With a population of 20 million growing at 2 percent a year, Mexico City has long been the smog capital of the hemisphere. It’s the third-largest urban area in the world and has been fighting air pollution with greater and lesser success for years. At the heart of the problem, of course, is the automobile, and specifically the proliferation of old, stinky, polluting taxis.
Now we have a far-out proposal from industrial designer Alberto Villareal for a fuel-cell-powered, drive-by-wire, solar-paneled (on the roof) taxi called MX-Libris (above), which may be just radical enough to do the job. The car won the Red Dot Design Award in 2008, and two Mexican firms have shown interest. Funding would come from the Centro de Transporte Sustentable, which promotes green transport. Go, Alberto!
Why do most electric cars look so ugly and commonplace? Do their designers deliberately turn out plug-ugly plug-ins because of some kind of group-think? These and other questions are delightfully addressed by Alice Rawsthorn in a New York Times piece. They are boring and ugly, she says, because of the problems inherent in new-car design, the reluctance of the industry to experiment and take chances, and the fears engendered by the huge investments required. As ever, however, there can be no reward without risk. Tesla has done it. Why can’t others?
The Japanese want to take the lead in green car technology and production, and they are making noises as if they can and will do it. In particular, Mazda is working on the feasibility of diesels for the U.S. and, not surprisingly, they are looking at VW’s ability to market the diesel here with some success. The Mazda2 might be a diesel candidate, and there has been much speculation on what the 2008 World Car of the Year will look like, what will power it, etc., when it comes here. The car will get to the U.S. most likely in late 2010.
Honda CEO Takanobu Ito spoke out last week to a group of journalists (we mentioned it here) on Honda’s commitment to hybrids, EVs, fuel cells, and a really green, i.e., hydrogen-powered, sports car, “not like the Lexus” (the V10-powered, $375,000 Lexus LFA supercar). Plans include hybrids for the larger Honda models (Accord, etc.), but all this will take time. In any case, the CR-Z is coming soon, and that is good news.
Proof that green technology is catching on comes with the increasing competition for manufacturing facilities. Reva, the Indian carmaker, announced it was opening a plant in upstate New York; the Nissan Leaf will be made in Tennessee as well as Japan; and Fisker is redeveloping a GM plant near Wilmington, which event will naturally be announced by Delaware arch-booster Vice President Joe Biden.
Finally, we were caught up last week by a Wall Street Journal piece on “Five Technologies That Could Change Everything.” One of these is truly pie in the sky (space-based solar power panels), and another would trap and bury CO2 underground. The rest are: advanced car batteries, utility storage, and next-gen biofuels. Each clearly involves the concept of storage, which, as all car gurus know, is what finally, instrumentally, enables our vehicles to move. The costs and engineering challenges will be enormous, but in the end what choice do we really have but to move ahead? Just where to put the bets down will be the first problem.
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