Drive for innovation

Car festival highlights environmentally friendly options to gas guzzlers

May 13, 2002|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

As sport utility vehicles and other gas guzzlers motored by on Key Highway yesterday, proponents of "green" technology showcased a new breed of automobile on Rash Field.

Some are small and spacey - like George Jetson's car but with wheels and a solar panel roof. Others, such as the Honda and Toyota hybrid-fuel vehicles on the market, won't stand out too much in parking lots.

The vehicles, on display today at a festival sponsored by the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, run on sun, hydrogen, electricity and even vegetable oil; the "greasecar" conversion system that Justin Carven sells uses old cooking oil thrown out by restaurants.

"You don't control industry, but you do control what cars you buy," said Nancy Hazard, director of Tour de Sol: The Great American Green Transportation Festival, which began in Baltimore yesterday. "Our goals are to educate people about green transportation options, why they are important and what kind of impact their decisions really have."

The biggest obstacle may be educating and enticing consumers to make more environmentally friendly decisions. When the 14-year-old festival and accompanying road rally arrived in Baltimore for the first time yesterday, it boasted more fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles available to the public than ever before - two by Honda and one by Toyota.

Organizers and participants at the festival seemed optimistic that more fuel-efficient vehicles will catch on, especially as manufacturers develop a larger variety of hybrids, including SUVs, trucks and minivans that run on a combination of gasoline and electricity.

"People have been waiting for a quality vehicle that is the size and shape they are looking for and also environmentally friendly," Hazard said.

SUV owner Patricia Martin of Woodlawn came to check out the hybrid Honda Civic introduced in March and Toyota's hybrid sedan, the Prius. Both get about 50 miles per gallon of gas.

"I'm very happy with it, but I don't like the mileage," Martin said of the Honda CRV she bought four years ago.

Others stumbled onto the festival while visiting the Inner Harbor for Mother's Day. Bill and Cathy Koch of Kent Island lamented that the selling price of the hybrid sedans remains higher than their all-gas-powered counterparts, even if they use less fuel and Maryland tax breaks are available.

"I'd have bought one by now if it wasn't so expensive ... to get away from the fuel pumps and the pollution," Bill Koch said. "If they perfect solar, I'd go solar in a heartbeat."

Work on solar-powered and other experimental vehicles is also being promoted through the festival.

Thirty vehicles, some made by high school and college students, will compete in the 350-mile electric vehicle road-rally championship that begins in Washington tomorrow and ends in New York on Saturday. On Wednesday, the vehicles - rated on fuel economy, low greenhouse gas emissions, reliability, range, acceleration and handling in the competition for three $1,000 top prizes and other awards - will stop for a festival at Sandy Point State Park.

The festival will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. today at Rash Field. On Wednesday, it will stop in Sandy Point State Park in Anne Arundel County from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

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