The bulk of all car trips in the United States are less than seven miles. Everyone's got to get to work and run their errands, but when you think about all those little trips added together, that's a lot of time and money — a lot of gallons of gas wasted idling, a lot of carbon emissions thrown up to the sky.
Engineers, entrepreneurs and inventors are working feverishly on finding greener ways for you to cover that trip to the park and ride or the dry cleaner, whether by car, motorbike or electric bicycle. It's the holy grail of the alternative vehicle industry. After all, not everyone can cruise to work in a Tesla Roadster, and sometimes you just need to get your train station on time.
Follow the jump to check out 10 ways your ride to work could get greener in the next decade.
COST AND AVAILABILITY Under $30,000, hits the street in early 2010
WHAT IT IS Persu calls this hybrid three-wheeler an "Urban Life Vehicle." It's said to ride like a motorbike with the stability of a car. This two-seater goes from 0 to 60 in six seconds, tops out at 100 mph, and gets about 75 mpg. In all-electric mode, the range is 20 miles — perfect for going from home to the train station.
WHAT ABOUT MY STUFF Fold down the second seat and Persu says six bags of groceries can fit. They do recommend a spill-proof coffee cup, since the cupholder tilts, too.
2. Dynasty Electric Vehicles IT Sedan
COST AND AVAILABILITY $19,000, available now
WHAT IT IS Dynasty's Sedan is aimed at the "low-speed" electric vehicle (EV) market. It tops out at 24 mph — fast enough for city street driving, but not really suitable for highways — and its 30-mile range will keep it close to home. But the aluminum construction of this four-door, four-seater gives it the look and feel of a typical entry-level gas-powered car, just without the weight. And the Sedan is but one iteration of the same platform: The Sport (the Sedan with holes cut in the door), the completely doorless Tropic, the pickup-truckish Utility and the no-back-seat Van round out the whole line.
WHAT ABOUT MY STUFF The hatchback trunk helps, but don't expect to help friends with their moving unless you have a Van or Utility.
3. Eliica Electric Lithium Ion Car
COST AND AVAILABILITY $225,000, limited numbers could be on available over the next few years
WHAT IT IS This EV concept was created by engineers at Japan's Keio University. While the marriage of an eight-wheeled design to the aesthetic of a '60s British carmaker looks may be an acquired taste, the Eliica has come close to breaking speed records for combustion-engine cars, topping out at 230 mph. They're not looking for mass production, so opting for an Eliica means you'll never have trouble spotting your car in the parking lot.
WHAT ABOUT MY STUFF Sure it's got a trunk, but if you've got $225,000 for an Eliica, I'll bet the help already totes your shopping.
4. Miles Electric Vehicles X500
COST AND AVAILABILITY Around $40,000, and planned for later in 2009
WHAT IT ISThe team at Miles already imports a couple of smaller low-speed EVs — the SmartCar-like X40s and a small utility truck — from Chinese automakers, but the new X500 will have the looks and highway-ready top speed of 80 mph that you'd find in a typical intermediate-sized family sedan. Its battery technology has a 120-mile range. Miles expects to produce 9,000 X500s in next year, almost all of them in California.
WHAT ABOUT MY STUFF The five-passenger X500 can easily handle the kids and the dog, but like most EVs, you lose some space to the battery.
5. Mission Motors Mission One
COST AND AVAILABILITY $69,000, with the first 50 bikes being delivered by mid-2010
WHAT IT IS Not content with just looking sexy, the Mission One will also be the fastest electric sportsbike when it rolls off the assembly line. With a top speed of 150 mph, its electric motor also cranks out 100 foot-pounds of torque, topping anything in the gas-powered bike world. Range will be 150 miles on a single charge of its lithium-ion battery. Recharging time is 2.5 hours from any typical 220-volt outlet.
WHAT ABOUT MY STUFF Dude, it's a sportsbike. No add-on panniers have been designed yet, so get a backpack.
COST AND AVAILABILITY Available now for under $800
WHAT IT IS Commuters love folding bikes they can take on their bus or train; GoCycle goes one better by offering an electric version. Press the on-demand power button on the handlebars and the electric motor does the pedaling, getting you up to 15 mph. The truly lazy can go fully electric for up to 20 miles on a single three-hour charge. The three-speed CleanDrive chain is kept out of sight, meaning no smudgy pantlegs. And the bike fits into a 26 x 22 x 10-inch hard or soft case for storage.
WHAT ABOUT MY STUFF The rear luggage arm may look tiny, but it can carry a small carry-on bag.
7. Aerorider SPORT
COST AND AVAILABILITY Still prototyping, but hopes to be on the market in a few years
WHAT IT IS The SPORT is a tricycle with a pedal-assisted electric motor. Back in the old days, we called that a moped, but this looks a hell of a lot cooler. Top speed is 20 mph, and you need to work for it. But you can use dedicated bike lanes in many jurisdictions, and since you're enclosed in the cockpit, the bike commuter's issue of bad-weather-meets-important-meeting-suit is a thing of the past. And its low center of gravity and full suspension provide extra stability, too.
WHAT ABOUT MY STUFF Bicycle baggage limits apply, but they can be kept out of the elements, just like the rider.
8. Myers Motors NmG
COST AND AVAILABILITY Available now at less than $30,000
WHAT IT IS Saved from the design scrap heap in the early 2000s, this three-wheeled EV is a true commuter vehicle, with room for only one. But with a top speed of 75 mph, the
NmG ("No more Gas"...get it?) is highway-ready. And since it's "footprint" is like a motorcycle's, you can split traffic lanes and park virtually anywhere. Still, with its bulbous looks, you may get asked just how many clowns are in there.
WHAT ABOUT MY STUFF Leave it at home. You can stow a briefcase and maybe a shopping bag in the space behind the driver's seat, but that's it.
9. Phoenix Motorcars SUV
COST AND AVAILABILITY $45,000, launch has been delayed but should roll out in 2010
WHAT IT IS If you listen to the Big 3 carmakers, they'll tell you Americans aren't ready to drive Smart cars, even for short trips. So Phoenix Motorcars' SUV gives you the size you want with the power you expect, at a small premium over a similar gas-powered SUV but with zero emissions. It seats four — the smaller end of the SUV spectrum — but its drivetrain, powered by a lithium-titanate battery, gets you up to 95 mph. This EV's range is 130 miles, with a 10-minute recharge time.
WHAT ABOUT MY STUFF Tons of room. You'll look great pulling up to Whole Foods for a month's worth of groceries.
10. MDI AIRPod
COST AND AVAILABILITY Available this spring; no pricing yet
WHAT IT IS MDI's green commuter three-wheeler runs on an electrically powered compressed-air system — no battery and a smaller "engine," which keeps your AIRPod light on its feet and devotes all that extra space to passenger room. The upsides include 3-minute air tank charging time, compared to hours for the best battery-powered systems. And the decompressed air "exhaust" can serve as air conditioning, too; a 20-minute exposure will freeze you. You drive with a joystick, which may make you feel like the AIRPod is the latest Wii controller.
WHAT ABOUT MY STUFF Spaciousness in a tiny package is AIRPod's raison d'être. It claims to seat "3+1" — three adults and a child — as well as their luggage.