Oil-independent, one Hummer at a time
The Hummer H2 SUV is the kind of vehicle that demands attention. It also evokes a lot of opinions. Some look at its big, boxy shape and see beauty. Others think it is single-handedly responsible for both $3-per-gallon gasoline and global warming. But what would you say if someone told you it’s possible to have a Hummer that gets 60 miles to the gallon? Crazy, you say? And just in case you are thinking that the only way to get that kind of mileage out of a Hummer is to put in some kind of tiny hybrid motor that couldn’t get out of first gear, the version I’m talking about would have about 600 horsepower. That got my attention.This Hummer is one of the latest projects of Johnathan Goodwin, a kind of automotive savant from the plains of Kansas, whom you are likely to hear a lot more of very soon. I ran across two separate articles, in Fast Company magazine and CNN.com, about Goodwin’s company, H-Line Conversions, and his exploits to turn giant gas-guzzlers into fuel-efficient supermachines.Goodwin loves big cars, but he loves the planet, too. And he doesn’t see why we can’t have both. This self-taught mechanic who never attended high school has done what teams of highly trained engineers at the big car companies couldn’t. Maybe it’s because no one told him he couldn’t do it. For Goodwin’s first Hummer project, he replaced the gas engine with a specially tuned diesel one that could get 25 miles per gallon and run on regular diesel, biodiesel or even discarded cooking oil from a fast-food restaurant. Goodwin also designed the powertrain for a 1965 Impala for the MTV show Pimp My Ride. The engine produced 800 horsepower and would get 25 miles per gallon on biodiesel. When the Impala beat a Lamborghini in a drag race with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger looking on, the Governator immediately began talking to Goodwin about converting his Jeep Grand Wagoneer. That’s not his only celebrity project. Goodwin also is working on converting a 1959 Lincoln Continental owned by rock star Neil Young into a biodiesel hybrid that he hopes will get 100 miles per gallon. Goodwin’s latest Hummer project involves a hybrid powertrain, with a turbine engine to charge the batteries that power an electric motor. Goodwin wants the engine to run any type of fuel, be it biodiesel, gas, hydrogen, ethanol, whatever. His genius here is realizing while others are concentrating on one alternative fuel — biodiesel, hydrogen, ethanol — that the future likely is to be a mixture of many different fuel sources. Now, these toys that Goodwin plays with aren’t cheap. But most everything he uses comes from parts already produced by the big carmakers and could fairly easily be incorporated into production vehicles. The technology to produce vehicles with much higher fuel economy has been around for a while. I remember seeing detailed instructions for building your own hybrid car some 20 years before the first one ever rolled out of a factory. We have the ability in this country to cut our gasoline consumption by half. If we do that, we can tell all those countries we import oil from where they can stick it. Imagine what we could save if we didn’t need to protect our Middle East oil supplies anymore. A great way to drain the swamp of Islamic terrorism would be to stop buying the oil that funds that terrorism. It seems the only thing stopping us is the will to do it.There is an institutional inertia among the big car companies that resists change and keeps them building the same kinds of cars over and over again.The federal government shares that same inertia, and despite a few token gestures, we as a country remain committed to the oil economy.It’s time that changed. What Goodwin has proved is that you can have fuel efficiency without sacrificing size and power. Now all we need is a way to get the car companies to follow suit. Maybe we need to get a fleet of Goodwin’s monster machines and besiege the headquarters of the car companies until they acknowledge that they can do a lot better. Kirk Caraway is editor of nevadapolitics.com and also writes a blog on national issues at kirkcaraway.com.
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