Few consumers have been attracted to "clean" cars--those powered by something other than traditional internal combustion engines--because they aren't satisfied yet with critical factors such as appearance (too odd), cost (too high), dependability (too uncertain), and performance (too limited). The times they are a-changing, however. A host of catalysts, including new legal requirements and shifting public opinion, is finally driving automakers toward relevant alternative technologies that actually date back 160 years. And Jim Motavalli, who travels an unusual professional route as both syndicated auto columnist and environmental reporter, chronicles the buildup and potential payoff in his intriguing book Forward Drive. "The information I came across ... described a personal transportation revolution that was becoming tantalizingly close," he writes. "Here, at last, were vehicles that promised to not only greatly reduce pollution but also to perform better, be more reliable, cruise farther, and last much longer than anything the public had ever seen." Written for those "who'd somehow failed to get their engineering Ph.D.s," it absorbingly examines the history of such vehicles, the impact of gasoline automobiles, the pioneers who already utilize alternative power, the large and small R&D operations, the political and financial forces under which everything operates, and the broader picture of sustainable transportation. --Howard Rothman
From Publishers Weekly
Despite Motavalli's position as editor of E: The Environmental Magazine, this is not a polemic describing the horrors of gasoline-powered cars. To be sure, Motavalli is firmly in favor of moving toward more fuel-efficient, less-polluting autos, but he is pragmatic enough to realize that such a change is not going to occur at the snap of some environmentalist's fingers. In his cogently written, well-researched account, Motavalli argues that market forces are ushering the U.S. into a clean-car era. Improvements in technology involving batteries and fuel cells, along with global warming, dwindling oil reserves and government mandates such as that of California's Air Resources Board, which calls for 10% of an automaker's fleet to be zero-emission by 2003, are all merging to create a market for electronic cars. But the most important factor driving increased domestic research into non-internal combustion engines (hybrid cars that combine gasoline with alternative power sources as well as hydrogen-propelled cars) is the fear that Detroit could be blindsided by the introduction of clean cars by foreign manufacturers, which American car makers believe could do the same damage to their market share as Toyota and Honda did when they began selling fuel-efficient autos a few decades ago. While Motavalli addresses environmental issues, his straightforward account is more likely to appeal to car enthusiasts who want the inside track on the status of electronic vehicles. (Mar.)
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