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Beyond the Gas Pump

The latest in alternative-fuel cars (and when you’ll actually drive one)

Electric Cars

Electric car is being charged

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 Those preposterous Hummers you see hogging the lanes of your city streets are also stealing your clean air they give off roughly five and a half times the amount of emissions as the average automobile. Currently, there are more than 22I million vehicles on the road, contributing nearly a third of America’s total air pollution, which is why green-minded companies such as Toyota and Honda already mass-produce hybrid vehicles that run on both gasoline and electricity. Below, Rolling Stone explores the pros and cons of the green vehicles that may one day play a role in our lives.

Hybrid (gasoline and electric) 

Top Model: Honda Insight

Availability: Honda and Toyota have already put more than 68,000 hybrid vehicles on American roads since they were introduced in December 1999. Several manufacturers plan to follow with their own models next year.

The Next Five Years: Expect to see more of these gas-efficient autos on the roads: The Insight gets 66 miles per gallon on the highway.

Models: Honda has a hybrid Civic as well, and Larry David drives Toyota’s Prius on Curb Your Enthusiasm, which by default makes it a funny car.

Pros: It cuts carbon-monoxide emissions by 76 percent and carbon-dioxide emissions by more than 50 percent.

Cons: The Insight is only a two-seater, so you’ll have to leave your 2.5 kids at home.

Diesel

Top Model: Volkswagen Jetta GLS 1.9 TDI

Availability: Diesel engines for cars in the United States all but disappeared in the 1980s, but it’s easier than ever to buy one now. Volkswagen is the leader in this class, and aside from the Jetta, the company’s Golf, Passat and Toureg all look and run great.

The Next Five Years: As much as 40 percent of new cars in Europe where gas prices are sky-high run on diesel, and the trend could catch on in the U.S.

Models: VW makes most of its models available with its Turbo Diesel Injection configuration. Mercedes is also bringing back its line of diesels for the 2004 model year.

Pros: For about $25, you can drive from New York to Chicago.

Cons: Diesels aren’t very green: They still emit too many pollutants to make them widely acceptable in America.

Fuel Cell

Top Model: Ford Focus FCV

Availability: There are only twenty of these hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered babies on the road today, mostly driven by the Ford wizards who cooked them up. Expect more next year.

The Next Five Years: One of the best bets by automakers yet, it will still be decades before fuel cells can put the kibosh on OPEC.

Models: The 2002 Focus is your only choice, and that ain’t too sexy.

Pros: The government is pleased by its zero emissions, while its 200-mile range pleases drivers. And it’s American.

Cons: If it’s too cold, you’re walking: Fuel cells don’t operate well in subfreezing temperatures. There is also little fuel-cell refueling infrastructure.

Natural Gas

Top Model: Honda Civic GX

Availability: Honda usually sells them en masse as “fleet vehicles,” but the carmaker is happy to sell one to any customer who’s looking for more than just a hybrid.

The Next Five Years: Come next year, you can pick up a Civic GX complete with gas pump for your home. Models Ford has rigged its Crown Victoria to motor on compressed natural gas, but don’t expect to get your hands on one unless you’re a cop or a cabby.

Pros: Emits 20 percent less carbon dioxide and seventy percent less carbon monoxide than gasoline. Fill-up costs are about 80 percent less than gasoline, too.

Cons: Do you really want a natural-gas pump in your garage? And it takes eight hours to fill just half the tank.

Electric

Top Model: Nissan Hypermini

Availability: Poor. Just 15 of these were piloted by researchers at the University of California at Davis last year, and they have all been returned to Nissan.

The Next Five Years: The Hypermini’s future is up in the air, but one thing’s for sure: You won’t be buzzing around in one anytime soon.

Models: GM scrapped its EV1 after leasing just 700 of them since 1996. Ford, Toyota and Honda all have also recently retired electric-vehicle projects.

Pros: Zero emissions makes this car perfect for an urban setting and warms Mother Earth’s yams.

Cons: Battery technology is still in its infancy, so don’t expect to drive farther than the corner store.

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