An alternative fuel vehicle is a vehicle that runs on a fuel other than "traditional" petroleum fuels (petrol or diesel); and also refers to any technology of powering an engine that does not involve solely petroleum (e.g. electric car, hybrid electric vehicles, solar powered). Because of a combination of factors, such as environmental concerns, high oil prices and the potential for peak oil, development of cleaner alternative fuels and advanced power systems for vehicles has become a high priority for many governments and vehicle manufacturers around the world.
Hybrid electric vehicles such as the Toyota Prius are not actually alternative fuel vehicles, but through advanced technologies in the electric battery and motor/generator, they make a more efficient use of petroleum fuel. Other research and development efforts in alternative forms of power focus on developing all-electric and fuel cell vehicles, and even the stored energy of compressed air.
As of 2011 there were more than one billion vehicles in use in the world, compared with around 70 million alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles that had been sold or converted worldwide as of December 2011, and made up mainly of:
- 27.1 million flexible-fuel vehicles through December 2011, led by Brazil with 16.3 million, followed by the United States with almost 10 million, Canada (600,000), and Europe, led by Sweden (228,522). The Brazilian fleet includes 1.5 million flexible-fuel motorcycles sold since 2009.
- 17.5 million LPG powered vehicles by December 2010, led by Turkey with 2.39 million, Poland (2.32 million), and South Korea (2.3 million).
- 14.8 million natural gas vehicles by December 2011, led by Iran with 2.86 million, followed by Pakistan (2.85 million), Argentina (2.04 million), Brazil (1.7 million), and India (1.1 million).
- 5.7 million neat-ethanol only light-vehicles built in Brazil since 1979, with 2.4 to 3.0 million vehicles still in use by 2003. and 1.22 million units as of December 2011.
- More than 5.2 million hybrid electric vehicles have been sold worldwide by the end of September 2012, led by Toyota Motor Company (TMC) with more than 4 million Lexus and Toyota hybrids sold by April 2012, followed by Honda Motor Co., Ltd. with cumulative global sales of more than 1 million hybrids by September 2012, and Ford Motor Corporation with more than 200 thousand hybrids sold in the United States by June 2012. The world's best selling hybrid is the Toyota Prius, with 2.8 million units sold by October 2012. Sales are led by the United States almost 2.5 million units sold through September 2012, followed by Japan with almost 2 million hybrids, and Europe with more than 500,000 units.
- More than 530,000 plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) sold worldwide by December 2011. Most electric vehicles in the world roads are low-speed, low-range neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs), with about 479,000 NEVs on the road by 2011. The world's top selling NEV is the GEM, with global sales of 45,000 units through December 2010. The world's best selling highway-capable plug-in electric car is the Nissan Leaf all-electric car, with more than 21,000 units sold worldwide through December 2011, followed by the Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car, with global cumulative sales of more than 17,000 units through October 2011, and the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, with 8,272 units sold through December 2011 in the U.S. and Canada. The United States and Japan are the world's largest highway-capable plug-in electric car markets as of December 2011. Since December 2010, around 18,000 plug-in electric cars have been sold in the U.S. through December 2011, led by the Nissan Leaf (9,693 units) and the Chevrolet Volt (7,997 units). Since July 2009, more than 13,000 electric cars have been sold in Japan by November 2011, which includes more than 8,000 Leafs and 5,000 i-MiEVs.
An environmental analysis extends beyond just the operating efficiency and emissions. A life-cycle assessment of a vehicle involves production and post-use considerations. A cradle-to-cradle design is more important than a focus on a single factor such as the type of fuel.
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