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Gas Pains

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Gas Pains

Bill Crittenden
The Parts Tree
September 6, 2006

It's the 1970's all over again

It's been a long time since emissions regulations changed cars in America.  We've endured Pintos and Pacers, Yugos and Renaults, but we've finally seen the revival of the muscle car.  The new Ford Mustang is the rebirth of the original car.  The Pontiac GTO doesn't look like it's ancestor, but the new goat's muscular heart is in the right place.  The Camaro and Challenger are making the show rounds on their way to a comeback tour.  An old name has moved from the engine bay to the body as the Magnum is now a car model.  The Charger is a much different car than it once was, but the basic muscle car principle remains:  V8 engine, rear-wheel drive.

It's all about to change.  We stand today much where we did those decades ago, and cars are about to undergo a radical change.  Only this time, the technology we have at our disposal means the muscle car won't have to die.

You may have noticed that gasoline is now over $3.00 a gallon these days.  There's a lot of blame being thrown around, from the Iraq war to oil company profits to supply disruptions.  Those affect price to some degree, but evil conspiracy theories and politics aside, gasoline is a commodity, priced largely on supply and demand.  Right now demand is skyrocketing, and supplies are getting harder to find.

Demand is rising the most from developing nations.  Remember all those Chinese factory workers and Indian call center people we employ?  Many of them are buying cars for the first time, adding to the number of cars on the road, and to the number of cars needing fuel.

There will come a point where gasoline will become more expensive than what are currently called "alternative" fuels, at which time one of them will become the standard.

So what does this mean to automotive enthusiasts?  Not much.  Chances are with so many older cars on the road gasoline will still be available for a long time to come.  But it will eventually be a fuel reserved for classic cars, brought out on cruise nights, while a car fueled by ethanol or electricity sits in the garage, waiting for the Monday morning commute.

But that's a good thing.  Look at where we've come since emissions regulations.  It looks like a dark tunnel at the beginning, but there's light at the end.  I'd be willing to bet most GTO owners back in the 1970's wouldn't have imagined today's GTO, with it's technology, comforts, and old-school muscle car power.

Electric Hybrids:  Hybrids can be tuned to be faster than gasoline-only cars by having the electric and gas motors work in tandem...but that defeats the purpose of the technology.  Still runs on gasoline, just not as much of it.  Ethanol-electric hybrids a possibility.

Ethanol:  Ethanol contains roughly two-thirds the energy of gasoline.  That translates into fewer miles per gallon and less horsepower.  It's also still 15% gasoline.  But it is the most plausible fuel at the current time, because it can easily be designed into almost any gasoline-powered vehicle and still allow that vehicle to run on 100% gasoline.

Electricity:  Because of the principles of electric motors, a performance-tuned electric car should out-accelerate even today's performance cars.  But the limited range kills cruising and the cars lack the fun sounds of unmufflered power.

Fuel Cells:  A promising technology, but not yet a plausible technology because it is far too expensive to produce.

©2006 Bill Crittenden
Gas Pains appeared in the September 2006 issue of The Parts Tree

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