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Hybrid cars generally run quieter that the traditional IC engine cars. (Keelan, 2004) the very design of operation of the hybrid cars ensures that the engine turn off when stationary and start up on electric power and then switch to gas. This design could be risky to people who do not pay attention to the road and blind pedestrians. It is presumptuous to state that this is a negative for the hybrid cars. Any change in technology is always viewed with skepticism.
For instance, when cars with glass on all four sides were introduced, people were afraid to ride in them. This was due to the concern that they had regarding the safety of the vehicle if it met with an accident and the glass broke. (PBS, 2007) it took some time and observation of the benefits such as protection from the elements that convinced people that it was safe to ride in these cars.
There are concerns that higher accidents among the blind population could increase if hybrid cars become more common. Blind people depend upon sounds of traffic to cross streets safely. (Oppegaard, 2007) Some industry wide standards could help this cause but making the car manufacturer bear the responsibility for all the concerns without educating the public at large would not be fair. It has been suggested that tags which detect motion could be used by blind pedestrians to warn them about silent cars as some responsibility for safety should also be the pedestrians.
One of the real concerns that hybrid cars face is the limited availability of qualified mechanics. Hybrid cars are very dependent on technology and as such 'every corner mechanic' might not have the necessary skill or equipment to fix the problem. Even dealerships might not always retain a team of hybrid mechanics as the volume of hybrid cars sold might not justify this investment. (Valdes-Dapena, 2006) While many of the brands of hybrids sold such as Toyota Prius and the Honda Civic hybrid are well respected for their performance and durability there will always be maintenance and service needs that these cars will have to undergo. Selecting a mechanic will always be a concern for owners of these cars. Common issues such as oil change and tire rotation can be handled easily by most mechanics but more complex problems such as engines and power train repairs will require experienced mechanics.
Most hybrid cars depend extensively on electronics. "Electronic complexity leads to mechanical simplicity. Toyota offers a transmission with 14 moving parts instead of 300 moving parts in a gas only car." (Dowd, 2007) This dependency on electronics as opposed to mechanics can make the issue of problem diagnosis difficult. Mechanics will have to understand computers as well as engines to solve a problem. Reliability testing will pose a concern if mechanics cannot understand sources of problems and their relevant solutions. This could also affect the knowledge that is generally gathered for understanding working condition and performance of the vehicle by the auto manufacturer.
One of the major concerns with hybrid cars is the battery. The hybrid battery discharges between 300-500 volts of electricity as opposed to 12 volts that an IC engine car discharges. The voltage of 270 is sufficient to stop a human heart. Where the 12 volt battery can cause minor discomfiture, the hybrid battery volts can kill. An untrained mechanic could seriously hurt themselves if they are not aware of the required procedures. "The batteries, without moving parts heat up to the point of needing vents behind the second seats and a ceramic rear window." (Dowd, 2007)
All hybrids use regenerative braking, a system that uses generators placed on each wheel to send electricity to the battery pack when the brake pedal is pushed." (Press, 2007a) Research is ongoing to develop a new type of lithium battery which is compact but is able to store more power. Lithium ion batteries appear to be a good alternative for the present battery allowing these batteries to be charged using electricity for charging.
Safety is also an important concern for personnel from first response such as police, firefighters and paramedics. Car designs change constantly. It is essential that the first responders understand the location of the batteries and the potential dangers that these could pose. In the case of hybrids there is the concern that the first responders might not always realize that the car is running as the engine shuts down or is very silent. It is therefore essential that hybrids be explained to these first responders with the advise that these individuals turn off the vehicles before attempting to undertake any rescues mission. Turning the ignition off might not always disable the battery system. For instance, the Toyota Prius' electrical system needs to be turned off and then left alone for about 5 minutes as the system is still powered. (UCNJ, 2005)
It is also important that first responders also realize that they should not cut any wires that are orange in color as these are the high power cable. At present, there are no formal procedures defined for responding to injuries and damages to hybrid vehicles for the first responders, although many car manufacturers distribute information about their vehicles to firefighters and police personnel. (Caspi, 2005) Power cables are generally well marked in all hybrid vehicles, but in the confusion of an accident first responders might not realize the concerns or problems that face them. The 12-volt battery has to be disconnected. It is also important to ensure that the higher voltage battery is also disconnected. In the case of vehicle fire, the high voltage battery does burn quickly, but it is safer to be far from the fire as possible.
As the hybrids are less noisy, rescuers might not realize the hazard that the car is if they mistakenly move in front of the vehicle and it starts, it could potentially kill the rescuers. The design of hybrids is smart and most of the high voltage cables do not pass through areas that firefighter or rescue workers would have to cut through in cases of emergency to get to the individual. (Caspi, 2005)
Critics of hybrid cars are quick to point out that the disposal of nickel metal hydride batteries used could prove to be an environmental nightmare. While nickel is not as environmentally damaging as lead, it is an environmental risk, nevertheless. (HybridCars, 2007a) There are however, the concerns of mining and the challenges of recycling of this material that have arisen as well. Manufacturers of hybrid car are quick to point out that the battery used in their cars do not need replacement and one battery can last the entire lifetime of the car as well. Many companies are also setting up operations to help dispose the battery as hazardous waste.
There are many concerns with the technology and the design that are used in hybrid cars. This is not to state that there is a flaw in the designs; there are however, adjustment issues that any new technology has to go through. Most of the major auto manufacturers have realized that there is the need to think of the new generation auto and are using different approaches to handle the problem. Total Zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) might appear to be science fiction, but R & D. towards achieving this goal has been the goal and aim of many automakers.
The need to be mobile will always drive the research and development of the next-generation automobile. Hybrid cars that run on a combination of electric and gasoline power appear to be the transition vehicle to the next big breakthrough in transportation. As Wood put it in his article 'Have car, will commute', America has always had a love affair with the automobile. (Wood, 2001)
There is no doubt that the U.S. will always be the largest market for any new auto technology being developed.
In 2000, the three largest consumers of petroleum products were the United States (19.7 million barrels per day), Japan (5.5 million barrels per day), and China (4.6 million barrels per day). Americans use almost 17 million barrels of oil (more than 700 million gallons) every day of the year. And with each passing year, this usage continues to increase. The United States currently imports more petroleum than it produces domestically. This has resulted in the creation of a dependency on foreign sources of oil for maintaining the economic growth and prosperity of the U.S. society. This dependence on foreign oil has been a cause for concern for some time in this country.
Any new technology therefore, will only benefit the auto industry in the U.S. Petroleum products are not renewable and some form of replacement will have to be sought. The introduction of the automobile change the way man lived and worked in the early 1900s, business and homes did not have to be centrally located. 'Center cities' became ghost towns and suburbia developed. Communities got larger and more connected.…[continue]
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