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A ‘green’ aura has been cast over the auto industry in ways large and small. While there has been growing interest in vehicles with greater environmental performance since the 1990s, that interest has been incremental. Higher efficiency models? Yep. Alternative fuel vehicles? Sure, some. Hybrids? Yes please. Plug-in models? Of course, growing slowly over the years but increasing exponentially in recent times, in no small part due to generous federal and state incentives, regulations moving us away from internal combustion, and a wholesale shift in auto industry strategies that are embracing electrification.

For several decades, most of this was driven by the need to address fuel efficiency and energy diversity, tackling a vexing dependency on imported oil. The other important driver was the need for cleaner-running cars with significantly lower tailpipe emissions, which spoke to mitigating the smog that has historically created air quality issues in major cities across the country.

A Focus on Carbon Emissions

Then, sometime around 15 years ago, there was a shift as concerns about climate change and carbon emissions began taking shape. While smog-forming emissions and fuel efficiency continue to be fundamental to the need for cleaner cars, carbon emissions – and ways to decrease them – is driving greater interest in plug-in vehicles that enable zero-emission driving. All this interest has grown in tandem with awareness of new vehicle models that achieve ever-higher levels of environmental sustainability across the board.

Widely recognized as the most important environmental awards in the automotive field over the past 19 years, Green Car Journal’s Green Car Awards™ program takes all this in account as the most environmentally positive vehicles are identified each year, as they have been since the first Green Car Awards were announced in Los Angeles in 2005. As we’ve seen in recent years, electrification has taken on increasing importance in the automotive market and this is reflected in a greater number of electrified vehicles as finalists, and as it turns out, in this year’s award winners. And that leads us to this year’s Green Car Awards™ program.

Green Car of the Year

Toyota Prius Prime, an example of green cars, is charging.
Toyota Prius Prime, 2024 Green Car of the Year.

Green Car Journal has awarded its prestigious 2024 Green Car of the Year® honor to the Toyota Prius Prime plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. Toyota’s Prius has earned its well-deserved reputation as a leading eco-conscious model since its introduction to American highways in 2000. Yet, amid the tremendously competitive nature of the Green Car Awards™ field and the program’s focus – which considers not only environmental achievement but also traditional touchstones like performance and a fun-to-drive nature – the Green Car of the Year© honor has remained elusive for the Prius and its plug-in iteration over the years. That ends now with the Prius Prime’s win of 2024 Green Car of the Year.

Toyota’s Prius Prime has evolved to become the ideal vehicle for our time. The plug-in hybrid variant of the new fifth-generation Prius hatchback, Prius Prime champions the high efficiency and eco-consciousness that has long defined the Prius nameplate. Now it also speaks to car enthusiasts with its compelling style and impressive performance. Importantly, it offers the range-anxiety-free ability to drive 44 miles on battery power and 600 overall miles as a hybrid. Given the average daily miles driven by consumers, that means most Prius Prime owners will find their daily driving experience to be one behind the wheel of a zero-emission electric vehicle achieving up to 127 MPGe.

Green SUV of the Year

Alfa Romeo Tonale plug-in hybrid on the road.
Alfa Romeo Tonale, 2024 Green SUV of the Year.

There’s no lack of SUV models on the market these days so choices are abundant. Increasingly, many of these models feature electric drive and plug-in capability, and the magazine’s focus has gravitated here. To that end, Green Car Journal editors have identified the Alfa Romeo Tonale, this brand’s first plug-in hybrid, as the magazine’s 2024 Green SUV of the Year™.

The Tonale combines the marque’s sensuous Italian style with welcome functionality, a sporty and high-tech interior, and an engaging driving experience courtesy of adjustable driving dynamics and best-in-class horsepower. Its 15.5 kWh lithium-ion battery, which can be charged in less than three hours with a 240-volt Level 2 charger, enables the Tonale to drive 33 zero-emission miles on battery power while delivering an overall 360 mile range.

Family Green Car of the Year

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV plug in hybrid is one of the popular green cars on the highway.
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, 2024 Family Green Car of the Year.

Honored with Green Car Journal’s 2024 Family Green Car of the Year™ award is the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, the electrified version of this automaker’s seven passenger Outlander SUV. This handsome electrified SUV does it all. Now a two-time winner of Family Green Car of the Year™,  and in its earlier generation winner of 2019 Green SUV of the Year, the Outlander PHEV’s charms begin with three row seating for larger families, with the rear seat foldable and stowable in a floor well to optimize cargo space.

The Outlander PHEV’s efficient gas engine/twin motor PHEV drivetrain delivers satisfying efficiency while offering 38 miles of battery electric range as an EV, plus a total 420 mile driving range overall. Like full electric vehicles, the plug-in hybrid Outlander PHEV features ‘one pedal driving’ and DC fast charge capability. Adding to its versatility is Mitsubishi’s Super-All Wheel Control that enables confident driving over varying terrain and in challenging road conditions.

Green Car Product of Excellence

Making the cut to become a finalist in a Green Car Awards™ category is an honor earned by virtue of commendable environmental achievement that distinguishes a model above its peers. Each of these vehicles is recognized with Green Car Journal’s 2024 Green Car Product of Excellence™.

2024 Green Car of the Year© finalists honored with Green Car Journal's Green Car Product of Excellence: Honda Accord Hybrid, Hyundai Ioniq 6, Hyundai Sonata, Tesla Model 3, Toyota Prius Prime.

2024 Green SUV of the Year™ finalists honored with Green Car Journal's Green Car Product of Excellence: Alfa Romeo Tonale, Chevrolet Blazer EV, Dodge Hornet, Genesis GV70 Electrified, Hyundai Kona.

2024 Family Green Car of the Year™ finalists honored with Green Car Journal's Green Car Product of Excellence: Kia EV9, Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-90 PHEV, Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, Toyota Grand Highlander.

Front view of 2024 Chevrolet Trax crossover.

The Chevrolet Trax was introduced as an affordable crossover option in 2013 and has  enjoyed moderate success in North America and Asian markets since its arrival. Now entering its second generation, the 2024 Trax is set to replace the now-canceled Chevrolet Cruze, keeping price a primary concern for entry-level buyers while maintaining an exciting aura that General Motors hopes will attract younger buyers.

Chevrolet utilizes the GM VSS-F platform for the 2024 Trax, a front-engine, front-wheel-drive configuration for compact SUVs and crossovers. Five trim levels are available including the entry-level LS and 1RS, mid-range LT and 2RS, and top-end ACTIV trim. The Trax is available in front-wheel-drive only.

Allow wheel shown on 2024 Chevrolet Trax crossover.

Efficient Turbo Engine is Standard

Trax is powered by a 1.2-liter DOHC turbocharged three-cylinder engine sporting 137 horsepower and 162 lb-ft torque. Power is delivered to the road through a six-speed automatic transmission. The little inline three-cylinder earns an EPA estimated 28 city/32 highway/30 combined fuel efficiency rating.

In a stylistic leap forward for the Trax, it’s evident that Chevrolet used its larger Blazer model as an inspiration for this updated model. A familiar chiseled front end is present along with slim LED running lights that sit atop a recessed headlight assembly. The use of body lines is plentiful with all lines ending at a large, trapezoidal grille taking center stage.

2024 Chevrolet Trax crossover cabin.

Chevrolet Trax Cabin

Along the sides, Trax takes on a muscular appearance with a wide stance and slightly flared wheel arches. A diagonally placed crease runs along the bottom of the doors with another crease shooting off of the C-pillar into the rear door. Its 7.3-inch ground clearance allows for a more rugged and capable presence.

Looking rearward, the muscularity continues with an inset and chiseled rear hatch that mimics the front grille’s trapezoidal design, with the hatch flanked on either side with attractive angular taillights. A sharply sloping rear window reaches up to a small roof spoiler that slightly curves around the top of the window.

2024 Chevrolet Trax crossover seat detail.

Contrast Stitching Adds a Sporty Look

Chevrolet has also made a significant effort in redesigning the interior of the Trax with yet more angles and body-colored accents used here. Available contrast stitching adds sporty style on both front door inserts and seats, along with body-colored seat piping. Even the shift boot gets a sporty touch. Camaro-inspired circular HVAC vents are placed at both corners of the dashboard. Easy-to-clean rubber is used on all frequently touched surfaces, such as the center and door armrests. A standard eight-inch or available 11.3-inch infotainment screen sits in the middle of the dash. The cabin takes on a driver-centric feeling with the infotainment screen and center dials oriented toward the driver. This subcompact crossover seats five and offers 25.6 cubic feet of cargo area, expanding to 54.1 cubic feet with the rear seats folded flat.

Tech and safety have been thoroughly implemented throughout the new Trax. Here, Chevrolet employs its Chevy Safety Assist 2 driver assist software that includes Automatic Emergency Braking, Pedestrian Braking, and Lane Keep Assist, among others. Both infotainment systems feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, with the optional 11.3-inch variant offering wireless connectivity for those applications.

The 2024 Trax is taking on a large responsibility as it has to fill the gap left by all of Chevrolet’s previous compact sedans, all the while remaining as affordable as possible. This new iteration is poised to do just that at a very agreeable starting price of $21,495, with an attractive appearance to boot.

Contrast stiching on shift boot.
Mike Hornby, VP of Stanadyne.
Michael Hornby, Global Vice President of Product Engineering at Stanadyne.

The propulsion challenges facing society are complex and multi-dimensional. Decarbonization is at the core of these challenges and, unfortunately, there is no singular fuel type or technology solution to solve them all. Regardless, the transportation segment requires decarbonization – and it requires it yesterday. This truth and its aggressive timetable are why the internal combustion engine is part of the larger solution to reduce lifecycle carbon emissions to address climate change trends.

Regulating tailpipe carbon will not solve the problem of carbon dioxide alone. Reducing the carbon intensity of electric grids will take time. Electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids are great solutions for certain applications, but also need time to reach critical mass. In the meantime, we continue to rely on liquid fuels for combustion engines in conventional vehicles, hybrids, and plug-in hybrids for many on- and off-road applications. Therefore, low-carbon intensity fuels in conjunction with powertrain electrification/hybridization is needed.

Hybridization and low-lifecycle carbon intensity fuels can work together to contribute to a low-net carbon future. The internal combustion engine is ready to use low- and zero- carbon fuels to quickly move down sustainable fuels pathways, power hybrids, and enable more rapid vehicle electrification.

Any decarbonization strategy needs to utilize longer-term low carbon fuels / renewable fuels. The immediate impact of drop-in alternative fuels on legacy vehicle fleets is too great to be dismissed, especially with an existing delivery infrastructure. Industry and legislators alike need to realize it is not always about net zero. Having low-carbon content across a broad scale has a significant decarbonization impact across all transportation sectors. Low-carbon fuels offer decarbonization benefits today as we prepare for the future.

Stanadyne, a leading global fuel and air management systems supplier, is continuing to develop engine innovations enabling the efficient and economic use of low-carbon and future fuels. This continued investment is necessary, as future fuels are propulsion technology drivers with fuel system challenges still needing solutions. As we head down low-carbon fuel pathways, some fuels are thermodynamically challenging with their lower heating values. This and other characteristics make them challenging to use. Their lubricity and viscosity also can be issues, which affect engine start-stop functions and maintaining high fuel delivery pressures for cleaner combustion.

Hyper-Collaboration & Hybrids

Vehicle display in a hydrogen low carbon vehicle.

Consumers, vehicle manufacturers, and propulsion systems providers want diesel performance and total cost of ownership, but with a low-carbon fuel without the shortcomings, difficulties, and reduced range. There is a growing impatience for fuel delivery solutions to be developed. Automakers have stated a need for “hyper-collaboration” with suppliers to develop and implement clean propulsion options to meet state and federal legislation.

There are many technology pathways to achieve low- and net-zero carbon emissions. However, hybrid powertrains powered by low-carbon intensity fuels are one of the fastest tracks to decarbonization development and deployment. Alcohol, hydrogen, propane, compressed natural gas, dimethyl ether (DME) and other sustainable low-carbon intensity fuels can energize these small displacement, high-energy output, high speed engines. High-pressure fuel delivery systems operating at twice the flow help overcome alternative fuels’ low energy content. Many systems already can handle biodiesel and other drop-in renewable fuels currently available in the market.

Accelerating Engine Innovation

Powertrain and fuel system innovation are key to a sustainable future. Stanadyne is accelerating engine innovation with its growing portfolio of renewable and future fuel complaint products. Our breakthrough direct injection liquid propane system, hydrogen direct injection design platform, and high-pressure direct injection pump and injector advancements are driving internal combustion engine decarbonization.

A low-carbon approach isn’t exclusive to fuels. Stanadyne takes a lifecycle approach by designing products for remanufacturing to support a circular internal combustion engine economy. More than two decades of remanufacturing expertise at scale and quality has kept 15 million pounds of waste out of landfills.

Compete, Complement, Co-exist

Advanced internal combustion technology will continue to be a dominant part of the fuel and technology mix for decades to come. New engine designs and fuels, like hydrogen and e-fuels, will drive decarbonization. As zero emission technologies continue to emerge, expect a world where engine technologies and fuels compete, complement, and co-exist.

Michael Hornby is Global Vice President of Product Engineering at Stanadyne

Green Car Time Machine - archive articles from Green Car Journal.

Plug-in hybrids are expected to play an increasingly important role in the mission to decarbonize transportation. While many think that interest in PHEVs is a recent phenomenon, that’s not the case since the concept has been intermittently explored throughout automotive history. Real momentum gathered soon after mass-market gas-electric hybrids hit our shores over two decades ago, with some envisioning a huge benefit in evolving hybrids to enable driving exclusively on battery power. Here, we share an article focused on this vision from the Green Car Journal archives, just as it ran 18 years ago.

Excerpted from Fall 2005 Issue: It’s hard to imagine a more gripping state of affairs at the start of the 21st century. A cloud of smog hangs over our cities while the threat of global warming looms ever larger. Oil prices are rising to record highs and while there’s no imminent danger of running out of petroleum, no one knows how long supplies will last. For a final dramatic touch, most of that oil sits beneath the powder-keg that is the Middle East.

A hydrogen hero is on the way, but many worry that we don’t have time to wait, unsure of what happens if oil supplies drop off and we’re caught without a safety net. A growing chorus is clamoring for a near-term solution, something that can be implemented now to significantly reduce oil consumption. The stage has been set for plug-in hybrids.

How Plug-In Hybrids Work

The plug-in hybrid is an evolution of the ‘conventional’ hybrid vehicle. Plug-in hybrids function the same way, assisting the engine with battery power or electric energy captured during deceleration, but take the idea a step further. Increased battery capacity allows plug-ins to rely more on electricity and less on gasoline, extending electric-only driving range and delivering even better fuel economy. The extra electric power is drawn from the electrical grid by plugging into power outlets while a vehicle isn’t being driven.

The virtue of the plug-in hybrid comes to light with some statistics. A majority of Americans live within 20 miles of their jobs and most trips are less than 20 miles long. With an electric-only range of up to 60 miles, daily drives to work in a plug-in hybrid might not require any gasoline at all as long as the battery is recharged each night. For longer trips, the vehicle reverts back to conventional hybrid operation. If plug-in hybrids are ever designed and built from the ground up, rather than being converted from existing models like we’re seeing today, an even smaller engine could improve fuel economy at every stage.

Prius Hybrid a Good PHEV Platform

Though the Toyota Prius is not a plug-in hybrid, it serves as a good platform for a conversion. The California Cars Initiative, a non-profit organization, first built one to show it could be done. The conversion turned out to be so promising that some companies are looking to make a for-profit business out of it.

Engineering firms EnergyCS and Clean-Tech have joined forces to form EDrive Systems, which is developing a conversion kit for the second-generation Toyota Prius. The kit removes the stock Panasonic nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) battery and replaces it with a Saphion lithium-ion battery from Valence. The new battery adds 170 pounds to the Prius, but also makes about 9 kWh instead of the original's 1.3 kWh. That means there's much more electrical power available to drive the car.

Some careful software tweaks are made to handle the extra power of the hardware. The EDrive system takes advantage of a built-in ‘EV mode’ that forces the Prius to run purely on electric power until speeds reach 33 mph. This ensures that no precious fuel is sapped until the computer deems it absolutely necessary. According to EDrive, in a stock Prius, the batteries would only provide about one mile in this mode; the company’s converted plug-in Prius extends that range to as much as 35 miles.

Drive System for Plug-In Hybrids

To further hold off engine intervention, the computer is told the battery is full until the actual state of charge dips below 20 percent. This bit of misinformation forces Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive to inject as much electric power as possible into the drive system. After the battery is about 80 percent depleted, the EDrive Prius carries on like a normal hybrid and maintains the charge of the battery as needed. Once the EDrive Prius is parked, it’s plugged into an external 110-volt charger that can replenish a fully depleted battery in about seven to nine hours.

Experimental battery pack for plug-in hybrids.

An additional dash-mounted readout precisely meters fuel consumption and displays how far the throttle pedal can be depressed before prompting the engine to start up. It’s a useful tool because driving style matters. Aggressive driving and 75 mph cruising will yield 70-80 mpg, say the EDrive folks, while relatively mellow driving earns well over 100 mpg. Low speed city driving and cruising at 55 mph can reportedly push fuel economy closer to 200 mpg. And when the battery is depleted after 50-60 miles of driving, fuel economy reverts back to the roughly 45-50 mpg of the stock Prius.

EDrive Systems hopes to sell its conversion kit for $10,000 to $12,000 in early 2006. At this cost, EDrive’s market is limited to those with the bucks to support making such a statement, but it’s a start.

Others Working on Plug-In Hybrids

The Prius is not the only vehicle lending itself to plug-in conversion. DaimlerChrysler is working with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) to build 40 plug-in hybrid versions of its Sprinter commercial van for use in demonstration fleets. Electric boost comes from a 70 kW motor positioned between the transmission and clutch, which is fed by a 14 kWh NiMH battery stowed beneath the cargo floor.

Drivers of the plug-in Sprinter hybrid can push a button to put the vehicle in electric-only mode, which is good for a range of about 19 miles. When not selected, the hybrid’s electronic controller alternates power between the vehicle’s diesel engine and electric motor to optimize fuel economy, or combines the two when power demands are high. This plug-in variant is designed for recharging on Europe’s 230 volt network, a task that takes about six hours for a fully depleted battery.

Valence battery for plug-in hybrids.

The stock Sprinter, with its small, 4- cylinder diesel engine, is already quite the efficient hauler with fuel economy as high as 30 mpg. Converted to a plug-in hybrid, DaimlerChrysler says fuel economy improves anywhere from 10 to 50 percent, depending on use. That means up to 45 mpg from a commercial delivery vehicle – simply unheard of in its class. So far, DaimlerChrysler is the only automobile manufacturer producing its own plug-in hybrids.

California Cars Initiative

One of the most notable forces behind the rising profile of the plug-in is Felix Kramer and his Palo Alto-based California Cars Initiative. The group is mobilizing support from fleets, government agencies, and private buyers in an attempt to break the vicious cycle that plagues many new technologies: Motorists won’t buy plug-ins on a large scale unless the price is right, and the price won’t come down until automakers are convinced there will be buyers.

Not content to wait around for the manufacturers, Kramer is looking at other ways to put plug-in hybrids on the road. The plan is to utilize venture capital, set up a Qualified Vehicle Modifier company that could work with automakers in a fully certified capacity, and convert existing hybrid models without voiding original vehicle warranties. In Kramer’s mind, conversion possibilities include Ford’s Escape Hybrid and models using Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive such as the Prius, Highlander Hybrid, Lexus RX400h, and other upcoming models.

The potential of the plug-in hybrid in reducing emissions and oil dependency has put environmentalists and conservative think-tanks in an unusual position: They’re on the same side. Set America Free, the Center for Security Policy, and others have joined electric vehicle die-hards in calling for mass production of plug-in hybrids. Support from former Secretary of State George Shultz and former CIA director James Woolsey lends considerable credibility to the cause.

ED Drive Systems will produce plug-in hybrids.

Plug-In Hybrids and Government

Despite this clamoring, the U.S. government has yet to respond in a big way. An amendment to the massive energy bill recently approved by President Bush allocates a relatively tiny $40 million for hybrid vehicle development, some of which could go toward plug-in hybrids...but there’s no guarantee.

This leaves local government to take charge. The City of Austin, Texas, with help from its municipal utility Austin Energy, has become the first city to develop an incentive plan for plug-in hybrids. ‘Plug-In Austin’ is looking to raise $50-$100 million to provide rebates on plug-in hybrid purchases for public and private use, as well as for running an educational campaign to generate consumer interest. Austin is one of 10 cities that will begin testing DaimlerChrysler’s Sprinter plug-in hybrid next year.

The ‘Plug-In Austin’ campaign is designed to expand to other communities around the country. Representatives from Austin Energy are approaching the nation’s 50 largest cities in an effort to encourage them to replicate Austin’s program. Already, Seattle City Light in Washington state has shown interest in offering customers incentives to buy plug-in hybrid vehicles in the Puget Sound region. Across the country and across the political spectrum, the plug-in hybrid is winning fans.

Professor Andy Frank at the University of California, Davis is an ardent proponent of plug-in hybrids and, having built plug-in prototypes since 1972, is also one of the most experienced. Rather than an intermediary step to hydrogen, Professor Frank believes the plug-in hybrid could be an end in itself. A plug-in hybrid with a 60 mile electric range, like the ones Frank and his students build, reportedly uses only 10 percent gasoline and 90 percent electricity on an annual basis. “That 10 percent of gasoline could be replaced by biofuels,” says Frank, taking an interesting direction that could find gasoline use eliminated altogether.

$7,000 Additional Cost for PHEVs

The possibilities don’t end there. “We have the capability, for the first time, of integrating the electric grid with transportation,” explains Frank. The electrical grid right now has enough excess capacity to support half the nation’s vehicle fleet if they were converted to plug-in hybrids, says Frank. The energy is domestically produced, the infrastructure already exists, and, though much of our electricity today comes from coal-burning powerplants, renewable and non-polluting sources such as wind and solar power could play a larger role. “People don’t think of plug-ins as alternative fuel cars, but they are,” says Frank. “You could be running your car on solar or wind power.”

At less than a dollar per gallon during off-peak hours, when most plug-ins would be recharged, plug-in hybrid drivers would be paying a lot less in fuel costs. As for the extra up-front cost, Frank points to a UC Davis study that shows how automakers could build plug-in hybrids by adding only $7,000 to the price of a $20,000 car. So why isn’t this already happening? Some in the auto industry maintain that battery technology isn’t ready yet, a claim that Frank and others dismiss. More significantly, Frank asserts there’s a general reluctance to invest, with struggling giants in the industry unwilling to take risks unless convinced there’s a good chance that a sizeable return will result.

“What I’m trying to demonstrate is that if a bunch of students can do it, the car companies should be able to do even better.” Andy Frank, the California Cars Initiative, the City of Austin, and many others feel it’s up to them to take the lead in getting the word out and generating demand. With the success they’ve met, and the wide-ranging benefits that plug-ins put within reach, there’s every reason to believe that at least some in the auto industry are paying very close attention.

Damian Breen, founder of Environmental Communications Strategies.
Damian Breen, founder of Environmental Communications Strategies.

In June, the CEO of German manufacturer MAN Truck & Bus SE (MAN), Alexander Vlaskamp, told Austrian Newspaper Der Standard that:“E-mobility is coming now. The technology is mature and most efficient. In our estimation 80 or even 90 percent of logistics trucks will be electrically powered…If hydrogen is to be used, it must be green. And we see today that hydrogen is far too expensive (and) therefore, hydrogen will only be used in a small segment in Europe, such as for special transport.”

I became aware of this pronouncement through a friend in the U.S. trucking industry, who attached the article to an e-mail, saying, “So, hydrogen is dead!” Even as someone who has never been afraid to hold strong opinions on technology, I remember reading my friend's e-mail and thinking, “Well, that’s a bit extreme isn’t it?” Then I took some time to read Mr. Vlaskamp’s full interview and, in fairness, what he said is nuanced. He is not saying all hydrogen is too expensive or that the technology doesn’t work. He is simply pointing out that the cost of ‘green’ hydrogen as a fuel is too high for his customers to do their business.

Fair enough, Vlaskamp knows his customers, and trucking has and will always be a bottom-line driven industry. However, he goes on to state that there is already enough electricity in Austria to deal with the trucking fleet transition, and that to support the 30 percent of trucks in Europe going electric by 2030, 20,000 fast-charging stations will be needed, at a cost of several billion euros! This is where he loses me and quite a few others, as we will see below.

Here in the U.S., as the battle over the California Air Resources Board (CARB) Advanced Clean Fleets (ACF) regulation spills over into Congress, companies and truckers are faced with impossible choices. Do they wait to see if the bills introduced by Rep. John Joyce (R-PA) in the House of Representatives and/or Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) in the Senate, forestall CARB’s rule, or do they start to plan for the zero-emission future now? They haven’t got much time to figure it out; CARB’s rule goes into effect for the first trucks in 2024. One thing is certain: Europe’s second-largest truck manufacturer muddying the waters regarding technology choices won’t help anyone! To try and make sense of whether hydrogen is an option for U.S. trucking, I decided to talk to three experts in the field.

Batteries Can't Do It All

Dr. Tim Lipman is an energy and environmental technology, economics, policy researcher and lecturer with the University of California, Berkeley. His research focuses on electric-drive vehicles, fuel-cell technology, combined heat and power systems, biofuels, renewable energy,  and hydrogen-energy systems infrastructure. When I spoke to Tim about the MAN CEO’s thoughts on hydrogen and electric trucks, he had this to say: “Batteries can’t do it all, that is for certain, and I think everyone is underestimating the level of effort needed to get the grid ready for transportation electrification.” He pointed to the fact that fast-charging infrastructure for trucks might require megawatts of power, and whether that power is drawn directly from the grid or from on-site battery storage, it will not be cheap. He also stated that the engineering and technology challenges for charging sites could be significant, given the geographic locations of California’s truck parking sites relative to the grid, the anticipated load growth from truck charging, and the capacity of certain electrical feeder lines. Tim believes these challenges and their costs have already made several public bus fleets (subject to a separate CARB zero- emission rule) reverse course on battery-electric buses in favor of hydrogen fuel cell electric buses.

Hydrogen Cost Will Come Down

On the costs of hydrogen, currently retailing somewhere between $16 to $36 per kg, Dr. Lipman was very clear that it is too high. He points to the war in Ukraine, and the entry of California refiners into the low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS) credits program, as being significant contributors to the current cost issue. The Ukraine war has caused the costs of natural gas, a raw material for the steam reformation of hydrogen, to rise sharply; and the conversion of some California refineries to renewable fuels has halved the payments available for LCSF credits from CARB for the sale of hydrogen. However, he believes that the recent announcement of $7 billion in federal grant funding to establish regional clean hydrogen hubs in 16 states will have a big impact on driving down costs. Because of his involvement in California’s successful application to the U.S. Department of Energy for one of these hubs, Tim was reluctant to give his thoughts on how much hydrogen could retail for, simply saying that the hubs will make hydrogen a lot cheaper.

Finally, Tim took some time to explore the comments on ‘green’ hydrogen by MAN’s CEO, noting that it might be more helpful to look at the fuel’s production and carbon intensity. Tim explained that the term ‘green’ hydrogen means production of the gas from the electrolysis of water using renewable electricity. This pathway is preferred by many in the environmental movement, as it dispenses with the steam reformation of methane completely. Hydrogen from any form of methane is viewed by some as a bait and switch strategy by a fossil fuels industry, the currently leading producer of U.S. hydrogen, seeking to extend the use of natural gas.

Low Carbon Hydrogen Production

However, Tim pointed out that other production methods, such as the steam reformation of bio-gas (i.e. methane created from animal manure or wastewater bio-digestors) could be less carbon intensive than ‘green’ hydrogen. This is due to the fact that the releasing of bio-gas directly to the atmosphere has a much more detrimental impact on climate than converting it to hydrogen. Therefore, if we look to carbon intensity and climate impacts as our north star (and don’t get hung up on the hydrogen color wheel), investing in these other low-carbon production methods could increase hydrogen supply and bring down costs significantly. This certainly would change the economics of the fuel dramatically for Mr. Vlaskamp and his customers.

Hyundai-XCIENT hydrogen fuel cell truck on the road.

I also spoke with Dr. Matt Miyasato, Vice President of Strategic Growth and Government Affairs for FirstElement Fuel, the largest retailer of hydrogen fuel stations in the world. Prior to joining FirstElement Fuel, Matt served as Deputy Executive Officer and Chief Technologist at the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Matt was taken aback by the MAN CEO’s comments, stating: “This is really premature! There is no silver bullet, and we are going to need all the solutions.”  Matt went on to say that electricity is a great solution for fleets traveling shorter routes (up to 40 miles), with fixed hubs that are well supplied with electricity and a duty cycle that allows for overnight charging. However, he too cautioned regarding the ability to install the charging infrastructure, even in the best of circumstances. He expressed concern with the existing grid infrastructure, the possible need for battery banks to charge multiple vehicles, the huge amount of electricity needed, and the rate at which vehicles can charge. In fact, Dr. Miyasato’s main objection to Mr. Vlaskamp’s comments was that they totally discounted the needs of many drivers and fleets. For some truckers, the time required to recharge batteries is simply not practical or cost effective. Time is money in the trucking business, and extensive wait times to recharge trucks won’t cut it.

Consider All Technologies/Fuels

That’s not to say that the hydrogen infrastructure is perfect. Matt did own up to issues related to the cost of the fuel and the ability to permit, roll out, and maintain stations. However, he also noted that no one had yet built an electrical retail infrastructure for long-distance truck routes (those over 200 miles), whereas his company planned to launch their first truck fueling station in Oakland, California, in December 2023. He said, “With what we know today about costs and engineering, it would be very short-sighted to write off any technology path at this point.”

Finally, I spoke with Jaimie Levin, Director of West Coast Operations and Senior Managing Consultant for the Atlanta-based Center for Transportation and the Environment (CTE). Jaimie previously worked as Director of Environmental Technology at the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District (AC Transit) where he oversaw the alternative fuels deployment program. He currently heads up the NorCAL ZERO advanced technology demonstration project, which is bringing 30 Hyundai Xcient fuel cell electric trucks into service at the Port of Oakland in northern California. These Class 8 vehicles have a range of between 400 and 500 miles and a payload capacity of 39,000 lbs. This project is in the road trials phase, with 10 trucks currently deployed hauling steel from the port to California’s Central Valley.

Critical Factors for Truckers

Jaimie stated that the current crop of Class 8 battery-electric trucks, while working fine in the hub model described by Dr. Miyasato, were “really working against what truckers need.” He cited four critical factors for truckers – range, payload capacity, fueling speed, and resiliency. On range, Jaimie states that trucks with variable routes can’t have limits. They need to be able to do whatever route and distance are required by a job. On payload, he cited the total weight limits on the California and national highway system as being a serious issue for battery-electric trucks. The weight of current battery trucks that can travel 250 miles could be as much as 2,000 lbs. more than their diesel counterparts. In an industry where payload is ‘the’ thing, that would reduce carrying capacity and profit. On fueling speed, Jaimie stated that truckers can’t wait around for an hour for their rig to charge up. Costs and deadlines simply won’t allow it. Lastly, on resiliency, he talked about the strain put on California’s grid in the last few years by wildfires, extreme heat, and public safety power shutoff events. He notes that in trucking, you can’t have uncertainty on whether you can refuel your vehicle or not. An excellent point, considering that 77 percent of California communities rely solely on trucking for the movement of their goods.On the cost of fuel, Jaimie reiterated that it needs to come down, citing the same factors previously noted, and hopes that the hydrogen hubs will impact prices. On the cost of the trucks themselves, he believes that the economies of scale will have a big impact on driving down the total cost of ownership, making them comparable to diesel, but agrees that the initial cost of the truck itself will remain high.

I have spent some time looking at the future of battery technology – including lighter weight and faster charging options - and I discussed this with all three experts. While they see the new offerings as solving some issues with current battery trucks, they believe that they do not move the needle on power availability and the cost of infrastructure to charge electric trucks.


Hydrogen is far from done in terms of being a fuel for heavy-duty trucks, but its cost needs to come down quickly! Also, issues with the electric infrastructure and the location of California’s truck parking will hinder the rollout of battery-electric vehicles. This means neither technology is perfect and neither meets the needs of every trucking duty cycle. So, rather than trying to pick the winner in this technology horse race, truckers will need to explore their options based on their own unique locations and business needs. This won’t be easy but eliminating technologies out of hand makes no sense at this point.

Damian Breen is the founder of Environmental Communication Strategies and former Deputy Executive Officer of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in California.

VW ID.4 electric car at charger.

Manufactured in Tennessee on Volkswagen’s MEB modular world electric car platform, the 2021 VW ID.4 presents a new and compelling all-electric SUV that enters a segment presently dominated by Tesla, Chevrolet, and a select few others. What ID.4 brings to the battery electric SUV segment that Tesla doesn’t is price, coming in at a base cost of $39,995, some $10,000 less than Tesla’s Model Y.

For this, electric vehicle buyers get SUV hatchback utility, three-foot legroom in all seating positions, and ample luggage capacity for 5 adults. VW estimates ID.4 driving range at 250 mile on a full charge, and additionally points out that an additional 60 miles of range is attainable in just 10 minutes from a public DC quick-charge station.

Powertrain and Battery Module

Sporting a stature similar to that of Honda’s CR-V, the Volkswagen ID.4 rides on a steel-framed architecture featuring strut-like front suspension and multi-link suspension with coil-over shocks at the rear. This, combined with a long wheelbase and short overhangs, promises a smooth ride dynamic. Braking is handled by front disk and rear drum brakes.

A single permanent magnet, synchronous electric motor directs power to the rear wheels. The ID.4 produces 201 horsepower and 228 lb-ft torque that’s expected to deliver a 60 mph sprint in about 8 seconds. Electricity to power the motor is provided by an air-cooled, frame-integrated 82 KWh lithium-ion modular cell battery. An onboard 11KW charger enables three charge modes via standard 110-volt household power, 220-volt Level 2 charging, or DC fast charging. Typical charging with a home wall charger or public Level 2 charger will bring a full charge in 6 to 7 hours.

Volkswagen ID.4 interior.

ID.4 Controls and Features

A minimalistic yet futuresque cabin with segment leading cabin volume rounds out ID.4’s architecture. Features include a driver-centric, touch sensitive steering wheel and a view-forward 5.3-inch ID information center that replaces conventional gauges. Vehicle operation is through steering wheel-mounted switches, with infotainment, climate control, device connectivity, navigation, and travel information accessed through a 10.3 inch touchscreen monitor. A 12 inch monitor is available with the model’s Statement Package.

Topping the list of features is expanded voice command and a communicative dash-integrated ID light bar. ‘Intuitive Start’ driver key fob recognition enables pre-start cabin conditioning capability. Base model upholstery is ballistic cloth with leatherette seat surfaces optional.

Volkswagen’s IQ Drive driver assist and active safety suite features travel assist, lane assist, adaptive cruise control, front and rear sensors, emergency assist, blinds spot monitoring, rear traffic watch and more. All this comes standard along with Pro Navigation, a heated steering wheel and front seats, wireless phone charging, and app connectivity for compatible devices. 

Two ID.4 Trim Levels Offered

The ID.4 EV is available in six colors and two trim levels, Gradient and Statement, for personalization. The optional Gradient package features a black roof, silver roof trim, silver accents, and silver roof rails along with 20-inch wheels to complete the upscale look. Looking forward, while rear-wheel drive is the choice today, Volkswagen is already talking up an all-wheel drive variant for early 2021 along with a lower-priced base model. 

As the world’s largest automotive group, Volkswagen has the capacity to change the ever-expanding electric-car landscape. Looking at the style and utility of VW’s all-new ID.4, you can sense the renewed “people’s car” direction of the brand that accompanies the automaker’s commitment to electrification. VW says it’s aiming at selling 20 million electric cars based on the MEB electric car platform by model year 2029. Certainly, the potential for selling in truly significant numbers is reinforced by ID.4 pre-orders selling-out in just weeks, it’s safe to say.