The US Marine Corps and US Special Operations Command are now testing the "Shadow Reconnaissance Surveillance Targeting Vehicle" (Shadow RST-V for short). What makes this notable is that the Shadow RST-V is a diesel hybrid-electric, able to run in electric-only mode, hence making it a "full hybrid." It gets nearly three times the miles-per-gallon of the military version of the Hummer, and about twice the commercial Hummer mileage: 758 kilometers on 95 liters, or roughly 18 miles per gallon, vs. 8-10 mpg for the H2.
That the American military is testing a new stealthy recon vehicle is not particularly worldchanging. But think about American car culture: the military styling and legacy of the Hummer line is a key motivation for the many purchasers who want that alpha-monkey feeling. The same motivation would apply to the Shadow. A civilian version of the Shadow, stripped of armor and hardpoints and the sundry trappings that the military needs and civilians can't have, would be lighter and get better mileage, probably up into the low 20s. That's not revolutionary, but it is significant. Even more significant would be the "hybrid reframing," directly attacking the myth that hybrid cars are wimpy vehicles for greens & yuppies; that, more than anything, could be the key to making hybrid vehicle technology dominant.
Ahh, indeed! What a neat development. Hybrid technology makes all kind of sense for rugged off-road vehicles; internal combustion engines pretty much suck in situations requiring high torque at low speed. Electric motors, by contrast, work perfectly at low speeds, provided you keep them cool. I used to be involved in a couple of 4x4 clubs, and the amount of work people went through installing low-range gears, supplemental transfer cases, and custom axle gears is just amazing, all because they were trying to keep their gasoline engines running at a high enough speed to produce power and not stall. I always thought the better solution would be to leave the gearing intact for good highway performance, then bolt some electric motor onto the driveshaft, charge up a bank of batteries with the gas engine, and then use the electric motor to power the 4x4 through tricky obstacles while the gas engine idles. I never had the time, money, or engineering expertise to actually try it, but I'm happy to see the military is going that direction: I'd love to see the same technology applied to civilian SUVs.
Um... military vehicle fetishization just doesn't help, in so many different ways the mind reels. Admittedly alpha-monkey feelings are a challenge, but we need to come up with something better than a hummer, even hybrid, in every driveway and an Atkins genmod chicken in every pot. Let's talk consumerism, individual energy-guzzling transport strategies, macho aggression, militarization of the public sphere...