Naperville show puts spotlight on green vehicles
By Hank Beckman For The Sun August 30, 2011 9:04PM
"It's not for an old man," says Reinhardt Warkenthien of Naperville (bottom right) as he steps out of the Tesla Roadster on display at the Green Car Show in Naperville on Tuesday. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 30, 2011 12:23AM
About 150 area residents curious about the automotive future showed up Tuesday at the Naperville Test Track.
The office of U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Hinsdale) organized the Green Car Show, and anyone interested in alternatives to their gas-guzzling SUV was likely to find something to their liking.
“This is so important,” Biggert said in her opening remarks. “If we’re going to compete in a global economy, we have to have basic science and research and development.”
Biggert is chairwoman of the House Space Science and Technology Committee and spoke about the progress already made in advanced automotive research, saying it had moved “so fast.”
She also stressed the contribution of the private sector, saying “the private sector does it better.”
All types of electric and hybrid vehicles were on display, and after 4 p.m., visitors could sign up to test drive the vehicle of their choice.
Among the electric cars were the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf. Also at the show was the Navistar eStar, the all-electric truck already put in service by Federal Express.
Hybrid technology was represented by a number of vehicles, including the United Parcel Service’s hybrid delivery vehicle.
Those interested in an old school high-mileage approach could drive one of two Audi diesels.
In addition to the vehicles, Naperville’s Green Fuel Depot had a booth educating the public about the future of “syngas,” a type of fuel made from yard waste that can power engines and turbines.
Most involved with biomass fuels envision its initial use as providing power needs for farming communities. But with Naperville’s Green Depot scheduled to officially begin operation Oct. 27, more immediate needs can be filled right here in Naperville.
“It (syngas) could provide power needs for our municipal vehicles,” John Nowicki, vice president of Packer Engineering, said.
Biggert took a ride in the Navistar eStar truck, and came away impressed at the smoothness of the ride, saying she was happy being the rider, not the driver, of such a large vehicle.
“This is a great start,” Biggert said after her ride. “But we haven’t seen much about charging stations.”
In a particularly tough economy, Biggert said that finances for developing charging stations is an issue concerning the widespread use of electric vehicles.
“We don’t have any money right now,” she said, although she stressed that Gov. Quinn and private companies such as Walgreens have shown an interest in solving the problem.
Biggert also said that a key to the viability of electric vehicles was reducing the weight of batteries and improving range. “There are lots of pieces to the puzzle,” she said. “Financially, it’s not affordable for everybody.”
Related to the charging problem for electric vehicles is the issue of compatibility of the couplings used to charge electric car batteries.
While the United States, Europe, China and Japan had recently feuded over what type coupling device to use, they are beginning to adapt uniform standards.
“We helped develop the standards of safety (of the couplings),” Ted Bohn of Argonne National Laboratory said.
State Rep. Darlene Senger (R-Naperville) thought the event was impressive.
“Naperville is a community that’s pro-conservation,” she said. “This was a great way to say: ‘Here’s what we have to offer you.’”
The residents who attended the show seemed enthused by the possibilities, if sometimes a little put off by some of the prices on the alternative fuel vehicles.
Loren and Jane Buntrock and their friend Jim Wasson drove a Prius and came away impressed. But none said they would be buying soon.
Dale and Paula Janssen drove a Nissan Leaf.
“It was so much fun to drive — so smooth and responsive,” Paula Janssen said.