The term ‘eco’ is derived from ‘ecological’, and when used in conjunction with the word ‘cars’, it is commonly understood to refer to low emission vehicles.
However in reality there is no official definition of the phrase ‘eco cars’ , so it is used in a variety of ways, most commonly as a very general term for cars that are in some way ‘green’ .
The label of eco car is usually taken to mean cars that have low or zero tailpipe CO2 emissions , such as electric cars . But actually, the term is more appropriate for automobiles that are ecologically sensitive as a whole, ie. holistically greener – or more sustainable. So rather than purely having low tailpipe CO2 emissions, we’re talking about cars manufactured from materials that cause less harm to the environment than materials that are used to construct traditional vehicles.
For example, the
is designed to demonstrate that cars can be constructed from sustainable materials . The interior trim, seats and roof are made from hemp (yes, as in cannabis) – as this can be grown, so it’s renewable, and it absorbs CO2 as it grows, so it’s carbon-neutral. The car also has water-based paints. The entire car is lighter than the standard Elise – which is light to start with. This is despite having solar panels on the roof, to power the air conditioning. Best of all, it’s still a Lotus Elise, so it’s great to drive.
Although Lotus seems to have got away with labelling its concept car with the word ‘eco’ in the title, such a move is fraught with risk. Work has been carried out by the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership to ensure that green claims made by car manufacturers can be substantiated. If pressed, it would be very difficult for Lotus to prove that the Elise is officially an ‘eco car’.
Despite the true meaning of the term ‘eco’, the media is likely to continue using the term ‘eco car’ to
describe a car with low emissions
. If so, then users of the term need to be clear about the issues surrounding ‘low emissions’ . Cars can be low emission in terms of the CO2 from their tailpipe emissions, but ideally they should also have low levels of ‘regulated’ emissions – ie. particulate matter (PM) or soot, nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur oxides and carbon monoxide (CO).
But that’s not the full story – an eco car should also have the lowest possible CO2 impacts in its entire life-cycle, particularly its manufacture – which is what Lotus was trying to achieve with the Eco-Elise.
Gordon Murray Design has developed the iStream process to manufacture its T-25 city car. This manufacturing process is designed to be much more sustainable than traditional car manufacturing. It has a much smaller factory footprint, and the idea is that it can be set up locally around the world where the cars are bought, so reducing the environmental impacts from the logistics involved in transporting cars from factories to markets. This manufacturing process, combined with the lightweight engineering of the actual T-25 city car, means that this car, and its T-27 electric counterpart , is genuinely efficient and sustainable – in other words perhaps it is one of the best examples of a true eco car.