The Top 10 Green Car Questions

The panel on stage in the Regent Street Motor Show

The Top 10 Green Car Questions

A number of common questions about green cars, that originated from the public and from the RAC Foundation, were fired at a panel on stage in the Regent Street Motor Show following the RAC Future Car Challenge event. However only a handful of the questions were answered at the event due to time constraints. Paul Clarke, Green Car Guide.com Founder and Editor, was a member of the panel on the stage, and so we thought it would be helpful to answer the questions in full, as follows.

1. How can the public be expected to understand EV, HEV, E-REV, PHEV, FCHV, REEV?

The answer is simple: the public can’t be expected to understand all these abbreviations for the latest low carbon car technologies. Most people aren’t aware that you can buy conventionally-powered cars that do over 70 mpg, so there’s no hope that they will know what these terms mean – even most journalists and people in the car industry don’t know. Car manufacturers and the media obviously need to do more to communicate all the new technologies, and that’s exactly what Green Car Guide
aims to do. But this is a nice problem to have – it means that we’re at an exciting time for car buyers. It wasn’t too long ago when the choice was petrol or petrol, and the only option was a black vinyl roof. All these new forms of technology mean that whatever sort of car people need , there will be an efficient version – as long as they can afford it. Just for the record:

EV: Electric Vehicle – example: Nissan LEAF

HEV: Hybrid Electric Vehicle – example: Peugeot 3008HYbrid4

E-REV: Extended-Range Electric Vehicle – example: Vauxhall Ampera

PHEV: Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle – example: Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid

FCHV: Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicle – example: Toyota Highlander FCHV

REEV: Range Extended Electric Vehicle – same as E-REV; example: Vauxhall Ampera

2. Why is the European Automobile Manufacturer’s Association lobbying against a 30% reduction in greenhouse gases target for Europe when it is supported by 90 major companies?

You’d have to ask them, but I guess it’s because, as an association, they have to be seen to be doing something on behalf of their members. But with both the UK and Europe aiming for ambitiously lower CO2 targets, they can lobby, but it’s going to be difficult to stop. When the European CO2 targets for cars were first talked about, European car manufacturers lobbied vigorously against the plans, saying they couldn’t be achieved, but when the targets were confirmed, all the engineers set to work to find ways to lower CO2 emissions from cars, and now most manufacturers are ahead of where they need to be. So targets encourage innovation, and engineers seem to like a challenge, so bring it on.

3. Do you think vehicles should be limited to 70 mph in the UK – would it have a significant effect on fuel economy? / The RAC wants the government to consider increasing the speed limit to 80 mph on some stretches of road. This will increase CO2 emissions by at least 17% – does the panel support the RAC?

Yes limiting vehicles to 70 mph would have a significant effect on fuel economy. From a green perspective, a 70 mph limit make sense. However from a business efficiency point of view, if we all drove at, say… 140 mph we’d cut our travel time in half, be more productive, make more money, and as a result we could help to bail out Greece and Italy. However, my main point on this question is really important and nothing to do with CO2, it’s to do with road safety. If we’re going to increase speed limits then we should improve standards of driving. I actually think that the speed limit should be abolished completely, but people would only be allowed to drive at higher speeds if they can prove they can drive competently, for instance if they successfully pass an advanced driving test. And a final thought, tied in with this, if David Cameron or any other government minister is reading this, is that there is a way for the government to save billions of pounds, by scrapping motorway-widening programmes and instead just getting people to use the existing lanes on motorways properly, by getting the police to enforce and give people on-the-spot fines of £1000 for hogging the middle lane – so making sure our existing motorways are utilised more efficiently; the government can make money from it; and it will save me and millions of others being driven crazy by middle-lane hoggers.

4. The Toyota Prius hybrid vehicle has been on sale worldwide since 2001. Why have other car manufacturers taken so long to introduce hybrid vehicles?

When we first launched our website in 2006 there were pretty much just two ‘green’ cars, the hybrid Toyota Prius and the electric G-Wiz. At that time there was a bit of a thing going on with other manufacturers called ‘Prius envy’. Most manufacturers publicly said that they wouldn’t be going down the hybrid route, the additional expense being one reason for this, but here we are today and most manufacturers either have hybrids or are developing them. The first-generation Toyota Prius didn’t sell that well, but now we’re at the point where the market is ready for hybrids, and other manufacturers are catching up because they’ve seen that the Prius has been a success and that hybrids are an effective way to get their official emission figures down. Whether hybrids match their official economy and emissions figures in real life driving is another discussion.

5. Bill Gates said: “If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1000 MPG.” Do you think he has a point?

As I’ve been rolled out to speak about green cars at various conferences over the last few years I’ve been delighted that the American car industry has been so rubbish in terms of fuel efficiency, as it gave me a great opening slide to compare the miles per gallon of America’s best-selling car, the Ford F350 pick-up truck (around 14 mpg), with cars in the UK; this made our cars look greener-than-green in comparison. With George Bush in power it made the Americans look even more stupid in terms of environmental issues, and I thought I’d be able to use that introduction forever. During that time the US auto industry view was that they had to continue producing the same type of cars to stay in business and fend off the Japanese. So what happened? The Japanese made fuel-efficient cars, they became more successful, and the US auto industry kept ignoring the need for efficiency and went bankrupt. GM then re-emerged and brought us the Chevrolet Volt/ Vauxhall Ampera that does 175 mpg, showing that they can do it. So yes Bill Gates does have a point.

6. Would the panel support an electric car rental scheme for London as they have in Paris and similar to ‘Boris Bikes’?

Yes, because it would be like a giant game of dodgems, it would be great fun. Actually, it does make complete sense. Electric cars are ideal for London in that they are easy to drive, quiet, and have zero-tailpipe emission. However the downsides are that they’re expensive to buy for cars that by their very nature are not likely to drive very far, and most people in London don’t have off-road parking to allow them to recharge them. So yes an electric car rental scheme – offering electric cars just when needed, and for much less cost then buying them outright – would make perfect sense – and commercial companies are actually doing this.

7. Do the members of the panel regularly drive an alternative energy vehicle? If so, what type?

Well, running Green Car Guide, it means that I’m fortunate to drive at least one new green car – of ALL types – and report on it every week. And I’d stress the ‘green car’ bit as opposed to ‘alternative energy vehicle’, because there are lots of cars out there that are class-leading in terms of emissions but they’re not ‘alternative energy vehicles’. To quote some examples – a recent road test on our site is of a BMW 5 Series that does 63 mpg , and before that we drove to the top of a mountain in a Range Rover that can do 50 mpg (although it didn’t do 50 mpg on the way up the mountain). As the drive up the mountain was designed to prove, neither of these cars have any compromises; they have conventional diesel engines, but ones that are optimised to be very efficient. We also drive electric cars, and I would always want to drive an electric car in a city rather than a diesel BMW or Range Rover – so my message is that whatever type of car you need, there are class-leading green ones out there.

8. Wouldn’t development of low energy use vehicles be much faster if all car manufacturers worked together?

Yes, and this is happening. There are official manufacturer alliances, for instance between Renault and Nissan, to develop electric cars. This alliance also includes the Infiniti brand, which is being launched in the UK at the moment, which has its own hybrid technology. In the UK, we’ve had Technology Strategy Board projects running for a few years now, which have ended up with a wide range of partners collaborating together. A number of cars in the Future Car Challenge event are the result of that collaboration, such as the electric Delta E4 Coupe, the Lightning, the T.27, and the Range Rover Sport plug-in hybrid. Yet we still have different manufacturers working on similar technologies independently – such as the artificially-generated noise for electric cars, which I’m aware a number of companies are working on – areas such as this would make sense for one company to develop for everyone.

9. According to the Department of Transport, there are 85 new cars available in the UK with combined cycle economy of under 20 mpg, including many Range Rover models. Shouldn’t there be a minimum economy limit for new cars?

The driving force behind Green Car Guide has always been that we want to see all cars being much more efficient, but still great to drive. So yes we want cars with better economy, and that is what’s happening as a result of the European CO2 targets for cars. With the example of the Range Rover, a Range Rover is an amazing piece of engineering, and such engineering doesn’t easily come in a lightweight, efficient form. But as we recently showed by driving the new 50 mpg Evoque to the top of a mountain, Range Rover is starting to deliver cars that can still transport our families safely through the snow, but that are much more efficient. The Range Rover Sport plug-in hybrid is another example of the work that is currently underway. We also need to be careful we don’t legislate against people having fun. Cars are an emotional purchase, and people buy cars to make a statement about themselves. The car industry is doing a good job giving us cars that are desirable but also more efficient, and the vast majority of new cars are showing significant improvements in economy.

10. In 2009 62 million cars and commercial vehicles were produced. It is estimated (according to Lux Research) that sales of electric and hybrid vehicles will not exceed 7.5 million in 2020. So is all this alternative energy vehicle development a waste of time?

No-one is saying that every vehicle on sale in the world in 2020 will be electric or hybrid. There’s a document in existence called the Technology Road Map for passenger cars, produced by the Automotive Council in collaboration with car manufacturers. This charts out the technologies for cars in the UK until 2050. Petrol and diesel engines have a life until that point, at least. Although markets such as the UK focus on CO2, it’s not like this everywhere in the world – yet. The simple answer is that there will be a mix of vehicle technologies. Electric and hybrids make sense for urban areas; an efficient diesel still makes more sense on a long journey. So development of alternative energy vehicles certainly isn’t a waste of time. I just can’t see all the directors at the big car companies saying “We know it’s a waste of time, but let’s invest billions into more efficient technologies anyway…”

Paul Clarke

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