such as shopping malls, allowing customers to charge their vehicles while they shop.
If one key word can be drawn from these new innovations, it would be “Synergy.” The term refers to a strategic partnership necessary to achieve a shared goal in a creative, constructive way where each component is equally necessary.
Photographs by: Jim Klein & Paul Vachon, representing GreeningDetroit.com
Author: Paul Vachon – Reporter/Automotive, Historian, representing GreeningDetroit.com
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