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Green cars set for a bright future

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All charged up: the electric Tesla Roadster, on sale in
California, does 135mph with a range of 225 miles

Daily Telegraph: Green cars set for a bright future

By Russell Hotten
Monday 07/04/2008

Fuel cells, hybrids, biodiesel, electricity, even compressed air: no one wants to talk about petrol any more. The motor industry has predicted many times before that a new age of engine technology is upon us. But this time, it seems, they really mean it.
 
2008 is likely to go down as the year when even the most die-hard petrol-head realised that there will be no U-turn in the drive to abolish gas-guzzlers and develop more fuel-efficient cars.

In the UK, Porsche’s legal battle with London Mayor Ken Livingstone and the Chancellor’s Budget measures to penalise thirsty cars may come to be seen as tipping points in officialdom’s crackdown on the biggest emitters of C02. It’s a situation being replicated around the world.

“I genuinely believe that the [government] authorities are pushing at an open door; have been for many years,” said a UK executive for one of Europe’s bigger car-makers.

He didn’t want to give his name, because he works for a German manufacturer. And Germany’s powerful motor industry lobby still has issues with proposed European Union restrictions on carbon emissions from cars.

The Geneva Motor Show, always the biggest and best on the calendar, is often a showcase for concept cars and prototypes built by engineers with a slender grasp on the commercial realities of manufacturing vehicles. Last month’s show, however, was notable for two reasons: the decidedly environmental theme of many concept vehicles, and the seriousness with which they were being taken as potential production models.

From Bentley, to Ford, to India’s Tata: there was an array of cutting-edge technology on display. Even Pininfarina, the Italian consultancy that works closely with Ferrari, showed a sports car that incorporated its world-beating hydrogen and fuel cell technology.

There may be a question mark over whether all this technology is commercially viable, but significant breakthroughs are being made. Last year’s Le Mans 24-hour race was won by an Audi car powered by a liquid fuel distilled from gas by Royal Dutch Shell. Far less polluting than petrol, the fuel will soon be available at a petrol station near you.

And just to prove that racy sports cars are not dependent on petrol, UK-based Lotus, part of Malaysia’s Proton, is producing the Tesla Roadster, an electric car on sale in California. The development of the Tesla, based on Lotus’s Elise model, was funded by Elon Musk, founder of Paypal. It does 135mph, 0-60 in 4 seconds, with a range of 225 miles on one battery charge.

At £50,000, the Roadster is not yet a commercially viable competitor to petrol-powered cars in the same bracket. It’s big in Silicon Valley, where making a statement is just as important as making money. But the technology will get cheaper, and Lotus and Musk are working on a saloon version that they hope will go on sale next year for around £30,000.

But for a really symbolic example of how fuel-efficient technology will make an impact this year, look no further than Tata, the diverse Indian group that is making everyone take notice of the emerging market economies.

Last month, Tata launched its Nano, billed as the world’s cheapest car, at £1,250. It’s small, light and has a tiny engine. But while there is debate about whether cars like the Nano are really green, there is no question that Tata is leading the way with really small cars. What is questionable is whether selling cheap mass market car travel to 1bn Indians will do much for the environment.

But Tata is not finished. Later this year, or early in 2009, it will offer a car that runs on air. Tata is backing technology from Moteur Development International, a France-based company that has been researching “air cars” for 10 years.

Using what Tata says will be the “ultimate environment-friendly engine”, it can travel between 125 and 300 miles on compressed air before refuelling. The idea is fraught with hurdles, not least because there’s a lack of the infrastructure needed to refuel. But Tata is convinced it can bring the car to market.

Just as Toyota’s hybrid Prius went from being a curiosity into a best-seller, so air cars may follow suit. Given the pace at which manufacturers are developing greener vehicles, that day might come sooner than anyone thinks.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/money/main.jhtml?xml=/money/2008/04/07/cccars107.xml

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1 Comment on “Green cars set for a bright future”

  1. #1 Adam
    on Apr 7th, 2008 at 09:28

    Always enjoy reporting about new green tech.

    By the way, there’s oddly a cartoon that uses the hydrogen car as a major plot point,
    which you can check out here: Cats of Death, Episode Two
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ptq39zbsxms

    Cheers!

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