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The motor car is a handy device to have around but one which is polluting and profligate of natural resources, not only in the fuel it consumes but also in the raw materials and energy needed to construct and maintain it. Some experts argue that the car has reached a design plateau and that the only way to make significant improvements to its efficiency is to radically rethink it.

This has led to the concept of the hypercar, a term invented and popularised by the futurist Amory Lovins and his Rocky Mountain Institute. It has been much in the news recently because the concept is discussed at length in a report to the Club of Rome which he has co-authored. The hypercar would be made of ultralight plastics, be heavily streamlined, and would have a hybrid propulsion system in which fuel is burnt to generate electricity that drives the motors. The motors would also be used in regenerative braking as generators to claw back some of the energy that would otherwise be lost.

Amory Lovins claims that putting these improvements together could make the hypercar about ten times as efficient as cars are now, so it could in theory cross the United States on one tankful of fuel. The word is formed from car by prefixing the Greek hyper-, meaning “over, beyond, above measure”, which is now a common superlative prefix.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.

Page created 07 Jun 1997