History of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles

Introduction

Invention of wheel is considered to be one of the greatest inventions that have taken the human civilization quite a few steps further in the path of modernisation. Long before, when man first came across with a piece of round shape wooden block then he seldom thought that one day it will become his vehicle of progress and development. That round piece of wood after thousands of years of evolution, improvement and modernisation, took the shape of modern days’ wheel. When James Watt invented the steam engine, then combined with the wheel, it gave the shape of the first car. However, it was only in 1885 that the first four stroke engine car was introduced on the roads by Daimler and within less than hundred years time, the car became the main vehicle for short or long distances. All these cars use fossil fuel and to be precise, petrol and diesel as fuels. These burn internally to produce energy and that keeps it moving. Such a burning process emits carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and so many other not so environment friendly substances and is believed to be polluting Mother Nature and adding to its temperature. In recent time, it is profoundly believed that the other alternatives to car hold the solution to our problem of carbon emission and thereby the alarming issue of global warming.      

Car and its importance

Car is considered to be a pretty fast form of vehicle that saves time and is used by millions to reach from one point to another. Such a journey may be associated with spending a holiday, emergencies such as the hospital or nursing home, official or business purpose. It can easily be grasped that if we refuse car as our prime vehicle for day to day life then we might come to a halt or start living in a far slower pace of life, that is, unsuitable to today’s modern world. Furthermore, owing to the years of evolution, modernisation, mass level of production and popularity, use of car has reached such a staggering number that its straight rejection will bring a sudden anarchy and transportation problem that would be hard to solve.  Not only one of the most usefull vehicles that offers speed with privacy and suits the need of an individual, car is also associated with prestige and social status which is hard to surrender by many. Car is also unique in terms of its manoeuvre. It can reach some places where it is difficult for any other forms of vehicles. Again it is more flexible, accurate (it can take us to the exact spot) and all these only add to the credit of car as the most important form of vehicle. If we consider the segments of the car ten we can easily find that such segments are a result o fears of research as well as observation. The top segment of car considers prestige and status, the mid segment considers utility, style and sentiment and the lower segment reflects needs of an individual. Particularly after the Japanese manufacturers starting Toyota in the 1960s came into production of cars, the per unit coat of production and the price of car have experienced a sharp decline and that only added to its popularity as a vehicle and further transformed it from rich man’s pride to common man’s utility. In a single sentence, after its invention through the years of evolution, research, modernisation and experiments, car has proved itself more than a vehicle and has become a part and parcel or the work in day to day life. In these circumstances, its replacement is hard to find and will definitely bring several alterations in our daily life.

Electric Car and Hybrid Cars

Looking at the success of hybrid engines in lowering the level of pollution, saving the fossil fuel and decreasing per unit cost of run, they have been introduced in commercial and passenger vehicles as well. General Motors has introduced sych hybrid engines that run through diesel and electricity in its GMC Yukon and Chevrolet has followed suit. Toyota, ford, General Motors are now using hybrid engines for pick trucks and SUVs.  Among passenger cars, Toyota Camry hybrid, Ford Escape Hybrid, Honda Civic Hybrid are few to name. (Office of FreedomCAR and Vehicle Technologies Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, 2006)

Only battery vehicles are capable of reducing emissions to zero level. However, till now owing to some infra-structural problem, they are not in much use like the others. Battery vehicles often lack the power of a petrol or diesel engine and are subject to recharge in order to make long distances. Both these have gone against their popularity and researches have been going on in order to solve these problems. Perhaps, Plug-in Hybrid Electrical Vehicle holds the key to our future car. In such a car, the engine can be run through electric or gasoline and the battery pack is upgraded to a larger capacity and is rechargeable through an electrical grid or the gasoline engine. (Shabna, 2007, Thomas, 2007)

Even the hybrid engines or the so-called battery cars are not free of environmental criticisms. Though the emission is much lower, nickel based batteries are one of the most infamous carcinogens and might lead to several health problems such as Xencephaly, Everted Viscera and so many others. Adding to our concern, as lead is cheaper than nickel, most batteries use lead than nickel and an estimated millions of tons of lead can be found in the batteries of the vehicles today. Each year, more than one lakh metric tons of lead is released into the environment owing to the car industry. (Hybrid Car Disadvantages, 2006)

Although the functionality of hybrid cars are still somewhat inferior to those based on petroleum, they are already in the functional state and that they are already capable of transporting people to their destinations (Reuters 2008). There might be little sacrifices on their speed and acceleration as well as maximum distance travel capacity but the hybrid vehicles are very much capable of taking over the basic function of petroleum based vehicles which is to transport. There are also numerous advantages that are associated with the use of hybrid vehicles. The first and foremost is of course the cheaper cost of fuel since the hybrid vehicles can either use biofuels and electricity that had been generated by renewable sources as well as being environmentally friendly with their emission levels. Previously, the high price of the hybrid vehicles are what made them unattractive to the market that is why they were not preferred by regular consumers back then. The rise in the fuel prices however is starting to make them look cheaper than the vehicles using traditional petroleum fuels. Aside from the small difference of hybrid vehicles with their traditional counterparts, there are also infrastructure concerns with the kind of fuels that hybrid vehicles might use. If the hybrid vehicles are to use biofuels, then there is very little change in the refueling stations that are to be used for them. It is a different story however if they are to use hydrogen or electricity. The important part of the current economic situation right now is that the expenses related to these additional infrastructures as well as additional payments on the part of the consumer is starting to approach the acceptable level when they are compared with the costs of the traditional fuels. As a result, the option of buying hybrid cars is more attractive than ever. The only problem that hybrid cars are facing would be the mass production aspect of cutting edge technology. All of the technological aspect of manufacturing it would mean a tremendous investment on the part of the existing car manufacturers since it would require the re-hauling of all of their known process of manufacturing the car as a finished product (Hunt Ben 2001).

There are also other problems that are stopping the full fledged adaptation of hybrid cars in everyday life of all countries worldwide. The source of the fuel would be the main problem. First, if the choice is that of biofuels, there is still not enough agricultural land developed and pertained for the use of the hybrid vehicles. Second, if the choice of fuel would be hydrogen, there are still technological problems concerning the safety and the storage of hydrogen. If the choice of consumers is to use electricity, then the source of electricity would be the problem since we can’t possibly use power plants run by petroleum as this would be defeating the purpose in the first place. Renewable sources like geothermal, solar and hydro power plants would have to be used but their number is very limited for the purpose of supplying world demand. Even the fuel cell that is intended to eliminate the losses generated by the transporting electricity over distances still needs to be perfected.

All of these technical problems that hybrid vehicles require in order to make them commercially feasible are all starting to look cheaper when they are compared with the kind of costs that petroleum fuels are starting to reach (Alan Reynolds 2005). The concerns about the manufacturing costs are going to be driven down once the demand for the technology is high enough and steady enough. Minor issues would be governmental regulations for the different countries. It means that in the long run, the demand for the hybrid vehicles will not be hindered by any technical challenge as this can be solved by focused efforts on the part of the manufacturing companies as well as the academia. The kinds of regulations that are in the way for the full implementation of these technologies are simply a matter of opinion of the bureaucrats and other government officials. The need for vehicles with lower costs of transportation as well as environmentally friendly will be the only choice left in order to sustain the economic progress that has been achieved these past few centuries. The hybrid cars are the only solution to the long term problem of transporting goods and people wherein the source of energy is renewable without any major damage to the ecosystem of our planet. If ever there is a bigger blockade towards the full adaptation of hybrid technology, it would be the commercial interest of the manufacturing firms themselves that are reluctant to fully put themselves into creating the cheapest and most useful hybrid technology so as to enable average consumers to avail of the cheaper alternative of transportation. Despite this negative aspect of the manufacturing companies, the hybrid vehicles will inevitably be the only option left for the rest of the world (Luts Kilian 2007).

Conclusion

So far what we have illustrated, emphasizes the importance of car in our modern society, its problems, the need for a suitable alternative and some alternatives that might replace car in near future. We have also highlighted that even these alternatives have some problems that are yet to be solved. Car is not just a vehicle of transport, rather it signifies modernisation and years of scientific improvement. Such a mechanical brilliance has made itself the other name of utility in the deepest of human psychology. However, considering the present level of environmental status, the fossil fuel reserve and the cumulative increase in global temperature each year, this is the right time that we should shift to a more environment friendly and less fuel consuming means of transport. It is obvious that even these forms of transport have their own limitations and problems such as lead addition to the environment. However, while solving a problem we should approach it on a priority basis. No doubt, hybrid vehicles and battery driven cars emit far less than an ordinary car. And thereby can be effective means against pollution as well as global warming. Car as illustrated is a much bigger happening in human life to replace. So it might need years of research and development from now to adopt such hybrid and electrical vehicles in our daily life. It will also require a change in our taste and preference. However if a change brings a more beautiful morning to our life, then that change is always welcome!

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