Is the Alternative Car Market Revving Up In Alabama?

At a time when the economy continues to spiral downward, and prices at the gas pump continue to rise, many Alabama consumers welcome the benefits found in the alternative vehicle market. Affordability, energy independence, and overall greener approaches, are just some of the top reasons consumer interest in the alternative vehicle market is expanding more rapidly than ever before. For Birmingham, a city that has historically been plagued by the negative effects of massive pollutants, the arrival of the cleaner energy brings about a great sense of hope and positive change. The development and continual progress of both natural gas vehicles and electric cars (the leading alternative vehicles on the current market) provides solid evidence that alternate fuel sources for vehicles are quickly becoming more than a vision.

Electric cars offer consumers a range of benefits, including energy efficiency fueled by an electric motor that is powered by rechargeable battery packs. In addition to designated charging stations, electric car owners can also opt to purchase their own charging unit and recharge these battery packs within the comfort of their own garage. With zero tailpipe emissions, electric cars are favored for producing minimal overall pollution. Another benefit, not to mention, financial incentive, is the significant reduction in the overall maintenance of electric cars.

Enthusiasm for electric transportation is steadily on the rise. “We expect the interest and excitement will continue to grow as the technology becomes more readily available and more electric vehicle models arrive in local showrooms,” says Randy Johnson, Director of Electric Transportation at Alabama Power. Education is a key element in successfully promoting the alternative vehicle industry. “Wherever we speak about electric transportation,” explains Johnson, “we see growing interest and excitement – especially when people realize they can save 60 percent or more on fuel costs compared to gasoline or diesel. They’re also excited to learn just how many models are coming to the market, in a wide variety of price ranges, and that some of these options are already here or just around the corner.”

Another alternative fueling option is natural gas. In terms of the overall cleanest alternative fuel, natural gas, which is comprised mostly of methane, tops the charts. When burned and used to fuel a vehicle, it creates fewer emissions in vehicles on the road. In fact, the Honda Civic GX, (the only car exclusively fueled by 100 percent, or dedicated, natural gas) has consistently earned top honors as the greenest car available for eight years in a row. Natural gas vehicles also produce very little carbon build up on an engine, extending the overall life of the engine, and greatly reducing the frequency of necessary tune ups and oil changes.

Although natural gas is one of the most affordable fuel alternatives, costing on average, one-third less than conventional gas at the pump, its availability is still sparse. “There’s a lack of available fueling stations,” says Bob Strickland, manager of natural gas transportation at Alagasco. Strickland, who also works closely with the Alabama Clean Fuel Coalition, explains that a lot of work is currently being generated in an effort to build more natural gas fueling stations in Alabama and surrounding states. However, he notes that bi-fuel natural gas vehicles are an additional option to consider, especially for those traveling to locations where a natural gas station may not be available. The benefit of bi-fuel is that a vehicle can be powered by either natural gas or conventional gasoline. Both gasoline and diesel fueled vehicles can be retrofitted to suit bi-fuel filling, although associated costs tend to be expensive. Locally here in Birmingham, drivers of dedicated natural gas and bi-fuel vehicles alike can access a natural gas filling station located at the Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority. In fact, a current quote prices natural gas at this filling station for as little as $1.36 per equivalent gallon–A staggering comparison to the average cost per gallon of conventional gasoline.

As a whole, interest in the alternative car market continues to gain momentum, yet many consumers remain hesitant to make the full commitment. “A lot of people still don’t realize that these kinds of vehicles are out there,” says Strickland. “Using education to promote the benefits, like clean air and affordability, is the best tool we have.”

Written By Kate Agliata

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