The car has come in for plenty of criticism in recent years. Dependency on fossil fuels, clogging up roads and being one of the leading causes of air pollution are all good reasons for choosing to ditch the car for two wheels or the train. But in rural areas where public transport is limited, getting out and about without a car isn’t always possible – or practical. In cities too, there are times when the trusty train simply can’t do the job.
So what’s the solution? As well as hanging on to your old car for as long as possible and car sharing, there’s a new breed of motor vehicles in town that offer a cleaner alternative to the traditional petrol fuelled car. Electric and hybrid vehicles can help significantly reduce the amount of fossil fuels you consume, and with the launch of Ecotricity’s network of renewable-energy powered charging points, if you’re clever about it, you can get around without ever having to resort to fossil fuels. What’s more, says Ron Freund, chairman of the Electric Auto Association, going electric offers value for money too.
‘Electric vehicles are significantly more efficient, converting stored chemical energy to motion much better than an internal combustion engine ever can,’ he says. ‘Internal combustion (sometimes called infernal combustion) is 20 to 21 per cent efficient, with most of the energy in gasoline lost to heat. Electric motors are much more efficient (60 to 70 per cent). I can generate my own electricity from rooftop solar panels and including all losses for electricity, the cost per mile to drive electric is much lower. I drive for less than two pence per mile. Actually, I drive on sunshine, so my cost per mile is free. Even with coal power, driving an EV destroys less of the planet than driving a gasser.’ So which electric car is for you? We asked Autocar editor, Jim Holder, to suggest five of the best.
‘The world’s first mass-produced fully electric car feels remarkably unremarkable to drive in,’ says Holder. ‘It has a 100-mile range and seats four. Perfect for the city commute.’
Find out more: www.nissan.co.uk
'Is it a bike or car? In truth, the Twizy (pictured left) is classed as a quadricycle,’ comments Holder. ‘The two-seater is fully electric, goes on sale later this year and stands out for its quirky design and compact dimensions that should make it great city transport.’
Find out more: www.renault.co.uk
‘Designed and engineered by Gordon Murray, who made hiss name creating world championship winning F1 cars and the era-defining McLaren F1 road car, this lightweight electric prototype is widely hailed for its low energy use and innovative manufacturing technique. It won last year’s Brighton to London Challenge, which pits electric and eco cars against each other, challenging them to cover the 67-mile route using the least energy. Trouble is, Murray still needs someone to buy the design and commit to putting it into production.’
Find out more: www.gordonmurraydesign.com
‘The standard bearing hybrid, which uses an electric motor to run short distances or to assist the petrol engine at times of peak use. Best of all,’ says Holder, ‘it doesn’t need a lengthy plug in at a power source, meaning it has all the practicality of a car powered by an internal combustion engine.’
Find out more: www.toyota.co.uk
‘Goes on sale imminently, and takes the hybrid theory a step further. The Ampera (pictured below) can be plugged in and charged, or it can use an onboard petrol engine to generate power to charge the battery. As a result it can run over medium distances on electric power but should the electric charge run down, you can switch on its engine and use petrol to replenish its supplies. This kind of electric car is widely tipped as the most practical solution to using less energy.’
Find out more: www.vauxhall.co.uk
Ian Allen’s top tips for greener driving
Along with choosing electric and car sharing, according to Vauxhall’s Ian Allen making small adjustments means that using the car doesn’t have to cost the Earth.
• Drive smoothly: anticipate as far ahead as possible to avoid unnecessary braking and acceleration.
• Step off the accelerator: when slowing down or driving downhill, remain in gear but take your foot off the accelerator as early as possible. This reduces fuel flow to the engine to virtually zero.
• Slow down: avoid excessive speeds when possible. Driving at 85mph is against the law and uses approximately 25 per cent more fuel than 70mph.
• Check tyre pressure frequently: Under-inflated tyres are not only dangerous, they also increase your fuel consumption.
• Air conditioning: switching it off or using climate control on the ‘eco’ setting reduces fuel consumption. And opening a window at high speed increases fuel consumption more than using air conditioning.
• Switch it off: cars use virtually no extra fuel when they’re restarted without pressing the accelerator. Turn off if you’re going to be stationary for more than a minute or two.
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