Everyone is trying to squeeze a few more miles out of each precious tank-full. But among the special-edition Ferraris, bizarre Cadillac studies and a whole new crop of gas-guzzling SUVs, not all that many people were talking about cheaper and cleaner ways of getting around.
Now many automakers have put much money and effort into building a greener car. However, they have not started this without a little pushing by the government. Facing clean-fleet laws in the U.S. and "voluntary" restrictions in Europe, the industry is committing to cut emissions on its gasoline and diesel-powered cars. Gridlocked Italian cities like Rome and Milan may ban conventional cars altogether. In Tokyo, putting 30,000 natural-gas-powered taxis in the streets has already helped clean up the air. But most of all, carmakers have been whipped into action by California's Zero Emissions Mandate that requires ten percent of all cars sold in the state to be pollution-free by 2003.
Mention green cars, and most people think of some battery-powered buggy that the average driver wouldn't be caught dead in. Electric cars have been around for a while, but never caught on. Their problem: batteries aren't very powerful, so the car's speed, range, and weight remain strictly limited. The typical result is Ford's new TH!NK, already on the market in Scandinavia and about to hit some American dealers too. The TH!NK is a tiny two-seater with a grubby-looking plastic shell that can go 50 miles between recharges, at a top speed of 50 mph. A full charge takes eight hours, but only only costs 50 cents.
If you're not willing to put up with the performance of a glorified golf cart, there are always standard cars powered by alternative fuels like propane, ethanol, or liquified natural gas. Also around for decades, these cars have actually...