The Car Of The Future: Here Today?

By 2017, I want to be tooling around town in a flying car. But if that doesn’t turn out to be technologically feasible by then (which of course it won’t, just like moving sidewalks and jetpacks and meals-in-a-pill), I’ll settle for a car that is lighter on the earth even if it is still bound to the road.

Turns out, those cars already exist. A guy named Craig Henderson, for instance, just completed a drive from Canada to Mexico on one tank of gas. That’s a mere 12.4 gallons of petrol to complete the nearly 1500-mile journey. Henderson’s car, called the Avion, averaged 119.1 miles-per-gallon (mpg) on the trip. That’s slightly better than the 103.7 mpg Henderson got the first time he completed the cross-country trip (and way better than the 35.5 mpg federal law requires automakers to average by 2016).

The real kicker, though? That first trip was in 1986. In case you are slow with the math, that’s 24 years ago that Henderson and his partner, a chap named Bill Green, built a car that could get over 100 miles per gallon of gas — yet more proof, as if we needed it, that the technology is there, but the push to make these cars is not. Back then, fuel efficiency wasn’t on people’s minds the way it is today, so the Avion never made it to market. Which is a shame, because in the intervening years we got the Hummer and any number of gas-guzzling SUVs instead.

Henderson and Green haven’t invented the only car that gets triple-digit gas mileage. The Progressive Automotive X Prize and its $10 million dollar jackpot was recently awarded to three automobiles that also get more than 100 miles to the gallon. The so-called “mainstream” winner — meaning it had four wheels and four seats — was the Edison2 Very Light Car. The Edison2 gets 102.5 mpg by using lightweight materials — the car only weighs 830 pounds! — and employing some seriously aerodynamic design features.

Of course, all-electric vehicles or even hybrids are popularly considered far greener than a car with an internal combustion engine, which the Edison2 uses (burning E85 ethanol). And indeed, the other two winners, created by Li-Ion Motors and Peraves X-Tracer Team Switzerland, were electric vehicles. Those two got a whopping 187 mpg and 187.6 mpg, respectively. But they also weighed 2,176 and 1,436 pounds. The Edison2 manages to be so much lighter because it uses an internal combustion engine; hybrid or electric vehicles, in contrast, require some seriously heavy batteries. So while we do currently have options for super-high mileage cars (both Li-Ion Motors and Peraves X-Tracer Team Switzerland say they’re ready to take your order), there is plenty of innovation left to be done, it would seem.

In other words: It’s time to break the 200 mpg barrier (if not the bonds of gravity, of course; I ain’t giving up on the flying car that easy).

Like the Avion, however, these cars have yet to prove their commercial viability. But the new fuel economy standards for 2017 to 2025 being considered by the Obama Administration, which Jess Leber reported on here, could certainly help drive interest in these high-mileage vehicles. Save Our Environment has a nifty little online petition so you can submit comments in support of the administration setting these standards as high as possible.

Signing may not bring us any closer to a flying car, but you might soon get to feel better about flying down the highway.

Image credit: Bob Jagendorf

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