If hybrid vehicles want to challenge the reigning gas guzzlers in a serious way, there are still a few areas where they could be a little more robust: namely, with their heating a cooling. Thermoelectrical concepts could help the vehicles here in a major way, as thermoelectric semiconductors allow both heating and cooling, depending on the flow of the car's electric current.
Big car companies including General Motors and Ford are already playing around with the idea. Today's hybrids still rely on small gas engines to keep going, and gas is also expended to power the car's air conditioning. Thermoelectric systems, in contrast, would be controlled by devices installed throughout the vehicle which use far less power and run off electric currents, and target individual areas — like the driver's seat, for example — to maintain a comfortable temperature there rather than throughout the car.
What's this mean for you and me? Thermoelectric systems are more efficient and would allow for smaller batteries and cut the cost of hybrid vehicles overall. We could see this tech in cars as soon as 2012 — gas guzzlers still rule the roads, but their days are numbered.