cut up money

Automakers and fans of alternative fuel vehicles have been waiting for years for consumers to start rolling off dealer lots driving green cars. It is slowly starting to happen, with the number of vehicles that don't run exclusively on standard gasoline nearly doubling from 534,000 on US roads in 2003 to almost 940,000 in 2010, according to US Energy Information Administration. The numbers have only risen since then, and are expected to increase in the coming years – Pike Research is forecasting sales of hybrid and electric vehicles to nearly triple by 2017 when federal mandates for higher fuel economy vehicles take hold.

While wealthy consumers have been hanging out at Tesla Motors showrooms to consider buying the expensive Model S, some fleet managers are becoming more interested in buying alternative power vehicles as well. The environmental benefits are there, but the economic figures makes sense, too.

"The main reason we made the decision to transfer to an alternative-fuel fleet is to keep our carbon footprint as low as possible, but it's definitely helping the bottom line," Kelso Ingraham, operations and logistics manager at snack-food maker SunRidge Farms, told Terra. The company has saved 33 percent on fuel costs thanks to its hybrid electric vehicles.

Benefits making alternative fuel vehicles more attractive to fleets and consumers are federal tax incentives up to $7,500 per vehicle, decreasing sticker prices, record breaking gasoline prices, high mileage vehicles, access to carpool lanes and a growing fueling infrastructure. The number of vehicles is getting more diverse and numerous, too. This selection includes all-electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, hybrids, and natural gas, propane, clean diesel, hydrogen, ethanol, and biodiesel powered vehicles. If you're getting ready to do homework on lifecycle costs for alternative fuel vehicles, here's an "Alt-Buyers Guide":
  • US Department of Energy website offers a comprehensive overview of alternative fuels and vehicle options, case studies, reports, links to interactive maps and other resources.
  • FuelEconomy.gov offers mileage and cruising range information on most AFVs, including a simple cost calculator.
  • Consumer Energy Center and the Department of Energy site's laws and incentives section are good for researching tax credits, rebates and grants from federal and state agencies.
  • Check out AltFuelPrices for a map with AFV refueling and recharging stations that includes CNG, biodiesel, hydrogen and ethanol.