We're all trying to do more with less these days, and many families are examining their impact on the environment, both at home and on the road. • Electric and hybrid cars have been garnering much attention for having a smaller impact on the environment than traditional gas-powered vehicles, but how do you know whether an alternative energy vehicle is right for you?
Before choosing a new car, it's helpful to understand the differences between hybrid and electric vehicles.
Both types of vehicles are more efficient than traditional cars — incorporating energy-saving and emissions-reducing features, many of which are related to innovative uses of lighter-weight plastics and reinforced plastic composites.
Hybrid cars are dual-powered, featuring an electric motor and a gas-powered engine. The electric motor is powered by a battery, while the gas engine is, of course, powered by gasoline. Depending on how and where you are driving, the car switches between the motor and the engine to achieve maximum fuel efficiency and reduce emissions.
Electric cars, meanwhile, rely on only an electric motor powered by a battery. As battery technology advances, these batteries are getting more powerful and less bulky and are holding charges longer. The latest example of battery technology is the lithium-polymer (polymer means plastic) battery. These batteries are up to 10 percent more efficient than the nickel-metal hydride batteries currently in many hybrid cars.
Electric cars have come a long way, but so far they don't have the same long-range capabilities of gas-powered vehicles. With hybrids, consumers can get the reduced emissions of an electric motor, plus the long-range capabilities of a gas-powered engine.
Automakers also are increasing the efficiency of hybrid and electric cars by investing in more efficient designs. They are using materials such as reinforced plastic composites that can be as strong as steel, yet lighter, to reduce vehicle weight and lighten the load on engines. Vehicles built using these materials tend to weigh less, while providing high performance.
And the green credentials don't stop at the engine. Some new models even have seat belts made from recycled plastic bottles. For more information about how plastics are fueling auto innovations, visit www.plasticsmakeitpossible.com.
So which type of vehicle is right for you?
Today's hybrid car models are great for commuters and road trips, while electric cars are handy for short trips to the grocery store or to pick the kids up from school.