With gasoline prices high and concern growing over the environmental and political consequences of our love affair with oil, automakers are touting the benefits of alternative-fuel vehicles -- and they're putting their motors where their mouths are. A new crop of cars that run on diesel, ethanol, natural gas and electricity are making their way to showrooms. But is a no-gas or low-gas car right for you?
We sorted out the benefits and cost savings of these alternative fuels in Who Needs Gas Engines? in the October issue of Kiplinger's Personal Finance. Then we hit the showrooms to find out exactly what vehicles are available -- or soon will be. Take a look at our slide show to get the lowdown on seven of our favorite finds, and what they mean for your wallet.
One of the most promising alternative fuels is diesel, especially as more stringent emission standards for diesel engines take effect in January 2007. Yes, petrodiesel comes from oil, but you can fill any diesel engine with biodiesel, made from soybean, corn or other vegetable oils. Unfortunately, there are only about 600 biodiesel filling stations, mostly in the Midwest.
So-called E85 has gotten a lot of media attention as a gasoline alternative. The blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline can be used in flex-fuel vehicles, which include many SUVs and trucks, and a few sedans, sold mainly by Detroit's Big Three carmakers. E85 isn't a panacea for our fuel woes because it's still expensive to produce and is sold at fewer than 1,000 filling stations, mostly in corn-growing midwestern states. E85 also has less energy than gasoline, so you sacrifice fuel economy.
Two breeds of alternative-energy vehicles are fueled by the same stuff that powers your home appliances. Natural gas is an extremely clean-burning fuel that comes mainly from the U.S. And electricity-powered cars are generating more interest. You recharge them by simply plugging them into a wall socket.