Eco-friendly car fantasies become reality
Everyone loves a good auto show. The concept cars. The free Cineplex-grade popcorn. The subwoofer-infused hip-hop. The new-car smell pumped through the ventilation system.
It's a fantasy world, one of the few where Digital Slobs can approach beautiful girls next to beautiful cars and talk to them for up to 15 seconds without the threat of being maced.
Yet without exception, a fantasy is all your typical auto show ever seems to be. Sure, you can gawk at, snap photos of and even sit in a glistening uber-roadster that has optical-scan door locks, lumbar-supported foot pedals and a transmission smart enough to beat you at chess.
But inevitably, you must drive home in a 1994 Jetta with a gear shift that your teething Rottweiler mangled and a passenger-side window made of cardboard.
Perhaps this fantasy/reality gap explains why the convention-floor carpet is usually never worn out over in the "green," eat-your-spinach section of the expo.
Known in some hotrod circles as "punishment cars" -- implying only those with carbon-footprint guilt would drive them -- tiny, gas-sipping or electric cars have traditionally been not only implausible, but also matronly compared to other prototypes that look like they were designed by Penthouse magazine.
But the times (and gas-pump gauges) are changing, and a car that costs only 1 to 2 cents per mile to operate is starting to sound hot. Eco-friendly is quickly turning into eco-sultry.
So, with apologies in advance to those who eat, drink and/or write press releases about this stuff for a living and are about to be omitted, here's a quick-link guide to some new autos that we may get to enjoy before it's time to teethe a new Rottweiler.
Zap Alias (www.zapworld.com, ETA 2009): For some reason, three-wheeled electric cars look a lot cooler when two of the wheels are up front (avoiding what I call the "Big Wheel Effect"). This sporty, $32,500 all-electric two-seater is expected to have a range of 100 miles and a top speed of 100 mph.
Chevy Volt (www.chevrolet.com, ETA 2010): For those who want change they can brand-name, this big-auto-backed car can go 40 miles on a charge without using gas, but has a gas tank just in case the nearest wall socket is 41 miles or more away.
Th!nk City (www.think.no, ETA 2009): This snub-nosed two-seat Norwegian electric car has a range of 110 miles and a top speed of 65 mph, and is already for sale in Europe. It is expected to be built in California and cost under $25,000.
ZENN City (www.zenncars.com, ETA 2009): This Canadian-made all-electric two-seater will have a 250-mile range and a top speed of 80 mph, and the company claims it can be recharged in five minutes. A low-speed, low-range ZENN is available now across the United States.
Tesla Roadster (www.teslamotors.com, ETA 2009): For the probably mid-life, certainly rich demographic comes a $109,000 lithium-ion powered ego blaster, a zero-emission, 100 percent attitude sports car that can do zero-to-60 in four seconds. If you want a girlfriend half your age, why not pick her up in a car that says "I care enough to leave a planet behind for you once I'm gone."