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With all the attention on EVs, we can forget that plug-in cars probably aren't the only answer for cleaner driving.

Not the only game in town

The day before California-based Tesla Motors was to unveil its upcoming Model X electric crossover SUV, shown here, I landed at at Los Angeles International Airport and took the wheel of a Natural Gas-powered Honda Civic, the car that would carry me to Tesla's big party.

My experience in the Honda Civic CNG, and a later conversation with an engineer at Toyota's U.S. headquarters, got me thinking. Why all this attention to a luxury-priced electric SUV -- and to electric cars in general -- and so little attention to other cars that could be reducing our dependence on gasoline?

The fact is, it isn't all about EVs. There are other "green car" options out there that have a role to play -- and in some cases a bigger role than the pure-electric plug-in car, for the foreseeable future.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells

One promising technology that Toyota has been pursuing is the hydrogen fuel cell. Fuel cells combine hydrogen gas with oxygen from the air to create a stream of electrons that can power electric motors. (They also create water as a by-product.)

But hydrogen gas isn't just floating around freely. It has to be made -- usually from either natural gas or water -- using electricity. So fuel cell cars are basically electric cars that use hydrogen, instead of batteries and wires, to move electricity from the power plant to your car.

The advantages are that it's much quicker to fill a hydrogen tank than to charge a battery and you can squeeze in more driving range, too.

The big downside is the fueling infrastructure. There just aren't too many places to fill up a hydrogen car. With a number of fuel cell models set to come to market in the next few years from several different automakers, it's hoped that energy companies will seize the opportunity and build more stations.

The Japanese automaker has been vocal in its lack of enthusiasm for pure electric cars. Still, like other automakers, Toyota will be putting out pure-electric cars soon. In one case, it will be a tiny, limited-range car intended only for fleets. In the other it will be an electric version of the Rav4 built in partnership with Tesla.

Electric cars have their place, Toyota says, but they still present too many limitations for the typical American driver.

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