The crisis in the auto industry will create opportunities for some exciting innovations in the next 10 years or so.
For starters, there is the energy crisis. In truth, there has been an energy crisis since the early 1970s, only someone finally noticed. In the United States, those who could have helped end the crisis with an intelligent energy policy stuck their heads in the sand and hoped the thing would blow over. It didn't.
When Congress finally discovered the problem, it swung the pendulum too far in the other direction. So today the world is scrambling for new ideas and products that will help reduce the use of gasoline and open up opportunities for other forms of transportation.
Everyone knows about the Toyota Prius, now in its third iteration. It was the first successful gasoline-electric hybrid. It owns that market. But there are lots of hybrids on the market, and there will be plenty more.
General Motors Co.'s long-heralded Chevy Volt will be introduced to the public next year. It is an electrically driven car with a gasoline engine that generates electricity for the car's drive motor, not unlike the Electro-Motive trains GM manufactured for decades.
Plenty of new companies are popping up. Fisker will start production of a luxury plug-in hybrid in Finland next year. The car has enough design appeal that it turns heads wherever it is tested. Fisker has received a half-billion dollars in federal funds, most of which will be used for development of a second plug-in hybrid that will be built in the United States.
More minicars are on the way. The Smart, developed by Mercedes, will be joined by the Fiat 500 in the United States. And you can rest assured that the Asians will be right behind with similar vehicles.
We're bound to see some electric vehicles and hybrids that use diesel engines for even better fuel economy. And it won't be long before we see two- and three-cylinder engines being used for vehicles and charging systems.
It's an exciting time for the engineers who are developing all sorts of new engines and vehicles.
It will be even more exciting for consumers. They have never had so many choices.