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Event aimed at revving up attention for efficient cars

Car dealers and owners promote the benefits of hybrid cars that use engines powered by gasoline as well as electricity.

Car dealers and owners promote the benefits of hybrid cars that use engines powered by gasoline as well as electricity.

November 11, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Up to 70 people gathered at an event in Shepherdstown Sunday designed to bring more attention to so-called hybrid or "green" cars that are engineered to release fewer pollutants and increase fuel efficiency.

While Japanese automakers Honda and Toyota are pushing ahead with hybrid cars that get up to 18 miles per gallon more than their gasoline-powered models, the concept has stalled with some American automakers, officials at the hybrid car demonstration said Sunday.

"The technology is there and they're not really responding," said Toby Pierce of Shepherdstown.

Pierce was part of a group of local residents who organized "Go the Extra Mile," where people in Shepherdstown and across the country sought to bring attention to the issue of car fuel efficiency.

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Pierce and others in attendance are concerned about global warming, which scientists believe is partly being caused by the burning of gasoline in cars and trucks.

Japanese car makers have been able to cut down on gasoline consumption because their hybrid cars are powered by a combination of gasoline and electricity.

During the event, Pierce and other local residents showed the public their hybrid cars. A representative from Younger Toyota in Hagerstown and Hagerstown Honda were also at the event to show the hybrid cars offered by their automakers.

The performance of hybrid cars, like the hybrid Honda Civic, is creating excitement among car owners.

While the gas-powered Honda Civic gets 30 miles per gallon in city driving, the hybrid model gets 48 miles per gallon, said Brett Swain from Hagerstown Honda. On the highway, the traditional Civic gets 38 miles per gallon while the hybrid gets 47 miles per gallon, Swain said.

The hybrid Honda Civic sells for between $20,000 and $21,000, depending on whether the customer selects a five-speed or an automatic transmission, Swain said.

Pierce showed passers-by his gray Toyota Prius. The car uses a computer system that switches back and forth between the gas engine and the electric motor to obtain optimum fuel efficiency, Pierce said.

When Pierce started the car, the gas engine was engaged. After a few minutes, the gas engine shut off and the car switched to the electric motor.

Not a sound could be heard from the engine compartment while the electric motor was engaged.

Pierce said there are a lot of misconceptions about hybrid cars, including that they have to be charged with an electric cord.

There are no such requirements associated with the cars, and their acceleration rates are no different than other cars, owners said.

"All of the kinks have been worked out of the system, pretty much," Pierce said.

Another reason the Shepherdstown event was held was to show support for the National Religious Partnership on the Environment, an organization of churches that is concerned about global warming issues, Pierce said.

By the end of the month, the national organization plans to go before major U.S. automakers in Detroit to put pressure on them to do more in the development of hybrid cars, Pierce said.

Although the HowStuffWorks Web site says most automakers have announced plans to offer hybrid cars, the process has been slow with at least three automakers, said car dealer Rob Silar from Younger Toyota in Hagerstown.

The carmakers began developing the hybrid car concept, but they stopped and no product has been released, Silar said.

At one point, between 60 and 70 people came to the event, Pierce said. One couple that was from Baltimore drove their hybrid car up to the event not knowing what was going on, said Susan Walter, who helped organize the event.

The couple left their car at the event for people to view while they visited the downtown area, Walter said.

"People are really very interested in the energy issues," Walter said.

"Go the Extra Mile" events were held in 20 other states Sunday, Pierce said.

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