After 270 miles, a Toyota Prius PHEV burned just 1.4 gallons of gas.
HongDao Nguyen - Mercury News - July 9, 2006
An EDrive Systems PHEV converted Prius II similar to CalCars above received almost 200 mpg.
Short on change and need to make it from Silicon Valley to Sacramento on just a gallon or less of gas? No sweat - at least for a number of cars, trucks and even a bus featured Saturday that run on alternative fuels.
Beginning at the California AAA facility in Santa Clara, nearly a dozen vehicles - including a plug-in hybrid, a lime-green biodiesel Volkswagen Beetle and a hydrogen fuel cell hybrid bus - were just a few that rolled 117 miles to the state capital sipping a minimal amount of gas.
White flags flapped in the breeze from the windows to denote the vehicles participating in AAA's inaugural Greenlight Initiative Rally.
It wasn't a race, or a flashy display to see which alternative fuel would trump the other, but part of an awareness campaign with a wow factor. For example, after three weeks and 270 miles, one of the featured cars, a Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid, had only burned 1.4 gallons of gas.
Although the modified and specially designed vehicles aren't available at local dealers yet, ``the point is we're entering the next chapter of the automobile,'' said Jenny Mack, a representative of AAA of Northern California.
``Entering'' doesn't quite capture today's auto scene.
Last year, nationwide registrations for new hybrids rose to 199,148, a 139 percent increase over 2004, according to R.L. Polk & Co., a global firm that provides automotive information. In June Toyota announced it will offer vehicles that burn ethanol and gas next year, as well as intensify its research in plug-in hybrid technology. GM is reportedly doing the same.
And consumer interest isn't taking a back seat.
Mack referenced a 2005 AAA survey -- when prices at the pump hit $3 a gallon or more -- in which 83 percent of respondents said American drivers needed to reduce reliance on gasoline. By a 3-1 ratio, they also said they wanted to know more about alternative fuels and hybrid-electric vehicles.
Some Bay Area communities have already jumped on the bandwagon, or in the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District's case, the bus.
It volunteered a bus for Saturday's rally that runs on a hydrogen fuel cell along with electricity.
The $3.2 million machine also operates as a hybrid, so it has regenerative brakes that recharge the vehicle. The pluses are easy to tick off: It can travel for more than 350 miles before it needs to be refueled, and only emits purified steam and gas. The bus has twice the fuel efficiency of a traditional diesel-powered bus.
Whether this is the answer to cleaner, better smelling air and quieter public transportation is hard to tell, said Chris Peeples, a director at large of the AC Transit board of directors. But the only way to find out is to keep experimenting with the technology, he said.
``Before you know, you have to do the work we're doing.''