Fusion-Hybrid-Responder_03-4x3.jpgFord Motor Company

If you're the getaway driver, seeing the cops coming after you in a fleet of hybrids may be a reassuring sight. What, they're gonna chase me down in those things? But, as the triumphant officers will surely tell you as you sit in your cell, pairing an electric motor with a petite gasoline engine doesn't just make a car eco-friendly. It can make it faster off the line, not to mention more comfortable, and practical for police purposes.

Ford's betting the advantages of hybrids are enough to convince cops around the country to buy its new Police Responder Hybrid Sedan—the first ever "pursuit rated" hybrid. To earn its badge, this beefed up Fusion braved speed and handling trials, raced over 8-inch curbs, blasted through a railroad crossing at 30 mph, sprinted and screeched to a halt.

It got through it all thanks to a series of upgrades. Ford's police vehicle engineering team added a heavy duty suspension, extra cooling, and ditched fancy alloys for basic wheels and hubcaps. They played Santa's elves with the police wish list: Bullet proof doors. Front seats anti-stab plates, and slim side bolsters, to better fit officers wearing equipment belts. A wipe clean rear seat. A pre-drilled hole in the windscreen surround for a spotlight.

Fusion-Hybrid-Responder_04-InLine.jpgFord Motor Company

Despite all the heavy enhancements, the cruiser delivers 38 miles to the gallon (the standard Fusion Hybrid does 42), compared to the current Police Interceptor's 18 mpg.

"Patrol vehicles are a police officer's office," LAPD chief Carlie Beck said in a statement. "We expect them to not only be economically and environmentally efficient but also an effective tool for fighting crime in major metropolitan areas."

The Responder Hybrid Sedan runs a two-liter engine coupled to an electric motor. The car can run in electric-only mode up to 60 mph (for short periods), useful for quiet patrolling. But when the driver mashes the accelerator, the car's computer dials in "pursuit mode," firing up the gas engine and reconfiguring vehicle systems to deliver maximum performance. Engineers retuned the regenerative braking to aggressively charge the battery whenever the vehicle slows, so that there's always some charge left for the next acceleration boost.

Ford has been making cop cars since the 1920s, and its Crown Victoria reigned supreme for years. But competitors have grabbed chunks of the market—notably Dodge with the Charger—and the automaker sees the hybrid as a way to stay competitive. Each hybrid car could save police $3,800 a year in fuel. Regenerative braking reduces brake wear, and because the engine isn't always running, you don't need to change the oil so often. Plus, there's the question of comfort. A 10-hour shift spent sitting in a car gets way nicer if the vehicle isn't idling and vibrating the entire time. Plus, less time at the pump means more time at the donut shop.

And for the folks who mock the Left Lane Prius, crawling along at 50 mph on the freeway, there will be a brutal irony in being chased and pulled over for speeding around it by an officer in a hybrid.

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Tesla-4x3-Model-3-unveil.jpgTesla

When does a six second video send the car and tech communities into a frenzy? When it's posted by Elon Musk, and it shows his long-gestating new baby, the Tesla Model 3, peeling away from a standstill under heavy acceleration before braking to a hard stop 100 feet up the street.

What makes this clip—grainy, short, stripped of context—so interesting? The same reasons that pushed rabid fans to mock up an online configurator, the automotive equivalent of fan fic. For one, Tesla has revealed close to zilch about the car since showing it off as a prototype a year ago, even though production should start this summer. And two, this is the most anticipated—and most important—vehicle the upstart automaker will ever build.

Starting at $35,000 ($27,500 if you can land the federal tax credit) and offering 215 miles of range, the Model 3 is Tesla's bid for the mass market, the car that could move it out of the luxury segment and realize Musk's dream of changing how humanity moves.

So, with a few months before production is supposed to start, here's a look at what we know about the current state of the Model 3—and when you can get your zap-happy paws on one.

First drive of a release candidate version of Model 3 pic.twitter.com/zcs6j1YRa4

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 24, 2017

First, a closer look at that tweet. Musk captioned the new video, "First drive of a release candidate version of Model 3," indicating the on-screen star is pretty much ready for sale, but might need some bugs ironed out. So, good news: The Model 3 looks just like the sleek, handsome prototype Musk revealed on stage last year (at least from the outside). That's unusual; in the real world, regulations and production restrictions tend to kill off design flourishes. Compare the similarly affordable, long-range Bolt EV to the concept Chevy showed in 2015: Gone are the heavily raked windshield, grille-free front bumper, and wrap around rear window. The car looks more 'normal'.

Now, in the non-Tesla world, car development is a slow process. Engineers typically work through alpha and beta prototype phases, where technicians assemble vehicles by hand. They wait to fine-tune the heavy machinery that stamps out body parts in case they need to modify the design. By calling this a "release candidate," Musk implies the car was assembled on finalized equipment, meaning Tesla might be skipping some steps, and speeding through the process. No surprise, given Musk's focus on production line improvements, and disdain for the "traditional way" of doing things.

"My reading is that Tesla felt confident in the shape and design of their parts, so they can go ahead and invest in the heavy duty machinery," says Arthur Wheaton, an auto industry expert at Cornell University. That could signal smooth sailing, or it could be resignation on Tesla's part—a recognition that it can't afford a delay, so it's just going to press ahead with the design it has and hope for the best.

So, when can you get one? Musk has pledged Tesla will begin production of the Model 3 mid-year, and deliver cars to customers before the end of 2017. That's an aggressive target, especially for a car company with a long history of missing deadlines by months or even years. Even today, owners of the latest Model S and X cars are waiting for a software update to enable updated Autopilot features Tesla promised would be ready three months ago.

Tesla has also built a reputation for quality control issues. Future-hungry early adopters might put up with wobbly seats and poor panel gaps, but down market buyers, whom Tesla must now woo away from BMW, Chevrolet, and the like, won't forgive flaws so easily. Wealthy Model S and X owners probably have another car in their garage to fall back on, Model 3 owners likely won't, which will only exacerbate their frustrations if their new ride spends half its life at the service center.

Musk knows all this, and has a strategy: simplify everything to make production easy. The Model 3 might look like a shrunken Model S, but Tesla is stressing that under the skin it's a different kind of machine, and it has got this car building thing sorted out now. That's why the new car has just one screen, instead of the two in the S and X (each with their own computer). The S has nearly two miles of electrical cabling, the 3 has half that. Tesla nixed the automatic pop-out door handles and jettisoned the falcon wing doors that led the Model X into what Musk calls "production hell."

"It's a simpler design, and we also understand manufacturing a lot better than we did in the past," Musk said during a recent call with investors. He says the first cars will be rear wheel drive only, to keep things simple in the factory. If you want all wheel drive, or high performance versions, you'll have to wait an extra six months to a year. Not to say the Model 3 won't have any fun. It will carry the hardware for Autopilot and self-driving, as well as supercharging, but Tesla is yet to reveal how much those features will add to the base price.

Say the first vehicles off the line have some problems. That's cool, because they're all going to Tesla employees, for an unofficial, continued search for bugs, particularly any that can be fixed with an over-the-air software update. For all other Model 3 fans, a combination of patience, speculation, and obsessive watching of Elon Musk's Twitter feed will have to be enough for now.

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Trucks4x3_soicmol201428-03_300dpi.jpgSiemens AG, Munich/Berlin

Electric trucks offer all the advantages of electric cars, namely, they're greener. Trucks are a big source of the noxious emissions linked to smog and climate change. Minimizing the number of stinky, dirty diesels rumbling through town carries obvious public health benefits. But powering delivery trucks, let alone an 18-wheeler, with a big honkin' battery simply isn't practical. So engineers are taking another look at a century old solution: Stringing electrical cables over the road.

Siemens, best known in the transportation world for its trains, and the truck manufacturer Scania developed a hybrid electric truck that draws power from overhead cables like a bus or trolley. You can find some of the trucks undergoing testing on a 1.25-mile stretch of highway in Gävle, Sweden, and crews installing cables alongside a stretch of the 710 and 405 highways in Los Angeles.

Although the idea seems odd, it offers some advantages. Experts expect the amount of freight carried by road to climb 200 percent by 2050. That presents some challenges, not the least of which is rising fuel costs, and the environmental and health risks of all that CO2, NOx, and other pollutants. Electric propulsion addresses those issues (Yes, yes, electrical plant emissions. Still, cleaner.) But range? Recharge time? Forget about it.

Trucks4x3_soicmol201428-05_300dpi.jpgSiemens AG, Munich/Berlin

"These trucks are pretty heavy, and need significant amounts of energy, which still isn't available through battery technology," says Stefan Goeller, head of railway electrification at Siemens.

And so, overhead cables. In the Scandinavian trial, an extendible power coupler called a pantograph on the roof links the truck to lines strung along the right lane, providing a solid connection. Should the driver want to pass a slowpoke ahead, activating the turn signal retracts the pantograph, and the truck moseys along on diesel power. The onboard battery is a wee little thing with just 5 kilowatt-hours, compared to the 60 kilowatt-hour pack in the Chevrolet Bolt, that's good for less than 2 miles of range. The power regenerating during coasting and braking doesn't go back to the battery, it goes back through the pantographs into the grid.

The benefits of this technology are most evident in trucking corridors through cities—around ports and such. That explains the trial runs near the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Trucks rumbling through those areas make 35,000 schlepping stuff off the boats from China. That creates a lot of filth. "Emission rates from trucks can be 10 to 100 times higher than that from passenger vehicles," says Max Zhang, an engineer at Cornell University. "This is a really good idea to alleviate hotspots."

You'll see even bigger benefits in areas, like California, with renewables in the electrical generation mix. As a bonus, the trucks are quieter. The obvious downside? It's an eyesore. Stand at a busy intersection in, say, San Francisco, or any other city with electric trains and buses and you'll an ugly web of wires overhead. You can see people making a stink. Beyond that is the time and expense of installing the lines. But Goeller still sees a place for overhead power. "What we see quite often in our industry is that one technology never covers it all," he says.

He may be right. India and China in particular are eager to reduce urban air pollution, and more than 200 cities in 10 countries in Europe have all but banned older, dirtier truck engines from many parts of town. It may well be that the future of transportation lies in an idea from its past.

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