Drive Past the Gas Station With New Technology

Tired of emptying your wallet at the pump?

Three vehicles in the car industry's future—the hydrogen fuel cell, compressed natural gas, and plug-in electric car—could lessen fuel costs and tailpipe gases that contribute to air pollution and global warming.

Here, in order of the likelihood that you might see significant numbers of these vehicles on the road in the next five years, are closer looks:

Plug-in electrics
These cars will run on a battery-powered electric motor for up to 40 miles on one charge—a distance that covers the daily round-trip commute of more than 75% of Americans. The Chevy Volt also will have a small gasoline engine—but only for recharging the batteries once they begin to get low; it will not drive the wheels.

Cars like the Volt are not for everyone. In addition to the cost issue, a plug-in would work well only for an owner with a suitable commuting distance, schedule, and a garage or other convenient place to plug the car into a standard 110-volt outlet.

Compressed natural gas cars
U.S. natural gas supplies are plentiful, and the technology is already pretty well-demonstrated. Honda sells a limited supply of Civic GX compressed natural gas cars for around $25,000 that drive much like a gasoline-powered Civic. But the big issue is refueling; because of this, most natural gas cars have been sold in the past to state and local governments that had their own refueling stations.

And if your home already has a natural gas supply, you potentially could install a natural gas pump for a car.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles
A fuel cell uses a chemical reaction that produces electricity. This is the most innovative new technology, but also the furthest from producing large numbers of everyday vehicles. General Motors says it hopes to be selling fuel cell cars within a few years, but the fuel supply issue remains problematic.

It isn't yet clear when these models will be widely available, so right now, the best way to save on high gas prices for most people is to buy a smaller car with better gas mileage than their old vehicle.