Posted: Tuesday 29th May 2012
‘Carbon footprint’, ‘greenhouse gases’ and ‘global warming’ are terms we are all too familiar with these days and are issues that have affected businesses across the board. The automotive industry, in particular, constantly needs to adapt and evolve due to the increasing pressure of lowering CO2 emissions and the call for creating vehicles of ‘environmentally friendly’ craftsmanship.
In recent years we’ve seen a widening in the market from petrol and diesel options to hybrids, hydrogen and all-electric vehicles. One would think the latter would be the favoured option, what with the inevitable oil dry-up and the ‘green planet’ message being drummed into consumers brains from all directions. Therefore, I was surprised to learn the vehicles dominating the new car market, by a huge proportion, are still those of the traditional fuel types. So why is this the case? Well, according to the motor industry body, SMMT, diesel and petrol engines are becoming more efficient, delivering an average 54 miles to the gallon, and are consequently producing less CO2 emissions. Last year’s results show nearly half of new cars emitted less than 130 grammes per kilometre. That exceeds the expectation of the European Union which wants the average to fall below 130 grammes per kilometre by 2015.
It’s not hard to understand why consumers would favour a more economical car which is friendlier to the environment, especially when engineers are proving this doesn’t necessarily mean compromising on power either. Automaker, Ford, showed off their new engine in the latest addition to the Focus range earlier this month. Boasting a tiny three-cylinder, 1 litre engine, they claim it is capable of producing as much power as that of the previous 1.6 litre engine, despite it being 30% lighter. Rivals such as Fiat and BMW, have also been downsizing their petrol engines to improve efficiency and reduce emissions, thus the market is seeing petrol beginning to make up for any lost competition against the ever-popular diesel engine.
Alternatively-fuelled cars have barely contributed to the overall reduction in CO2 emissions, owning a meagre 1.3% of the market. They have a long way to go before they begin to dominate the market place and it has become rather easy to detect the cons behind why this is currently so.
Looking at the electric vehicle, the most common argument is based on the manufacturing process. The process emits far more CO2 emissions than that of a traditional engine; that is 8.8 tonnes of the stuff compared to 5.2 tonnes respectively. Hardly suitable for a car which is marketed for being emission free!
The battery life of an electric vehicle is another issue as it will probably only last about 8 years and replacing it could be rather pricey, with some costing up to £19,000! And let us not forget about charging the battery. With few charge points located around the country, over a quarter being located in London, journeys in these cars are limited to certain distances, routes and destinations.
So, large price tags and impracticalities mean electric cars haven’t quite taken the market by storm as first expected but, as demonstrated with the Internet, mobile phones and HD Television, technology is constantly and quickly evolving. It may well mean that we end up with the electric vehicle as a more viable and economical option. This could be the case for other alternative fuels too as oil prices continue to increase and fears surrounding limited supplies begin to rise. But perhaps the fundamental need is not only for an investment in technology development, but for more distinct and definite information about what is truly the best option for the consumer.