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Like all of us over the long course of lockdowns and varying degrees of COVID 19-related restrictions, my wife Sheree and I were yearning for the day we could travel somewhere…anywhere…that seemed safe, made sense, and transported us at least briefly beyond the everyday concerns of the pandemic that had literally stopped us all in our tracks.

Visiting Hawaii when we did, as the pandemic was loosening its hold on life, was like vacationing during a sort of pandemic ‘shoulder season’ – the traditionally less crowded, less hectic months before and after the masses head to the most desired vacation destinations. While the Governor of Hawaii is now welcoming visitors back as the recent COVID 19 surge has passed in the islands, and things are much more ‘normal’ (read that ‘crowded’) with Hawaii once again a top destination, it was eerily quiet during our before-the-surge visit.

Traveling to Hawaii was no small logistics challenge, though that has eased now with changing visitor requirements . As we viewed our options before deciding on Hawaii, other favorite destinations like Italy seemed better left for another day once things are more sorted out. Australia was off the table since its borders were, and still are, closed to international visitors, though that country has just announced it is again allowing entry to international students and foreign workers. We've done road trips through the Pacific Northwest but were looking for something different. So what about Hawaii? That’s been a work in progress and travel there initially required a 14 day quarantine since March 2020, then a shortened 10 days of mandatory quarantine starting in December 2020 for travel to all of the Hawaiian Islands.

This policy relaxed late last year with the option for a quarantine exemption through the State of Hawaii’s Safe Travels portal, at https://travel.hawaii.gov. A video on the site presents an overview of the program and lists the steps to be completed, including the need for a negative COVID 19 test for non-vaccinated visitors traveling to Oahu. A recent change now grants a quarantine exemption for fully-vaccinated visitors who register with the Safe Travels portal, upload vaccination cards, and then have their vaccination cards confirmed during airport check-in. Other islands have had additional requirements, and the state’s rules continue to evolve, so it’s best to reference the latest requirements and restrictions at the State of Hawaii’s online COVID 19 portal, at https://hawaiicovid19.com/travel/getting-to-hawaii.

REQUIREMENTS FOR HAWAII TRAVEL: Hawaii’s quarantine exemption process is clear but not entirely free from angst, though vaccinated travelers will find it easier than the non-vaccinated. For those who have not been vaccinated, timing is essential since a negative NAAT or PCR COVID 19 test is required from a Hawaii-approved lab. These labs are listed on the Safe Travels portal. After registering for an account through the portal and providing your travel information, including flight and hotel reservation numbers, your negative COVID 19 test can be uploaded and instantly verified.

This test must be done no more than 72 hours prior to your flight to Hawaii. Naturally, there’s a realistic concern that everything go well and the testing lab e-mails a negative test result to you in time. For those with connecting flights, the timeline is based on the final non-stop flight segment you take to Hawaii, not your originating airport.

Though we are now fully vaccinated, our trip took place before Hawaii’s ‘vaccine passport’ option was in place. We knew that a number of testing options were available, including relatively new availability for testing on-site at some larger international airports, but decided to take our test at a local urgent care since they work with a Hawaii-approved lab partner. We timed it so the test was taken within the required 72 hour window, doing so on a walk-in basis, though other testing providers may offer appointments. We arrived, filled out the paperwork, and were called in for the Hawaii-approved nasal swab test. Then the anticipation began. We were pleasantly surprised when we received e-mails about 18 hours later with our negative results, quicker than promised. Then we uploaded the test PDFs to our accounts on the Safe Travels portal.

Once you’re within 24 hours of your flight, you need to log-in to the portal and answer a short health questionnaire. A QR code is issued immediately after the questionnaire is submitted, whether you're requesting exemption with a test or vaccination. This QR code allows screeners access to your Safe Travels quarantine exemption status during airport check-in. While you can access this QR code by logging in any time, Safe Travels recommends that you also make a printout of the QR code and carry it with you. Those seeking a quarantine exemption must bring their vaccine card with them. Since this trip involved an exemption with a COVID 19 test, we brought the PDF of our test results with us just to be safe.

FLIGHT CHECK-IN: We flew Alaska Airlines direct from San Jose, California, to Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. At check-in in San Jose, we provided our tickets and then logged into the Safe Travels portal on our phones to show our QR codes. During check-in, status on our Safe Travels accounts was changed from Not Screened and Not Exempt to Screened and Exempt. This same process follows now for those who apply for a quarantine exemption with their uploaded vaccine card, with the physical vaccine card confirmed by the airline. With confirmation complete, Alaska Airlines issued Safe Travels wristbands that allowed breezing through the airport upon arrival in Oahu. Those without wristbands must endure long lines as their exempt status is manually confirmed once they arrive in Hawaii.

After check-in, we logged into our Safe Travels accounts on our phones to confirm the change to Exempt was made. A new QR code reflecting this change was shown. You will need to log-in and show this updated QR Code when checking in to your hotel to confirm exemption from quarantine.

(THEN) UNCROWDED WAIKIKI: This is a lot of work to go through for any trip. However, the yearning to experience this tropical paradise after a seemingly endless time of pandemic restrictions was compelling enough to make it worthwhile. Plus, we knew that once travel began in earnest later, the relatively uncrowded and reasonably priced Hawaii we wished to visit would likely experience rising costs and a crush of visitors. Following our 5 1/2 hour flight from San Jose to Honolulu, the promised benefit of wearing a Safe Travels wristband was immediately evident. Those without one went right at the entry sign for a long line and manual processing, while we went left and, with a quick flash of our wristbands at a check point, continued toward baggage claim. It was that simple.

We had arranged to be met with a ride and lei greeting because, after all, that’s really how you should arrive on the islands and it’s not that costly. It’s also a good plan because rental cars have been very expensive everywhere, including Hawaii, due to tight availability. We even found Uber prices to be higher than normal due to increased demand. The best bargain for travel needs, surprisingly, was an old-school cab since their costs are regulated. If you do want to rent, then you might consider going electric with a Tesla Model S, 3, X, or Y rented from WDT Luxury Tesla Rental Hawaii, though these can't be rented at the airport. The 14 Teslas in this company's growing fleet are currently renting from $125 to $350 per day, with the top-of-the-line Model S Plaid going for $849 daily. Speaking of Teslas, while strolling the main part of Waikiki be sure to head over to the Tesla showroom on Kalakaua Avenue to appreciate some electric car eye candy there.

Over the years, our go-to hotel has always been the Hilton Hawaiian Village, a 22 acre resort located on a wide stretch of Waikiki Beach that’s much less crowded than the stretch of beach adjacent to Waikiki’s main hotels and shopping area. We’ve found the walk from HHV to the main bustle of Waikiki to be easy and enjoyable, with half the walk along the beach. This time, however, we started our vacation with two nights at the Moana Surfrider, a stately and historic hotel located in the heart of Waikiki Beach. We’ve been wanting to experience this hotel for some time and finally took the opportunity. We weren’t disappointed. The Moana Surfrider, like many hotels in Hawaii, closed down for months to weather the dearth of tourists and the unknowns of the early months of the pandemic. And like others, they have strived to reopen in ways that allow accommodating guests in true Hawaiian style.

We found check-in an easy process, with the only additional step involving confirmation of our quarantine exempt status through the Safe Travels QR code on our phones. The lobby, the rooms, the restaurants and bar, and overall experience were just as we had hoped. The Surfrider’s manager was even on hand in the lobby to welcome guests to Hawaii and the hotel, an unexpected touch.

At night, we were able to enjoy live music and drinks at the hotel’s iconic Beach Bar with its exceptional surf-and-sand view, and Vintage 1901, the hotel’s stately piano bar. There’s the Beachhouse fine dining restaurant if you’re so inclined, or you can order dinner from a more limited menu at Vintage 1901, as we did. We enjoyed breakfast at the hotel’s Verandah at the Beachhouse and pineapple smoothies at the Surfrider Café. While we didn’t get to enjoy Sunday afternoon tea at the Verandah because it was fully booked, we have done this high tea before and highly recommend it.

One of our favorite things in years past has been to stop by the Moana Surfrider just to spend some time on the rocking chairs that line its front porch, and just people-watch. This Moana Surfrider’s location in the heart of Waikiki Beach makes everything easily accessible. While restaurants and shops are capacity controlled due to COVID 19 restrictions, there were plenty of them ready and waiting to serve visitors.

We knew ahead of time that reduced capacity meant quite a few restaurants would be fully booked on many nights, so we made reservations in advance through the Open Table app, including the popular Hard Rock Honolulu. Some, like the always-in-demand Duke’s Waikiki beach bar and restaurant, had no reservations open for breakfast, lunch, or dinner during our stay. However, Duke’s sets aside half of its tables for walk-ins, so we gave it a try and lunch for the two of us involved just a 15 minute wait.

Waikiki Beach is often a very crowded place. While there were tourists strolling along its main street, Kalakaua Avenue, and a reasonable amount of traffic, we found it less crowded than on previous visits when sidewalks were packed. Some popular eateries that are often impossible for walk-ins, like the Cheesecake Factory, had unusually short lines and presented no obstacles to enjoying a fun meal. By the time you’re reading this, though, the greater numbers of travelers now heading to Hawaii likely mean a much busier environment with the usual wait times.

After several days at the Moana Surfrider, we moved on to our usual Hawaiian digs, the Hilton Hawaiian Village. We’ve always enjoyed this resort because it offers so much on-site – an array of casual and fine-dining restaurants, a pizzeria, New York deli, and Starbucks, along with gift shops and two ABC Stores for picking up everything from sandwiches, drinks, and snacks to sundries, rafts, and beach supplies. Complimentary morning activities are offered like hula lessons, lei making, yoga, and tai chi.

This was the intended ‘down time’ of our trip, so four days were spent on lounge chairs under an umbrella on the resort’s uncrowded stretch of Waikiki Beach. Drinks and food are nearby at the Hau Tree Bar and Tropics Bar & Grill. Daily walks took us to the bustle of activities along Kalakaua Avenue and the main part of Waikiki Beach, a pleasant 25 minute stroll. A fascinating trip to the Honolulu Museum of Art was also on order to view its collection of Asian, Hawaiian, European, and American art.

Hilton Hawaiian Village closed down for eight months during the pandemic and reopened in November 2020. During our stay, we found that while it did offer many of the features and amenities we’ve come to appreciate in the past, the pandemic’s impact meant it was still getting up to speed. The nightly live entertainment we’ve always enjoyed on stage at the expansive outdoor Tapa bar, and in the more intimate setting of Tropics Bar & Grill, was absent. The popular Tapa Bar itself we closed. In fact, except for the Waikiki Starlight Luau held on the resort’s Great Lawn adjacent to the Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon, there was no live entertainment at all on the property during our visit. The last we checked, the resort was planning to start live entertainment again shortly.

Like many hotels on the islands, daily rhythms at Hilton Hawaiian Village have been affected by capacity limits, so restaurant reservations are a good idea, either booked on-site or through Open Table. Hilton Hawaiian Village is billed as the largest ocean resort in the Pacific, so it’s understandable why it’s taking time to fully emerge from the challenges of the pandemic. This is a very popular Waikiki destination and we expect it to be bustling as usual the next time we return.

IMPORTANT REMINDERS: Hawaii's new vaccine passport system now provides a much simpler way to get a quarantine exemption. We didn't have that option at the time of our visit so a COVID 19 test with specific timing requirements was required. This same testing requirement is still in place for unvaccinated visitors today. We expect that the vast majority of those heading to Hawaii have not had issues with a test exemption. That said, we also know of a few who did not receive test results in time and had to cancel their vacation plans. There is no accommodation for taking a test once you’ve landed in Hawaii. You’re either exempt before flying there through a negative test or confirmed vaccination card, or you’re subject to the mandatory quarantine. So you focus. Understand the requirements explained through Safe Travels. And you plan your test timing carefully, since in this case timing is everything.

This article could have been titled, ‘Four Tickets to Paradise,’ but our friends John and Cathy who were to join us never made it. They had to cancel their trip just hours before their scheduled flight, though they did all the right things through Safe Travels Hawaii and timed their COVID 19 tests appropriately . One of their PCR test results came back quickly, but the other was delayed and eventually came back inconclusive. It was expected that a quick follow-up NAAT COVID 19 test would come in time, but the negative test result wasn’t received until just before their scheduled flight, after all was cancelled. That was a disappointing sign of the times, so it was just the two of us this time.

As a final thought, Hawaii is absolutely worth the effort even amid all the extra steps you have to take right now to get there. Being on the islands, especially after all the months of lockdowns and restrictions, is spectacular even amid its reawakening and we enjoyed our experiences there immensely. You will enjoy the Aloha, too!

Since the very first Green Car Awards™ presented by Green Car Journal in 2005, the magazine’s mission has been to acknowledge and encourage environmental achievement in the auto industry. It has always been important to recognize new models that are driving a green revolution on our highways by decreasing emissions, encouraging energy diversity, and improving efficiency. This enlightened way forward is crucial to vastly improving the automobile’s impact on the environment and ensuring a future for personal-use vehicles.

That mission has never been more vital than it is today as we see first-hand the environmental challenges we all face. While there are many ways to address these challenges and solutions must come from many fronts, it’s reassuring to know that the auto industry is stepping up in significant ways.

High efficiency internal combustion models that eke out fuel economy numbers in the 30 to 40 mile-per-gallon range, and above, were unheard of in the recent past. They’re on the road today. Hybrids that extend fuel efficiency to 40 and 50 miles per gallon are not uncommon. Models driving on battery electric power often are achieving an energy equivalent of 80, 90, and 100 miles-per-gallon, or more. There’s still work to be done to accomplish important environmental goals, but this truly is a watershed moment.

The motor vehicle continues to have an important story to tell, now and in the decades ahead. That story speaks to greater efficiency, improved attention to sustainability, and a more thoughtful approach to environmental compatibility, all made possible by the enlightened design, advanced technologies, and amazing innovation found in an unfolding new generation of vehicles. The Green Car Awards – the most important environmental awards in the auto industry – celebrate these vehicles, and by extension the automakers, engineers, product planners, and others who make them happen.

Each award year, Green Car Journal editors examine the universe of vehicle models sold in the U.S. that distinguish themselves with exemplary environmental credentials. Through an extensive vetting process, five vehicles are identified in each of eight categories that stand out by virtue of their environmental achievement. This process considers many factors such as lower carbon emissions, greater efficiency, or the use of advanced technologies such as lightweighting, electrification, more efficient internal combustion, or other innovative efficiency-enhancing or sustainability strategies. Each model that rises to the top 5 in a category are honored with Green Car Journal’s Green Car Product of Excellence™. These standout vehicles then advance to be finalists for Green Car Awards.

Models honored with 2022 Green Car Product of Excellence are: Audi e-tron GT; Audi Q4 e-tron; BMW i4; BMW iX; BrightDrop EV 600; Chevrolet Bolt EUV; Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid; ELMS Urban Delivery EV; Ford E-Transit; Ford F-150; Ford Maverick; Ford Mustang Mach-E GT; GMC Hummer EV; Honda Civic; Hyundai IONIQ 5; Hyundai Kona Electric; Hyundai Tucson; Hyundai Venue; Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe; Karma GS-6; Kia EV6; Kia Seltos; Kia Sorento Hybrid/PHEV; Lexus NX; Lightning eMotors Electric Van; Lucid Air; Mercedes-Benz EQS; MINI Cooper SE; Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo; Rivian Electric Delivery Van; Rivian R1T; Tesla Model S Plaid; Toyota Sienna; Toyota Tundra; Volkswagen ID.4; Volvo C40 Recharge.

This year involved weighing the merits of more potential finalists than any previous year in the award program’s history. In the shifting sands of the pandemic, the auto industry’s chip shortage, and today’s phased timeline for new model introductions throughout the year, an important part of this process is determining a new model’s realistic delivery timeline, not just the availability of online preorders. In some cases this means a new high-profile model must be considered in the following year’s award program.

For the past 16 years, the Green Car of the Year® has been selected by an invited jury that includes leaders of the nation’s energy efficiency and environmental organizations, along with celebrity auto expert Jay Leno and Green Car Journal staff. This year’s invited jury included Paula Glover, president of the Alliance to Save Energy; Mindy Lubber, president of CERES; Joseph K. Lyou, president and CEO of the Coalition for Clean Air; Matt Petersen, president and CEO of Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator and advisory board chair of Climate Mayors; and Dr. Alan Lloyd, president emeritus of the International Council on Clean Transportation and senior research fellow at the Energy Institute, University of Texas at Austin. Winners of all other Green Car Awards are selected by a jury of automotive experts and Green Car Journal staff.

Electrification is so important to 'green' cars today that nearly every Green Car Awards finalist included a battery electric, plug-in hybrid, or hybrid powertrain option, and all Green Car of the Year candidates were exclusively battery electric for the first time. After all the vetting, the evaluations, and the decisions, the results are in. Six of the eight award winners are all-electric vehicles and two are highly-efficient hybrids. Here are the standout winners and worthy finalists for this year’s 2022 Green Car Awards:

2022 Green Car of the Year® Audi Q4 e-tron

Finalists for Green Car Journal’s signature award included the Audi Q4 e-tron, BMW i4, Kia EV6, Rivian R1T, and Volvo C40 Recharge.

2022 Luxury Green Car of the Year™ – Lucid Air

Vying for this award were the Audi e-tron GT, BMW iX, Karma GS-6, Lucid Air, and Mercedes-Benz EQS.

2022 Urban Green Car of the Year™ – Chevrolet Bolt EUV

Finalists were the Chevrolet Bolt EUV, Hyundai Kona Electric, Hyundai Venue, Kia Seltos, and MINI Cooper SE.

2022 Performance Green Car of the Year™ – Tesla Model S Plaid

Among this award’s finalists were the Audi e-tron GT RS, Ford Mustang Mach-E GT, Lucid Air Dream Performance, Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo Turbo S, and Tesla Model S Plaid.

2022 Green SUV of the Year™ – Hyundai IONIQ 5

The top 5 finalists included Hyundai IONIQ 5, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe, Lexus NX, and Volkswagen ID.4.

2022 Commercial Green Car of the Year™ – BrightDrop EV 600

Finalists were BrightDrop EV 600, ELMS Urban Delivery EV, Ford E-Transit, Lightning eMotors Electric Van, and Rivian Electric Delivery Van.

2022 Green Truck of the Year™ – Ford Maverick

Presented at the San Antonio Auto & Truck Show, finalists included the Ford F-150, Ford Maverick, GMC Hummer EV, Rivian R1T, and Toyota Tundra.

2022 Family Green Car of the Year™ – Toyota Sienna

Also hosted by the San Antonio Auto & Truck Show, finalists were Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, Honda Civic, Kia Sorento Hybrid/PHEV, Toyota Sienna, and Volkswagen ID.4.

There was a time when sophisticated driver assist systems were the realm of luxury cars. The reason is simple, really. The cost of any new tech innovation is high, and it’s easiest to bury this cost in higher end vehicles offered at a premium price. It was thus with many innovations we now take for granted in our cars like air bags and anti-lock braking. These days, the most desired driver assist and advanced safety systems are pretty much standard fare in most new models.

We were impressed years ago when Honda launched its ‘Safety for Everyone’ program and made its latest safety innovations standard fare on all its vehicles. The auto industry as a whole has followed suit, and now even the most sophisticated systems can be found on entry-level models, increasingly as standard equipment or as available options. While drivers of premium vehicles may still be the first to experience the latest new twist operating silently behind the scenes as they drive, you can be assured the technology will filter down to all models over time.

There are reasons for that because safety is always on the minds of new car buyers. The availability of systems that keep drivers and their families safe on the road, or at least as safe as possible, are highly desired. Automakers know this. Active and passive safety offer a competitive advantage in new car sales, right alongside other traditional touchstones like value, style, dependability, efficiency, and performance. If a new and highly-desired feature is introduced by one brand’s vehicles, there’s no doubt you will be seeing it offered in competitive models soon enough. There’s too much at stake for automakers not to emphasize safety, just as they emphasize electrification, efficiency, and environmental performance in their new model vehicles.

These days, technology is an active participant in our driving experience, constantly looking to warn us of unsafe conditions and offer alerts, and sometimes even initiate last-minute control to avoid an imminent collision. Their importance can’t be overstated. In the early years of driver assist systems, there were claims and assumptions regarding their promise for preventing potential collisions and saving lives. Now there is actual data to support this.

Recently, GM partnered with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute to study the real-world effect its driver assist, active safety, and advanced headlight features were having in preventing or lessening various types of crashes. The study involved data from some 3.7 million GM vehicles across 20 models, making use of police crash report databases from 10 states. Comparisons were made involving vehicles equipped with advanced active safety features and others without this functionality.

The results showed that driver assist systems can make a dramatic difference in eliminating or mitigating crashes. Automatic emergency braking with forward collision alert was shown to reduce rear-end striking crashes by 46 percent. Lane keep assist with lane departure warning reduced lane departure crashes by 20 percent, with lane change alert and side blind zone alert bringing a reduction of 26 percent in lane change crashes.

Even advanced lighting made a difference in driving safety. Here, high-intensity discharge headlights brought a 21 percent reduction in nighttime crashes involving pedestrians, bicyclists, or animals. In addition, advanced headlight systems that automatically turn high beams on or off in response to surrounding conditions delivered a 35 percent reduction. When combined, the two lighting systems resulted in a 49 percent crash reduction.

Clearly, automobiles have become more complex over time. In their early years, an automobile’s electrical system was limited to fundamental functions like a starter, generator, headlights and taillights, instrumentation, and an audio system. Over the years this grew more extensive, including everything from navigation, electric-assist steering and braking, electronic transmission control, electronic ignition, anti-lock braking, an array of airbags, and advanced emissions controls.

Today’s more sophisticated automobile integrates all this and more, from active safety assist systems and real-time traffic navigation to semi-autonomous driving, all enabled by on-board computers. Industry experts point out that today’s vehicles are often equipped with hundreds of controllers and sensors, and dozens of on-board computers (electronic control units, or ECUs), generating tens of gigabytes of data every hour. It’s expected that the coming generation of fully autonomous vehicles could generate upwards of 30 terabytes every day.

Supporting the electronics that process, analyze, and activate, the array of cameras, radar, and LIDAR sensors strategically and discretely positioned around a connected car ‘see’ vehicles, objects, and people ahead, around, and behind. These feed information to on-board systems that enable everything from the view seen in a back-up camera to determining the speed of a car in front of you, allowing adaptive cruise control to adjust your speed to avoid overtaking the vehicle ahead.

These sensors are constantly evolving and improving, a necessity as we head toward fully-autonomous driving. While LIDAR continues to be a favored system by automakers, other innovations are in the works. One example is next-generation radar systems. Until now, vehicle radar has been limited to capturing just speed and direction, which is one of the reasons why vehicles use multiple sensor types for their driver assist and semi-autonomous driving features. Now, the newest long-range radar designs will determine an object’s speed, range, direction, and elevation, even at higher speeds and under challenging lighting or weather conditions.

Evolution is a hallmark of life, and it seems, of driving. Even as our cars are getting more complex in every sense as they adapt to modern life, they are also getting smarter…and safer. All that technology is delivering much more than the comfort, performance, entertainment, and driving pleasure we’ve come to expect from modern vehicles over time. We now benefit from a more confident driving experience and enhanced safety on the road as well, with technologies like those described below serving as our copilot.

ADAPTIVE CRUISE CONTROL: As a stand-alone system or as part of semi-autonomous driving systems, ACC works like conventional cruise control with the addition of sensing technology that determines the speed and distance of the car ahead. It modifies your set cruise speed to avoid overtaking that vehicle. Many systems can bring your vehicle to a full stop if needed. Some advanced systems even reference map data to anticipate upcoming curves, roundabouts, toll booths, and more, then automatically reduce speed accordingly.

AUTOMATIC EMERGENCY BRAKING: Coupled with advance warning of unsafe closing speed or other immediate hazards, this system will automatically apply emergency braking to help avoid or mitigate a collision. Rear and pedestrian AEB is also offered as part of this system.

AUTONOMOUS DRIVING: Sometimes confused with fully ‘self-driving’ capabilities not yet here or approved, to  degrees, today’s semi-autonomous systems can help keep a vehicle centered in its lane, pace a vehicle ahead at a safe distance, and often bring your vehicle to a full stop in gridlocked traffic, then resume driving when traffic in your lane is moving again. Some systems identify the pressure of hands on the steering wheel to allow continuing use of a semi-autonomous driving system, while others, like Cadillac, use a strategically-mounted camera that monitors a driver to confirm they are paying attention to the road ahead.

BLIND SPOT MONITORING: This system alerts a driver of vehicles in its blind spots to increase safety when changing lanes, passing, or being passed.

FORWARD COLLISION WARNING: Audible and visual warnings are provided to alert a driver of the potential of a forward collision. Some systems also provide brake pulsing as a further warning to gain a driver’s immediate attention.

HEAD-UP DISPLAY: A HUD projects driving information projected ahead of a driver’s view, sometimes as simple as mph but often providing info on various driver assist functions including turn-by-turn navigation.

LANE DEPARTURE WARNING: This system provides audible and visual warnings if your vehicle strays outside of its lane when a turn signal is not activated.

LANE KEEP ASSIST: Taking over after a lane departure warning, this function provides varying degrees of steering input to help maintain lane position.

NIGHT VISION: Using infrared sensing technology, night vision displays an enhanced view of the road ahead that helps identify pedestrians, animals, or other hazards that may be beyond the view of a car’s headlights.

PARK ASSIST: This system enables a driver to select automated parallel, and sometimes perpendicular, parking functionality. It uses sensors to identify an open parking space of suitable size and the position of parked vehicles, then controls steering angle to automatically guide your vehicle into the space. Many systems require a driver to control braking, acceleration, and gear position, while others handle all functions automatically.

REAL-TIME TRAFFIC: Navigation systems that integrate real-time traffic information are valuable in saving time, fuel, and maximizing driving range with their ability to reroute around traffic jams and construction projects.

REAR BACK-UP CAMERA: Now found on a wide range of vehicles, a view to the rear is shown in a dashboard display or rear-view mirror when a driver shifts into reverse, often including grid lines depicting a driver’s angle of approach and relative distance from nearby vehicles or objects. Audible warnings are provided when objects are too close or a potential collision with an object, vehicle, or pedestrian is detected.

REAR PARK ASSIST: At low speed while in reverse, sensors detect objects and a potential collision, providing a warning brake pulse and then bringing your vehicle to a stop.

SURROUND VIEW CAMERA: This technology uses multiple cameras strategically positioned on a vehicle to provide a ‘birds’-eye’ perspective of the vehicle and its immediate surroundings.

A new venture by General Motors and start-up company BrightDrop is now producing all-electric EV600 delivery vans that address the need for zero-emission deliveries. So named to highlight the electric commercial van’s 600 cubic feet of enclosed cargo space, the EV600 features an available payload of 2200 pounds and a substantial maximum gross vehicle weight rating of 9900 pounds. With an overall wheelbase just over 150 inches and a  length of 288 inches, the EV600 is large enough for commercial delivery use but also well-sized for city maneuverability. This heavy hauler is also prepared for all driving conditions with its all-wheel-drive traction.

The van’s space-efficient packaging places its 20 module GM Ultium battery below the vehicle’s flat load floor so there is no infringing on cargo space. Ultium is the advanced generation battery developed by GM that will power all of its future EV products and is now being used in the GMC Hummer EV. GM estimates the EV600 will deliver up to 250 miles of range on a full charge. As with most electric vehicles, the BrightDrop 600 can capture lost energy through a regenerative braking system during deceleration and stop and go traffic. Charging via a 120 kW DC fast charger provides up to 170 miles of electric range in just an hour.

EV600 comes with a standard cargo area security system and motion sensors that can alert a driver to shifting cargo loads. The bulkhead between the driver/passenger features an autolocking door and the cargo bay features a large sliding door for easy access. Interior lighting is provided by energy efficient LED lights.

Recognizing that visibility in a panel van can be challenging, the EV600 features an optional HD surround vision system using multiple cameras around the van to give the driver a birds-eye view of the area surround the EV600. A 13.4-inch LCD infotainment screen is provided. Advanced driver assist systems include automatic emergency braking and forward collision alert, along with front pedestrian braking, front and rear park assist, and optional blind zone steering assist.

Fleet managers will appreciate the ability to remotely locate and track the EV600 through GPS, with the added capability of remotely locking, unlocking, starting, and stopping the EV600. Overall, BrightDrop offers a well thought-out product line that’s enhanced with BrightDrop powered pallets, which enable an individual delivery driver to efficiently move heavy cargo at the delivery site. The EV600 comes with a 36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and 8-year 100,000 electrification warranty.

The EV600 is now in limited production with large-scale manufacturing slated to move to GM’s CAMI Assembly Plant in Ingersoll, Canada later in 2022. This electric delivery van will no doubt become a common sight on public roads soon since the first batch of EV600s has been delivered to FedEx in time for holiday season deliveries.

It seems we’re well past the tipping point for electric cars now, 25 years after GM’s groundbreaking but short-lived EV1 electric car made its way to the highway. Back then, after daily life with an EV1 during a year-long test and then watching it sadly leave on a flatbed for parts unknown, I knew well the future potential that modern electric vehicles would hold. In the decades since then, automakers have committed to huge investments in expanding their EV offerings, suppliers have stepped up with new innovations,  and consumers are now interested like never before. Plus, of course, some serious government regulation and incentives are driving the electric car field ahead in ways that only government can.

But there are challenges ahead. It isn’t enough that far better electric cars are being built today with compelling features, attractive designs, and desirable performance and range. Many other elements must fall into place for electric vehicles to become the success story we all hope will come to pass, so addressing key inhibitors of an electric feature is crucial. Let’s take a look at the top 5 reality checks that are top-of-mind.

1) IT’S ALL ABOUT BATTERIES: Back in the 1990s when there was great excitement at the prospect of electric cars, there were also big questions. There was no battery front-runner, though there were many technologies and chemistries at play including advanced lead-acid, nickel cadmium, nickel-metal-hydride, sodium-sulfur, sodium-bromine, zinc-air, lithium-ion, and more. Still, choices had to be made so EV programs could move forward. Ultimately, advanced lead-acid won out for small vehicle programs and the first  generation of GM EV1s, followed by better and more energy-dense electric car batteries like nickel-metal-hydride and lithium-ion.

Today, nickel-metal-hydride and lithium-ion batteries are primarily used for hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery electric vehicles. Lithium-ion, or one of its cousins like lithium-polymer, is used for electric vehicles due to its greater energy density and thus longer driving range. However, lithium batteries are costly and additional challenges remain.

Of great concern are instances of thermal runaway issues and a limited number of spontaneous vehicle fires caused by lithium-ion batteries. Some Teslas have suffered from such battery fires, and GM can certainly attest to this unexpected challenge since it has been involved in a recall of all Chevy Bolt EVs made due to potential fire issues, to the tune of about $1.8 billion. Hyundai went through its own recall with the Kona EV for similar issues with its batteries.

Battery technology continues to improve and costs have gravitated downward in recent years, making the cost of building electric vehicles more reasonable, though still considerably higher than building internal combustion vehicles. Yes, there are substantial cost savings realized by owning and driving an electric vehicle. But to truly be a success, at some point there must be truly affordable electric vehicles for everyone to buy, and battery safety issues must be fully resolved.

2) WHERE TO CHARGE? The ideal location for electric vehicle charging is at home with a 220-volt Level 2 wall charger. All mainstream electric vehicles support this type of charging, plus significantly slower charging with a portable ‘convenience’ charger plugged in a standard 110-volt household outlet.

Charging up with a 220-volt wall charger is convenient and efficient, with a full charge typically coming in about 2 to 10 hours, depending on the vehicle being charged and the battery’s energy level when you plug in. Simply, if your battery shows 40 miles of range left, it will take considerably longer to fully charge than if 140 miles of range is shown. For convenience, electric vehicle owners typically plug in at home during the evening so there’s a fully-charged EV waiting for them in the morning.

EV owners living in apartments, condos, and elsewhere – including dense urban areas where there may be no garage – need other solutions. To a limited degree, this is being addressed with pay-for-use chargers in common areas or even dedicated outside chargers at assigned parking spaces. Public chargers are also being installed in increasing numbers in urban developments as part of a growing public charging network. In addition, the number of chargers provided at the workplace is seeing greater interest, allowing EV owners to energize their batteries while parked at work.

Charging away from home is becoming easier with a significant expansion of a public charging network by companies like Electrify America, ChargePoint, Blink Charging, EVgo, SemaCharge, Volta, and Tesla. Still, this is a relatively nascent effort with charging opportunities far eclipsed by the abundant and convenient opportunities to refuel gasoline vehicles. Plus, to offer the kind of charging most meaningful to drivers, public chargers must ultimately offer fast-charge capability that enables gaining an additional 80 or 100 miles of range in just 20 to 30 minutes, if an EV is fast-charge capable. This network is growing but far from adequate, especially if it’s to  keep pace with the large number of electric vehicles coming to our highways. Building out a nationwide network of fast chargers is costly since the investment for each is in the neighborhood of $100,000.

3) FOCUS ON THE GRID: Many electric vehicle enthusiasts and electric utilities are quick to point out that our existing electrical grid can adequately handle the charging needs of millions of EVs on the road. We’re not so sure. Plus, if the aspirations of EV enthusiasts come to fruition, there will be many more than just a few million EVs on the road in the future.

For years, certain areas of the country have experienced power outages as electricity demand outpaced grid capacity. Heat waves exacerbate this as air conditioning use soars, something made even worse in recent times with record-setting temperatures attributed to climate change. Given the trends pointed out by climate experts, these extraordinary heat waves are likely to increase.

To this point, the California Independent System Operator, which manages electricity delivered through California’s long-distance power lines, issued multiple Flex Alerts last summer. The Flex Alerts included a request for EV owners to charge in the morning and early daytime hours to avoid placing additional load on an already-overtaxed grid. While that request is counterintuitive to the long-held notion that charging EVs overnight is ideal since electrical demand lessens during overnight hours, it may make sense in a state like California that increasingly relies on renewable power as an important, zero-emission component of electrical generation. Simply, renewables like solar and wind-generated power wane at night.

Another challenge to a future of large-scale electric vehicle charging is the increasing frequency and scope that wildfires pose to the reliable delivery of electricity. In California, a long-time leader in encouraging electric vehicles, this could become a particularly vexing issue as the state continues to battle historic wildfires. Because downed powerlines have sparked numerous catastrophic fires here, the state’s electric utilities can – and have – preemptively initiated Public Safety Power Shutoffs that cut power to regions expected to experience high winds that could cause trees to damage electrical lines. No power, no charging.

Still, this doesn’t mean that an increasingly ‘smart’ grid can’t support large numbers of electric vehicles or that strategic, system-wide upgrades can’t be made to allow the grid to effectively deal with the challenges of wind, wildfires, and climate change. It does mean we should be aware of the potential for problems and make no assumptions, but rather plan far in advance to ensure that electric vehicle charging can be done consistently and won’t overwhelm the nation’s electrical grid in any way.

4) UNDERSTANDING EVS: Electric vehicles remain a very small part of today’s new vehicle market – perhaps 3% or so and growing – for a multitude of reasons. Among these are cost, the perception that a battery electric vehicle may not fulfill a driver’s varying needs, and a general hesitation to embrace what many perceive as an unfamiliar and unproved propulsion technology. When enough of your friends and neighbors are driving electric and others see how well EVs fit their driving needs, that’s all likely to change. But we have a long way to go.

There are more people today than ever who have a decent grasp of electric cars and how they work because of the much greater exposure these vehicles have in the general media. That said, there is a greater percentage that really have no clue. That must change if electric cars are to increase market share to the degree that people want and expect. EV education must happen at all levels, and fast.

New car dealers have a unique opportunity to share knowledge of electric cars with would-be buyers, especially if a dealership is committed to the cause and there’s a knowledgeable EV specialist on hand. While a new generation of automakers aiming to exclusively sell EVs have their educational and outreach strategy down, legacy automakers largely do not. Those coming to dealerships are generally prospecting for a new car purchase or lease, now or later. They want to compare models and features, sit behind the wheel, and take a test drive.

While more electric vehicle product is being offered than in previous years, most buyers will not gravitate toward them naturally. What better opportunity than to encourage a first drive of a new electric model? The experience will be enlightening for those who have never been behind the wheel of an electric, with the seamless driving experience and unexpected performance a likely surprise. Leaving a dealership with a greater understanding of electric vehicles and how they work will return rewards, whether in the short- or long-term.

5) IF YOU BUILD IT. THEY WILL COME: If you bet everything on a decision that may drive you past the point of no return, is it the right choice? That depends on the outcome, of course. It worked for Kevin Costner’s character Ray Kinsella in the film Field of Dreams, as he literally bet the farm on blind faith that forces beyond understanding would beckon folks to the baseball diamond in his Iowa cornfield. The movie was compelling and its emotional attraction undeniable. So, too, is the prospect of millions of zero-emission electric vehicles plying our nation’s highways.

We were able to relive Field of Dreams in 2021 as the Yankees and White Sox played a real-life game at a Major League Baseball stadium amid the cornfields, next to the Dyersville, Iowa diamond seen in Field of Dreams. And now we’re living with the very real prospect of an electric vehicle future, with many dedicated people, companies, and institutions focused on making it happen. Still, will that brand of faith work for electric cars?

Amid all the challenges, automakers new and old are betting their future – and possibly ours – that it will.

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, battery module, and chassis

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.

Controls, displays, 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. 

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.