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All about green cars - and not just expensive ones
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By Marni Pyke | Daily Herald Staff

Tesla's two-seater sports roadster


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Published: 8/1/2010 12:02 AM

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I love how my Tesla goes from 0 to 60 mph in less than 4 seconds. All right, technically, it's not my Tesla since it costs $109,000, but it was for 15 minutes Friday.

I had a chance to test-drive the all-electric car, courtesy of Tesla Store Chicago. The two-seater sports roadster resembles a vintage Porsche with one big exception - it runs on a 990-pound battery with a 245-mile range per charge.

It's an odd experience driving a car with a single-speed gearbox, meaning you don't feel the gears shifting, but it's easy to get used to. The Tesla has a regenerative brake system that kicks in when you ease off the accelerator, which slows down the vehicle eliminating the need for excessive pumping.

And the 0 to 60 feature? As good as a roller coaster.

Tesla's coming out with a sedan priced around $50,000 in 2012 with similar features - I can just see the acceleration factor coming into play at the mall parking lot.

Typical buyers range from collectors to sports car fanatics to people who want an alternate fuel vehicle, Tesla Store Chicago General Manager Dustin Krause said.

And speaking of green cars, General Motors announced this week the Chevrolet Volt - its much-awaited electric car - goes on sale this fall with a $41,000 base price.

The four-door Volt, runs on electricity for up to 40 miles when a gas generator kicks in, powering the battery for another 300 miles.

Consumers can cut the cost with a $7,500 federal tax credit, which also applies to the Volt's competitor, the $32,780 Nissan Leaf, set to debut in December and the Tesla. Both GM and Nissan offer $350-a-month leases.

But Illinoisans shouldn't expect to drive off with a Volt in 2010. The car won't be sold here for at least 12 months.

And what about the vast majority of us, who want to drive green but don't have the cash for a $41,000 car?

Argonne National Laboratory's Don Hillebrand, a mechanical engineer, has got some picks.

For starters, he recommends looking at diesel vehicles manufactured by the likes of Volkswagen, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The Volkswagen Golf two-door hatchback starts at $17,620, for example, and gets 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway.

To figure out the fuel economy of a diesel engines, "take whatever vehicle you have and add 30 percent," said Hillebrand, Argonne Center for Transportation Research director and a former Chrysler research manager.

Then, there are hybrids. Hillebrand likes the Toyota Prius.

"As hybrids go, it's still a generation ahead," he said.

But other hybrids he recommends include the Ford Fusion, which starts at $19,695, and the Honda Insight.

When choosing an alternate fuel vehicle, "it all comes down to what you do," Hillebrand said. "If you live in Peoria and commute, get a diesel. If you live in the city and commute within the city, buy a Prius. And if you've got a set commute with not many places to go and a garage to charge a vehicle - you might want an electric vehicle."

If you're looking for more advice on green cars, check out the website

Flotsam and jetsam

• If you're a biker who's just been in a crash and need advice, the Active Transportation Alliance can help. The pedestrian and bicycling advocacy group set up a Crash Support Hotline that offers a sympathetic ear and legal referrals. The number is (312) 869-4357 or 869-HELP.

• Think twice when you're at a crosswalk. Gov. Pat Quinn signed a law last month that requires drivers to stop for pedestrians at all crosswalks, including those that are unmarked or without stop signs or lights. The previous law allowed motorists to yield or stop only when necessary.