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Chevrolet Volt Concept is a highly advanced, plug-in electric hybrid. However, the 1.0-liter, three-cylinder turbocharged motor never powers the wheels directly. Instead, the Volt uses the combustion engine, which runs at a constant speed to maximize efficiency, generate electricity to power the electric motor, and charge the lithium-ion battery. The end result is the capacity to travel 60 miles on just 0.4 gallons of gas, averaging an astonishing 150 miles per gallon.

Worldwide, some 83 million cars rolled off the assembly line in 2013. Of those new cars, 1.3 million contained an electric motor and battery, as well as an internal combustion engine—hybrid cars hardwired for better fuel economy and lower emissions.

Hybrid cars, such as the Toyota Prius, merge strengths. Gasoline- or diesel-powered engines excel at sustaining high speeds (highway driving) but have a harder time overcoming inertia to get moving (city driving). Electric motors are uniquely efficient at low speeds and going from stop to start. They also can:

  • keep a car’s air-conditioning and accessories running while idling at a traffic light;
  • capture the kinetic energy typically released as heat during braking and convert it back into electricity; and
  • boost the engine’s performance, allowing it to be smaller and more efficient.

Hybridization has been called the vanguard of a revolution, catalyzing fuel efficiency and challenging the auto industry to innovate. But that is true only if they pave the way for full-electric vehicles—only motors and no engines at all—which can run solely on clean energy.


83 million cars [manufactured] in 2013: PwC. Autofacts Global Industry Outlook. London: PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2014.

“light duty” vehicles…emissions: EPA. Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990–2012. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2014.

transportation sector’s…emissions: UNEP. Hybrid Electric Vehicles. Nairobi, Kenya: United Nations Environment Programme, 2009.

2013, 1.3 million…hybrid cars: IEA. Energy Technology Perspectives 2014. Paris: International Energy Agency, 2014.

fuel economy improvements: IEA. Technology Roadmap: Fuel Economy of Road Vehicles, Paris: International Energy Agency, 2012.

Lohner-Porsche Semper Vivus: Porsche. “Prof. Ferdinand Porsche Created the First Functional Hybrid Car.” Press release, Porsche Cars North America, New York, April 20, 2011. 

fuel economy regulations: Körner, Alex, and Sheila Watson, eds. Fuel Economy State of the World. London: Global Fuel Economy Initiative, 2016.

petrol car’s energy consumption: U.S. Department of Energy. “Where the Energy Goes: Gasoline Vehicles.”

99 percent…is waste: Hawken, Paul, and Amory Lovins. Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. New York: Little Brown, 1999.

battery costs declin[ing]: National Research Council. Cost, Effectiveness, and Deployment of Fuel Economy Technologies for Light-Duty Vehicles. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2015.

price premium, but…reduced fuel costs: IEA, Fuel Economy.

vehicle miles traveled…rebound effect: Gillingham, K., M. Kotchen, D. Rapson, and G. Wagner. “The Re-bound Effect is Overplayed.” Nature 493 (2013); Linn, Joshua. The Rebound Effect for Passenger Vehicles. Washington, D.C.: Resources for the Future, 2013.

1 billion motor vehicles worldwide: Sperling, Daniel, and Deborah Gordon. Two Billion Cars: Driving Toward Sustainability. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009; Voelcker, John. “Two Billion Vehicles Projected to Be on Roads by 2035.” Christian Science Monitor. July 29, 2014.

By 2035…more than 2 billion: Voelcker, “Two Billion.”

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p. 149

Correction: Those additional 315 million cars can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 4 gigatons by 2050, saving owners $1.76 trillion in fuel and operating costs over three decades.

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