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The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Hybrid & Alternative Fuel Vehicles
By Jack R. Nerad; Alpha Books (Penguin), New York City, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-59257-635-7; 207 pages; $14.95
(Reviewed By Tudor Van Hampton)

So you’re thinking about buying a green car, but the endless barrage of marketing, tax incentives and techno-babble leaves you spinning your wheels? Don’t worry, you are not alone.

Even a respected automotive journalist, Jack R. Nerad, has a tough time clearing the air over hybrids, electric cars, ethanol, biodiesel, natural gas and the yet-to-be-seen “hydrogen economy.” One conclusion he reaches is that a green car is like buying premium leather seats: The cost benefit is not always as apparent as the personal satisfaction. Alternatives to gasoline come with appealing benefits—clean air, energy security, efficiency—but they all depend on driving habits and the daily price of fuel. Given the right set of variables, hybrids may offer a payback. On another day, you could end up shelling out a few dollars for a guilt-free conscience.

Ironically, this dilemma mirrors the crossroads our world faced at the beginning of the last century, when cars ran on steam, electricity and petroleum. Gas and diesel engines have since made huge strides in emissions, performance and fuel economy, yet many of the alternatives still face the same problems that held them back 100 years ago.

New technology has thrust hybrids and biofuels into the limelight lately, and we may not be too far down the road from other alternatives, such as electric cars, smaller diesels, natural gas or “dual fuel” cars, as storage devices and distribution improve. Everyone has a favorite it seems, but Nerad provides a realistic and at times repetitive analysis of each.

Amid the confusion, one thing is clear: Gasoline prices are continuing to rise. As long as they do, petroleum will be joined by a host of other competitive fuels. Today is a good time to start studying up on them. Even a complete idiot can see that change is in the air.


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