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$4 gas may be what it takes

Maybe this time around it’ll stick. Perhaps the shock of $4 and who-knows-how-much-higher gasoline and the knife it’s thrusting into the back of the U.S. economy will finally spur the determination and commitment necessary to begin freeing this country from the tyranny of imported oil.

It won’t be easy, and it’ll cost a whale of a lot more than had it been done 35 years ago when we were clubbed over the head by the Arab oil embargo.

It apparently will happen no thanks to our government, the leaders of which continue to bloviate endlessly about the problem but do little concrete to support programs that will help the average citizen make the transition to alternate forms of energy.

While Congress and the presidential candidates keep to their ineffective posturing about the problem and our scion of Big Oil president has a sudden (and mistaken) road to Damascus revelation that drilling offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are our salvation, private industry is committing money, manpower, and research toward more fuel-efficient, more practical vehicles, including gas/electric hybrids, plug-in hybrids, hydrogen, clean diesel, and other technologies.

As we in this country adapt to what citizens in Great Britain and Europe have had to cope with for decades (they were paying $4 per gallon back when our pump price was $1, and more recently as much as $15 per gallon), we’re grudgingly accepting that a monstrous SUV isn’t necessary for a trip to the corner grocery or to make a 5-mile commute to work, and that smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles will do the job.

Consider: Once mighty General Motors — asleep at the switch while Toyota, Honda, and other foreign manufacturers ate their lunch with well-made, fuel-efficient cars — has finally seen the light and is pouring money and effort into developing vehicles that make fewer stops at the gas pump.

GM continues to promise its snazzy plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt will go on sale in 2010. Its drive train will be totally electric-powered, and it will go 40 miles on a full battery charge from a 110-volt socket, using no gasoline and producing no emissions. Beyond 40 miles, it uses gas or E-85 fuel to charge the batteries. Mileage is said to be better than 100 miles per gallon, gasoline equivalent.

Meanwhile, the Japanese manufacturers are continuing to crank out gas-sipping hybrids (Toyota’s Prius is selling like hotcakes) and companies you never heard of are beginning to market a wide range of hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles for neighborhood or short distance use. Some are pretty snazzy, some kinda weird-looking, others downright ugly — but they use little or no gas.

And then there’s the ZPM (Zero Pollution Motors) car being developed by France’s MDI Group and India’s giant Tata Motors, that is powered by compressed air! Seats six, top speed 95 mph, 106 mpg equivalent, estimated cost about $16,000. It will be sold worldwide, with deliveries commencing in 2010 (check it out at

The seeds are being sown — finally — to allow the world to one day begin thumbing its noses at the oil sheikhs.

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