As long as automobiles have existed, fuel sources besides gasoline have also existed. In fact, the first automobiles were steam powered, and electric cars had about a quarter of the automobile market cornered at the turn of the 20th century.
The problem, always, has been viability: limited battery life doomed the first electric cars (which could only travel about 20 miles before needing a recharge) and steam-powered cars suffered from the engineering expertise it took to drive them, as well as the unreliability of many of their controls. Investors and manufacturers were not, in the past, able to overcome these hurdles and effectively market or sell vehicles powered by alternative energy. Gasoline-powered automobiles captured the market in the early 20th century and have dominated it since. However, with the latest news from some of the biggest players in the automobile industry, it looks like that might all soon change.
Toyota’s Big Move to Eliminate Gasoline-Powered Vehicles
This past month, Toyota Motor announced that by 2050, they will all but eliminate gasoline-powered cars from their manufacturing lines. Forbes projects that, instead of following the field into electric-car territory, Toyota will instead invest in its hydrogen fuel cell-powered technology (which produces no exhaust emissions). Hydrogen fuel-cell tech was first introduced by Toyota in the Mirai vehicle last December. Forbes reports that Toyota “is targeting annual sales of around 3,000 Mirai in 2017 and more than 30,000 by 2020.”
Toyota will also continue to invest in its hybrid vehicles, like the Prius, sales of which passed eight million this summer. Japan’s largest business daily, Nikkei, reports that Toyota will apply software and technology which were developed for their hybrid vehicles to fuel cell and battery-powered vehicles.
Toyota: Not the Only Company Committed to Greener Technology
Tesla Motors does today what Toyota promises to do in 35 years: the automobile manufacturing company is already zero emissions and their vehicles don’t rely on the traditional gasoline-powered combustion engine at all.
The difference—and the reason Toyota’s announcement has such huge implications for the automobile industry—is that while Tesla’s environmental and technological goals are admirable, their share of the market is small. Forbes reports that the entire market share for electric vehicles was just .8 percent during the first quarter of this year—a number dwarfed by Toyota’s who, depending on the quarter, is the leading auto manufacturing company world-wide.
The Battle of the Eco Cars
Tesla cars may be rarified commodities now, but they’ve made it clear they don’t plan to stay in the niche market, selling cars at luxury prices. In fact, Forbes says Tesla has big plans for their $35,000 Model 3: with it, they plan to sell 500,000 electric vehicles annually by 2020, which would make them a direct competitor with the likes of Toyota.
Fuel Alternatives: Beyond Fossil Fuels
The US Department of Energy lists about a dozen alternatives to conventional gasoline, including electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (as used by Tesla and Toyota), as well as biodiesel, natural gas, and ethanol. Other automakers, like GM with their revamped Chevrolet Volt (battery-powered, with a gasoline back up) and their all-electric Bolt, are ramping up production of alternative-fuel vehicles. So far, it seems electric cars are leading the field, as Ford and Hyundai also slowly increase production of their electric vehicle lines. However, the low demand for vehicles powered by alternative fuels has been holding the market back. It seems more infrastructure (like electric charging stations) is necessary for the trend to really take off.
We, for one, are excited about alternative fuel sources and the possibility of a healthier, greener (and livable) future. Do you think alternative fuels are the way forward? Tell us in the comments.