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A couple weeks ago, 59 judges from 25 countries at the New York Auto Show decided that the best car in the world isn’t the Prius or the Smart car.  No, they went with the good quality German engineering of the VW BlueMotion Polo Mk5.

VW Polo

Do you think Ralph Lauren drives one of these?

Wait, blue what?  Yeah, that’s what I thought.  If you don’t know about VW’s BlueMotion series, which took home the Best Green Car award, don’t feel bad; none of the cars are available in the United States, the country with the second highest carbon emissions in the world.

Volkswagen introduced the BlueMotion line of cars in 2006 and has been consistently producing more cars with the technology.  The lineup now includes models of the Polo, the Golf, and the Passat.  The idea behind the name?  Combine VW’s corporate color with an action that cars tend to do.  The idea behind the technology?  Increase fuel efficiency.

Most of the BlueMotion cars use a 1.3-liter three-cylinder Turbocharged Direct Injection (TDI) diesel engine that gets 60 mpg and emits 102 grams of CO2 per kilometer.  The new engine (that was in the winning Polo) has a 1.6-liter engine that achieves 62 mpg.  There are other reports of higher gas mileages and lower emissions, but because the series is not in the United States, there are no official EPA numbers.

Of course, one does not win international competitions on engines alone (or even SMV competitions, for that matter).  In addition to revamping the engine with diesel particulate filters and oxidizing catalytic converters, VW lengthened the last two gear ratios on its transmission.  The bodies of the BlueMotion cars have also been updated with revamped spoilers, lowered suspensions, and more aerodynamic undercarriages.  The result?  A car that beat one of the most popular green cars in the world: the Toyota Prius, which gets about 50 mpg and emits 88g CO2/km according to the EPA.

Toyota Prius

Move over, Mr. Hybrid. Clean diesel cars are coming to town.

“It is not necessary to add an electric motor and a heavy battery pack to achieve class-leading efficiency,” one judge said.  “Based on Volkswagen’s common-rail diesel engines, the BlueMotion models are among the most fuel-efficient vehicles on the market. In fact, the Passat BlueMotion can travel just about 1,000 miles on one tank of fuel in the European cycle. As far as internal combustion engines go today, these models are the ultimate you can get.”

1,000 miles on a tank?  Sign me up.  Volkswagen has recently talked about bringing the BlueMotion cars to the United States, although I’ve yet to find an exact timeline or other info.  Their reluctance to bring these cars to the US market (which is certainly hungering for environmentally-friendly cars) is likely due to our preconceived notions of diesels.  Rather than super-efficient small vehicles, we tend to associate diesel engines with huge, powerful trucks spewing black exhaust.  Audi has been trying to combat this image by marketing their clean diesel technology (remember the green police?) and perhaps they can help clear the path for the BlueMotion lineup.

When I nearly got mowed down by a silent Prius the other day, I just had to think of this.  Sorry the quality’s not so great, but maybe it will give you some ideas for any street fights/duels you happen to get into over the weekend.

In all seriousness, the Prius and other EVs and hybrids do pose a concern to those with vision problems, the blind, and children, like this boy who biked into a hybrid a few years ago.  While several solutions to this downfall have been proposed, none seem to have been adopted.  Of course, Toyota has bigger fish to fry with the Prius.

For those of us who have the ability to do so, let’s try to remember: look both ways before bopping across the street, especially in Prius-saturated areas.

It heats the planet, tans our skin, and makes us squint when there’s too much of it.  Yup, I’m talking about the sun, and when it comes to turning it to fuel, there is no easily reachable conclusion.  Can solar energy be used to power cars?  Sure thing.  Is it extremely practical?  Not so much, but that doesn’t mean we can rule out solar-powered vehicles yet.  Take a look at these videos to get a feel for what I’m talking about.

This gives a brief overview of a solar car from ETS in Montreal.  If you thought your car was expensive, think again; this car has a price tag of $700k.

Here’s a car from the University of New South Wales, Australia that competed in the Global Green Challenge down under.

And if you thought you were living sustainably, you might want to think again after seeing this guy!

So what have these videos shown?  Solar powered cars are definitely a possibility.  However, their expensive price tags and limited capabilities mean that such technology maybe isn’t very practical for the roadways.

Of course, there are ways of incorporating the use of solar energy into cars.  There’s been talk of Toyota introducing a Prius with solar panels to give the hybrid a 15km energy boost.  Some Prius models already have a solar panel on the sunroof, which helps out the car’s ventilation system.  And students around the world work hard to compete in various solar car competitions, hopeful to develop new technologies that will make commercial solar cars more than a pipe dream.

And solar power itself seems to have great potential.  After all, it’s renewable energy that’s already shining down on everything anyways.  While it might not make sense at this point to cruise around in a solar-powered car, it certainly might not be a bad idea to put up some solar panels on your house or garage.

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