Just like a famous public transport company BRIAN BYRNE finds that we are finally getting there when it comes to sustainable motoring.
There’s been a push on green motoring for a decade or so, partly as a response to the reality of global warming, partly because of increasingly tight regulation by the likes of the EU and the federal authorities in the US and other major countries. And partly, though maybe only a small part, because the consumer wants it.
What?, we drivers aren’t interested in reduced emissions? Well, we are, but it is probably down the ladder in the elements of choosing a new motor. The relatively slow take-up of hybrid powertrain options, until Toyota’s breakthrough systems found their way into mainstream models and versions taken up by other brands, is one indicator. The very slow take-up of pure electric vehicles is another. But slowly, we’re getting there.
From this September, real-world fuel efficiency in the EU
Back in 2008 the Green Party managed to railroad Ireland’s motorists into going diesel in a big way, by introducing a badly skewed road tax system favouring the shift. Nearly nine years later we’ve begun a slow shift back to petrol. We have realised that cutting CO2 was all very well and good, but there was a hidden NOx element which was causing even worse problems, adding to unnecessary deaths due to respiratory ailments.
Then there’s the revelation that the economy figures themselves being touted by carmakers are artificial, ‘gamed’ to pass the laboratory testing and not really related to real world motoring. As a motoring journalist, I regularly get to notice such discrepancies, and with many of my colleagues have often written about them in our reviews.
So, are we really getting ‘greener’? Well, yes, though maybe not as much as we thought. We do have more efficient powertrains than we had a decade ago, and the alternatives such as pure electric cars are progressing. Costs of being a greener motorist are also dropping, and from this September, real-world fuel efficiency figures will be mandatory in the EU. These will be the so-called Worldwide Harmonised Light vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP).
Tesla is the first modern carmaker to be founded only on electric cars.The Tesla Model S can accelerate from 0-60mph in 2.28 seconds
‘Green’ Motoring Trends
The penetration of hybrid powertrains is now quite high. For instance, with the ground-breaker Toyota, seven of its 16 passenger models here are now offering the kind of hybrid systems originated by the Prius. A quarter of Toyotas sold in Ireland are now hybrids, and the total share of hybrids registered in the Irish market has more than doubled in sales so far this year compared to 2016. Of all Toyotas sold in Europe last year, 32 per cent were hybrids. That is only likely to rise as the rebellion against diesel gets bigger.
A number of cities have already implemented partial bans against diesels — Paris, Madrid, Athens and Oslo, for instance — and more will be following. Toyota deliberately eschewed passenger car diesel development in recent years, buying in from other makers such as BMW where needed for market reasons.
Key makers have followed Toyota into hybridisation, including Honda, Ford, Hyundai, Kia, the PSA Group, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. There’s a further push into plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), especially from the VW Group in Audi and Volkswagen models themselves, as well as Toyota/Lexus, Mitusbishi, and Hyundai/Kia.
Pure electric cars are slowly gaining acceptance, though with just about 1,500 registered here so far, an initial target of some 240,000 by the year 2020 will clearly not be realised. Nor will be the revised target of 50,000. On a global basis, in sheer numbers the biggest uptakes have been in China (646,000), the EU (638,000), and the US (570,000). In Europe itself, the largest markets are Norway (147,000), The Netherlands (114,000), France (108,000), the UK (92,000) and Germany (75,000).
But joined with the pioneers Nissan and Renault, electric variants of mainstream models are now offered by PSA Group, Mitsubishi, Ford, Volkswagen and Hyundai. Recent and ongoing improvements in battery performance and range are dealing with the anxiety factor for many potential owners. The most recent forecasts see some 20 per cent of passenger cars being pure electric by 2030, at which time about 18 per cent will be PHEV, 29 per cent petrol hybrid and 25 per cent petrol. Only one in ten will be diesel-powered, with the rate of decline accelerating from 2020.
The need to meet increasingly stringent emissions regulations has revitalised interest in petrol engines in Europe, largely because it is much more expensive to bring a diesel engine up to the next level of standard. Also, the global reputational damage to diesels from the Volkswagen-initiated scandal is also shifting demand towards the ever more efficient petrols.
Pure electric cars are slowly gaining acceptance, though with just about 1,500 registered here so far, an initial target of some 240,000 by the year 2020 will clearly not be realised
Down the line, the holy grail of hydrogen powered fuel cell vehicles is still being chased. With some significant degree of success. There are working buses using fuel cells in many countries, which operate electric motors from power derived by the breaking down of hydrogen in a non-combustive process, with water vapour as the only emissions. Technical issues with scaling systems down to cars, plus the matter of widespread provision of hydrogen, are being worked on. Hyundai is notable here, but Mercedes-Benz and others are also in the frame.
Worth a mention is the matter of how long investment in the traditional internal combustion engine will continue at recent or current rates? They are very capital-intensive to develop and produce, and there’s much less cost in electric motor systems. A shift is already evident through the production of fewer ICE size variations, with power output changes managed by different electric motors. Potential ramifications include the need for fewer jobs in both development and manufacture.
So, how quick will all this happen? The truth is, nobody knows. Another truth is, probably much faster than we expect.
The penetration of hybrid powA further thought. Only a relatively small percentage of the world’s population is driving cars at the moment. As more achieve the aspiration to live like those of us in the developed world, there are matters of material and fuel resources which are likely to put limits on them. Equally, there’s a concept that we have reached a ‘peak traffic jam’ situation, and building new roads and repairing existing ones to cope with any further increase in vehicle numbers could put an impossible strain on both finances and physical space in an increasingly urbanised world.
Of course, that last matter may be part of a solution. The world’s population is inexorably heading towards the megacities, and as the cities themselves develop to cope, public transport systems may well cull the need for more private vehicles.
Meantime, where cars are still needed, the growth of hourly rental and car-sharing could help to trim the actual number of vehicles required. When a private car bought with a big chunk of one’s personal money spends 95pc of its time parked in a driveway or outside an office, more people will look on that as a silly expense. Already there has been a growth of car-sharing services in cities, including Dublin and Cork in Ireland, and a recent arrival on the scene is an app-based service through which the owners of private or fleet cars can have them available at certain times for rent to others.
Most major car makers have a car share service built into their future strategy, notably Ford, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz with their Smart division. The impetus in electric vehicles and autonomous driving capabilities will figure largely in the development of these. Electric is here, autonomous is ready to leapfrog to ‘Level 5’, as Ford has already decided for its own foray in the area. So, many of the ‘ifs’ have already almost been changed to ‘whens?’
And when, anyhow? As I said before, sooner than you, or I, think. Only one thing is certain: it WILL all be greener. D