Alternative auto energy

Merits of new alternatives to combustion compared

Graphic by Jondell Coombs.

At this year’s North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), Audi debuted the conceptual model of a new SUV, the Audi h-tron quattro, and Chevrolet officially unveiled their 2017 Chevrolet Bolt (after teasing the model briefly at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show).

These two models are particularly noteworthy because each pushes an alternative energy source to the forefront of conversations on burgeoning car technology.

With the official unveiling of the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt and all its accompanying specs, those in attendance at NAIAS were introduced to a car that, while still 100 per cent reliant on electricity for power, will be markedly more palatable to middle-class consumers than anything the electric car’s current flagship company, Tesla Motors, has produced.

The Bolt is powered by a 60-kilowatt hour battery, and a 200-horsepower (144-kilowatt) motor. The battery can be fully charged in nine hours at home, and will last for 200 miles (about 320 kilometres)

However, the most appealing aspect of the Bolt to many consumers is sure to be its price. After a US$7,500 federal tax credit, the Bolt will sell for under US$30,000, making it the cheapest production electric car thus far. This diminutive hatchback might not be as aesthetically impressive as anything that’ll roll off Tesla’s assembly line – but Chevy’s never been about that. Chevy’s electric car performs well enough for the average driver who needs to get from point A to point B, and is practical and affordable above all else.

Audi’s alternatively powered car, the h-tron quattro, was only debuted in a conceptual form this year with few working parts, but the specs provided by the company on the capabilities of the SUV were impressive nonetheless.

As its name would suggest, the h-tron quattro is powered by energy from a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain. Hydrogen fuel cell engines use hydrogen gas as fuel, reacting with oxygen to generate electricity. Water and heat are the only byproducts.

Audi states the vehicle will have a range of approximately 372 miles (600 kilometres) per tank, which will take only four minutes to refill.

Honda debuted their own hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in November at the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show. The Honda Clarity Fuel Cell sedan sports comparable fuel specs to the h-tron quattro with a driving range of over 300 miles (480 kilometres) and a refill time of approximately three minutes.

Honda intends to deliver the Clarity Fuel Cell to select North American markets in late 2016, starting with California and expanding based on the availability of hydrogen refueling networks that will need to be implemented.

That’s really the biggest drawback to the hydrogen fuel cell as a viable energy alternative to the combustion engine – the infrastructure just isn’t in place yet.

The h-tron quattro and Clarity Fuel Cell each sport a driving range that would outlast even the Tesla Model S, and no electric car can compare to the efficiency of the hydrogen fuel cell car’s refueling process (which is more similar to gassing up than anything) that takes only a few minutes.

Small groups of hydrogen refueling stations exist in California (which explains why Honda is testing out the market there), but a worldwide network could take any number of years – and that’s assuming most governments are even on board with hydrogen’s widespread implementation as a fuel source.

However, charging an electric car is as simple as plugging it in in the winter. There are even AC adapters to make an electric car’s charging cord work with three-pronged outlets, which aren’t exactly in short supply across North America.

Hydrogen fuel cell and electric energy sources are changing the auto industry slowly but surely, and the technologies behind each deserves to be explored and improved upon in years to come.

At this point in time, however – and especially due to the fact that a vehicle like the 2017 Chevy Bolt can even exist – electricity is much farther along than hydrogen, and is infinitely easier to implement on an international scale.