Are Hybrids, Electrics The Car's Future--Or Should Cars Be Shunned Like Cigarettes?

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Traffic in Atlanta, Georgia during rush hour (via Wikimedia)

Traffic in Atlanta, Georgia during rush hour (via Wikimedia)

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Many people who frequent this website with any regularity probably own a hybrid or electric vehicle.

Many of those probably think they're already driving the future--or an approximation of it at least. But just how big a part do cars of any sort play in the future of transportation?

Some would have you believe that electric vehicles and hybrids are merely a stop-gap themselves. Not the future of transportation, but an interim means to an eventually carless end.

According to IEEE Spectrum, some think the car will eventually garner the same image as the cigarette does today--an object that people hang on to for nothing more than familiarity, an unpleasant relic.

"The car is going to be the cigarette of the future," said Jaime Lerner, former mayor of Brazil's city of Curtiba, at The New York Times "energy for tomorrow" conference.

Lerner's problem with the car isn't merely its pollution--something reduced hugely with hybrid and electric vehicles--but the space that millions of vehicles inevitably occupy, and the effect that has on city living.

Lerner, and former Bogota mayor Enrique Penalosa, deem the car as a hugely inefficient way of moving people around, in terms of the space it occupies. Penalosa compares the car to buses, saying "If we are all equal before the law, a bus carrying 100 people should be entitled to 100 times as much road space as a private car."

According to Lerner, cars shouldn't just be going hybrid or electric, but being replaced by much more space-efficient personal transport--cars that are smaller and lower-performance than those of today.

While both have a point--a Nissan Leaf contributes just as much to congestion as a Ford F-Series--it isn't a viewpoint that would be entertained any time soon in the U.S.

Whatever the power source, much of the U.S. population doesn't just like their cars, but needs them too. Whole cities and communities have grown up with the car the only realistic, usable and practical source of transportation.

Hal Harvey, CEO of Energy Innovation: Policy and Technology LLC, noted at the conference that some cities are already curtailing entry when the center is considered "full" of traffic. And other cities, such as London, already implement a "congestion" charge (albeit one based on emissions rather than physical size).

In effect, congestion is becoming as big a problem in itself as pollution is--but congestion can't be solved by making cars cleaner.

That could have a major effect on how we consume cars in the future.

But in the U.S, that future is unlikely to be any time soon--the private car, whether electric, hybrid or gas-guzzler, is just too important to too many people. In that respect, the car is no mere cigarette.


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