Hybrids are currently about 1% of the total market in the U.S. I’ve seen predictions that say hybrids will reach about 10% within 10 years. I personally don’t agree with those predictions. In fact, I see hybrids being completely replaced by Extended Range Electric Vehicles (X-REVs) within that same time period. Let me explain why.

First, why do we need to switch from gasoline at all? Most experts will agree that in the long term, we are headed for purely electric drive cars. One big reason is, we have a limited supply of petroleum and it is used in MANY other products (plastics, for example) which we really need to keep making because we don’t have good replacements. Another reason is the fact that burning petroleum is just a horrible thing to do to the planet we live on. Plus, electricity can (and should) be generated from renewable sources. The bottom line is, switching to electric drive for our vehicles is really an eventuality, not simply a possibility.

So, let’s just agree we’re eventually headed for purely electric vehicles. Why can’t we just start switching now and get it over with? Why not make all new cars electric? Well, we can’t. The reason is simple. The technology just isn’t there, and won’t be for a very long time to come.

Sure, we have decent electric motors already. In fact, electric motors are really powerful and produce instantaneous, flat, and extreme levels of torque. Freight trains have been pulled by electric motors running off diesel generators for many years. One of the fastest and most responsive cars on the market is a pure electric vehicle called the Tesla Roadster. It goes from 0-60 in 3.9 seconds. The electric motor is also much more energy efficient than the gasoline engine. More of the energy consumed actually makes it to the pavement. You get more power for less energy. The bottom line is, the electric motor is really great for driving the wheels on a car.

The reason we can’t all switch to electric cars now is the batteries. While every other technology has advanced very quickly, batteries have proceeded at a virtual snail’s pace. Batteries have always been and still are a horrible way to store energy. You get far less out than you put in. Further, there is only so much space available for batteries in a vehicle, in order to still leave room for passengers and their stuff.

Unfortunately, filling the available space with even our best current battery technology stores only enough energy to take a car about 40-60 miles on a charge. If you have a 20 mile commute, one way, that means you MUST remember to plug in your car every single night or it will be dead and useless in the morning. Plus, our current battery technology generates a lot of heat (wasted energy) and takes much too long to charge after it is drained.

Then there is the fact that almost nobody wants a purely electric car. Yeah, I said it. I’m sure I’ll hear from the few who NEVER take a trip longer than 20 miles, and who have the discipline to plug it in every night, but the vast majority of us aren’t like those people. We are forgetful people who like flexibility and dependability because our lives are chaos and our transportation needs change daily.

The hard reality is, mass acceptance of purely electric vehicles is a LONG way off. Maybe 30 years or more. Why? Two reasons – People are far more afraid of their batteries going dead than they ever were of running out of gas. This because a battery recharge takes HOURS of sitting at a few specific locations and filling the tank takes minutes at tons of convenient locations. What if you forget to plug your car in overnight? You have no car. That’s unacceptable.

People also want to be able to take long driving trips without stopping for many hours of recharge sessions every 40 miles. You can’t do that with current purely electric cars, and it doesn’t look like that level of technology is going to appear for a very long time. Purely electric vehicles will not become the norm until the battery technology allows people to drive all day (or commute all week), only stopping for quickie food, fuel, and restroom breaks. People can do that now with gasoline cars. They won’t give it up without a fight.

Hybrids are really the first of two steps needed to get us from petroleum to electric. Hybrids still drive the wheels with a gasoline motor and use the electric motor as a performance "boost" when needed. For this reason, they only need a small amount of battery capacity. Because they still use a gasoline engine as the primary motive power, they operate and refuel just like the cars people use now. They require no change in behavior.

I believe the next step in this evolution is extended range electric vehicles (X-REVs). In an X-REV, the small gasoline motor always idles. It only drives a generator. The gas generator basically charges the batteries constantly in what is essentially an electric car. The X-REV’s wheels are driven by an electric motor. There is no kinetic connection at all between the gas motor and the wheels. Yes, you can still plug X-REVs in every night to charge it and save a fortune on fuel, but it won’t make the car unusable if you forget occasionally.

That’s really a key feature. X-REVs are the next step because they provide that one critical ability. Your battery can run out after 40 miles and you can keep on driving for as long as your conventional fuel allows – 300 miles or even more. Fill your tank whenever it’s low and keep driving. You could forget to plug it in half the time and still get to work  every day just fine. That’s peace of mind people absolutely need when making the transition.

Plus, swapping to better batteries as technology progresses will also improve your fuel savings allowing you to travel further before using any gas at all. If replacement batteries get good enough sooner than expected, you might eventually stop putting gas into the car at all. That makes it the perfect transition vehicle. You can slowly shift into the habit of charging your car regularly without being severely punished if you forget.

Plus, the conventional fuel used to extend the range could be nearly anything, from gasoline, to compressed natural gas, to hydrogen or diesel. Anything that can run the generator, works. In fact, if the manufacturers design the generator and fuel storage in a modular way, the fuel you use to extend the range could even change over the years without replacing your vehicle. This is yet another advantage.

Imagine when gasoline hits $10 a gallon in 5 years. You simply pop in a compressed natural gas (CNG) generator module which you refill from a compressor installed in your garage. Hook the compressor to your natural gas line and bingo, you can fill your own tank at home. If you are running low, you could use the CNG compressors at friends’ or relatives’ houses. Even gas stations would start installing CNG pumps.

Or imagine something drastic happens which suddenly cuts off our oil supply. (Can you say "embargo?") If the only fuel available is an electrical outlet and you are one of the smart ones who drives an X-REV, you can still use your car for 40 miles a day while all those gasoline cars sit around useless or wait in long lines for gasoline. You win!

In fact, if we develop future-fuel generators which put out more energy than needed by the electric drive motor, you wouldn’t even need the batteries. That would mean your X-REV is suddenly a fully electric car with minimal modification. Replace the generator "module" and it’s an electric car. Keep the car you love longer and just swap out one module.

Heck, imagine someday eventually putting in a tiny nuclear generator that would allow you to drive non-stop for 5,000 years without ever recharging. You could drive it until it is a pile of dust and never refuel again. At the rate we’re going with batteries we might have tiny reactors long before we have decent batteries, anyway. Even glacial-paced solar technology is progressing faster than batteries and that’s just plain sad.

So, for long-term flexibility and dependability, the X-REV would be the perfect choice as our long term transition vehicle to get us off our addiction to oil and move us toward an electric future. In an oil crisis, X-REVs could save us. If fuel technology changes quickly, they could save us. If we forget to plug it in, they could save us. For those long drives to grandma’s house, they could save us. X-REVs are the best of all worlds. So in my opinion, they really should replace hybrids as the car of choice while we wait for the distant promise of purely electric vehicles. They deliver the benefits of electric for your daily commute while giving you the flexibility of gasoline cars for any other situation that comes up.

If you want to see what I’m talking about, the Chevy Volt is the first shining star in what I hope will be a very bright future for X-REVs. "TIME.com" was very impressed with this technology. Personally, I can’t wait to see what other car companies come out with to compete with the Volt. If the development rumors are true, our automotive future looks brighter than ever. In these times of rampant bad news, it’s nice to realize we might have a better future just around the bend.

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