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Taking the future out for a spin

Thursday, August 23, 2012

It's a chance to get a glimpse at what may in the future be parked in your garage.

Organizers hope showing off the various choices available in alternative fuel could offer economical ways for drivers to live green.

Getting the motor revving doesn't give you quite the same roar. Automobiles that use alternative fuel tend to be noticeably quieter than conventional cars. They are also more fuel efficient. At the Autobahn Country Club's private test track, business and government leaders are taking some of the latest models for a spin. The Illinois Chamber of Commerce hopes education will help people to embrace the technology.

"These vehicles are a trend, not a fad. They're getting better and better every year and more people are buying them," said Tom Wolf of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

Glenn Keller is a researcher at Argonne National Laboratory who test drives vehicles professionally. He says the technology has grown tremendously, but it's not "one size fits all" for consumers.

"One should not go out and buy a battery-powered vehicle if the goal is to take the family to Disney World -- the distance and all that makes it very impractical because those batteries have to be charged at intervals. There's other technologies that step in like the plug-in hybrids. They'll retain an internal combustion engine working on gasoline that allows you to visit grandma and come back, but still while you're in the city commuting to and from work you can go all on electric power," said Keller.

Vehicles ranging from a full-sized hybrid SUV to tiny compact electric plug-ins are on display. There are also performance cars and industrial trucks that run on natural gas.

"Natural gas is obviously what most people heat their homes with, and you can compress that and run vehicles with it, whereas gasoline which is a liquid which people have put in their cars for 90 years so they're used to that. So it is different for people," said Wolf.

Test drivers say whether deciding about a fleet for a business or a new family car, the alternative fuel options may be worth a second look.

"I was amazed at how quiet the electric vehicles were. They're just silent and just how roomy they are. I have an SUV so I had never driven an electric vehicle and it was great," said Erin Inman, SVP at Primera Engineers.

One concern many drivers have about the plug-in is where to charge them. We're told there are already about four natural gas stations and several hundred electric charging stations already in the Chicago-area and the infrastructure is continuously growing.

Illinois Chamber of Commerce Energy Council

Carbon Day Automotive

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