It's just fun to learn about each other's cars and experiences.
Rosemary Ford - Eagle Tribune - Sept. 15, 2006
Owners ranging in age from 17 to 78 gathered in Wisconsin for Hybridfest.
They form clubs, hold conventions, and yes, even make movies about their obsession.
No, they're not Trekkies or Wayniacs, they're owners of "green" cars, specifically hybrids and electric vehicles. They flood Internet chatrooms and host festivals dedicated to their beloved automobiles.
It's a love affair between man and machine.
Retired mechanical engineer Edmund Leland of North Andover collected Ford Model T's for years. But when it came time to choose his everyday car, he turned to Ford's latest model, the Escape hybrid SUV.
"It's like driving Canobie Lake Dodgems or a gold cart," said Leland, with a certain amount of glee. "If you stop, it goes to sleep. It shuts off automatically, and you don't have to start it up again."
When he does stop, whether at the corner store or a highway rest area, other drivers always ask him the same question: "Do you like it?"
His answer? A resounding New England, "Yep."
"I am sympathetic to the technology," Leland said. "This multiple fuel routine is going to die an early death. It won't work the way they want it to."
Bob Champagne loves big trucks and Harley-Davidsons. But his commute from his home in Manchester, N.H., to his job at Nassar Ford in Lawrence was taking its toll.
"I have better things to spend my money on," he said.
So Champagne got a hybrid Mercury Mariner - the SUV he loves with a $30 weekly bill at the pump. He's not ready yet to join a club, but he often spiritedly promotes the hybrid to co-workers.
"I thought I was going to have a hard time getting used to it," he said, "but I drive it like an animal."
Saving money on gas was the reason Greg Mayor of Salem, Mass., bought his Toyota Prius. He regularly drives from Gloucester to Maine as a buyer for Legal Seafoods.
"I like just about every darn thing about it," said Mayor, who has extolled the car's virtues to neighbors and succeeded in getting two of them to buy their own.
"There are no drawbacks to it," he said.
These people don't just like their hybrids. They love their hybrids and they're not going back. And neither are thousands more people across the county, who vow never to drive a purely gas-powered car again.
"It's a car that stands out from the rest," said Joe Antanavich, a Nassar Ford mechanic from Andover. "You don't see many clubs for Toyota Camrys."
Hybrid lovers seem to grow more passionate every month. In July more than 1,000 owners ranging in age from 17 to 78 gathered in Wisconsin for Hybridfest, the first (and possibly annual, many hope) event, according to organizer Bill Robbins of Madison, Wis.
"(People) are excited about sharing news of how fun these cars are," he said. "It's just fun to learn about each other's cars and experiences."
Boston will host a similar event. The Altwheels Festival begins Saturday with a free outdoor display and symposium on green cars at the Museum of Science (free with admission). The festival continues Sept. 22 and Sept. 23 at City Hall Plaza in Boston with a conglomeration of manufacturers and transportation enthusiasts showing off innovations and the latest models. For more information, visit www.altwheels.org
In Newburyport, a Screening Room showing of the film "Who Killed the Electric Car?" - a love letter to the now-extinct vehicle - attracted a decent audience, according to owner Andrew Mungo.
"Consistent but no sellouts," he said.
Chris Paine, who directed the movie, began his love affair with an electric car several years ago. The state of California had pioneered an electric car program, with thousands of people leasing the vehicles from General Motors.
But the automaker didn't consider the cars viable. So it took them back at the end of the lease, and eventually destroyed them. Paine chronicles the phenomenon in his documentary, which is out on DVD.
"When the car got destroyed, I felt like a vision of our future was being erased from national memory," said Paine, who still mourns the loss.
He even held a service in its memory.
"Only in LA would we have a funeral for a car," he said.
With war in the Middle East and threats of global warming looming, green-car lovers expect more and more people to develop their own attachments to the vehicles.
"I will never own a car that doesn't get this kind of mileage or better," Mayor said. "It doesn't make any sense, to me, to be wasting cash on something that is virtually unnecessary."
Many people, know it or not, have probably owned a hybrid vehicle at some point.
Simply stated, a hybrid vehicle uses more than one form of energy to provide propulsion power.
For example, a moped (a motorized pedal bike) is a type of hybrid because it combines the power of a gasoline engine with the pedal power of its rider.
Most locomotives that pull trains are diesel-electric hybrids. Cities like Boston have diesel-electric buses, which draw electric power from overhead wires, then run on diesel when they are away from the wires.
Giant mining trucks often are diesel-electric hybrids. Submarines also are hybrid vehicles - some are nuclear-electric and some are diesel-electric.
Most hybrid cars on the road right now are gasoline-electric hybrids, although French car maker PSA Peugeot Citroen has two diesel-electric hybrid cars in the works.
Gas, electric, hybrid: What's the difference?
A gas-powered car has a fuel tank, which supplies gasoline to the engine. The engine then turns a transmission, which turns the wheels.
An electric car, on the other hand, has a set of batteries that provides electricity to an electric motor. The motor turns a transmission, and the transmission turns the wheels.
The gasoline-electric hybrid car is just what it sounds like - a cross between a gasoline-powered car and an electric car.
Hybrids combine the best of both worlds.
It attempts to significantly increase the mileage and reduce the emissions of a gas-powered car while overcoming the shortcomings of an electric car.
To be useful to you or me, a car must meet certain minimum requirements. The car should be able to:
- Drive at least 300 miles (482 km) between re-fueling
- Be refueled quickly and easily
- Keep up with the other traffic on the road
A gasoline car meets these requirements but produces a relatively large amount of pollution and generally gets poor gas mileage.
An electric car, however, produces almost no pollution, but it can only travel 50 to 100 miles between charges. And the problem has been that the electric car is very slow and inconvenient to recharge.
A gasoline-electric car combines these two setups into one system that leverages both gas power and electric power.
Inside a hybrid
Inside an electric car
- Gasoline engine: Smaller than gas engine and uses advanced technologies to reduce emissions and increase efficiency.
- Fuel tank: The energy storage device for the gasoline engine. Gasoline has a much higher energy density than batteries do. For example, it takes about 1,000 pounds of batteries to store as much energy as 1 gallon (7 pounds) of gasoline.
- Electric motor: Advanced electronics allow it to act as a motor as well as a generator. For example, when it needs to, it can draw energy from the batteries to accelerate the car. But acting as a generator, it can slow the car down and return energy to the batteries.
- Generator: The generator is similar to an electric motor, but it acts only to produce electrical power.
- Batteries: These store energy for the electric motor. Unlike the gasoline in the fuel tank, which can only power the gasoline engine, the electric motor on a hybrid car can put energy into the batteries as well as draw energy from them.
- Transmission: The transmission on a hybrid car performs the same basic function as the transmission on a conventional car.
- Powered by an electric motor rather than a gasoline engine.
- From the outside, you would probably have no idea that a car is electric. In most cases, electric cars are created by converting a gasoline-powered car.
When you drive an electric car, often the only thing that clues you in to its power source is that the engine is nearly silent.
Under the hood, there are a lot of differences between gasoline and electric cars:
- The gasoline engine is replaced by an electric motor.
- The electric motor gets its power from a controller.
- The controller gets its power from an array of rechargeable batteries.
A gasoline engine, with its fuel lines, exhaust pipes, coolant hoses and intake manifold, tends to look like a plumbing project. An electric car is definitely a wiring project.