A huge change in preference of consumer when they choose a new care is about soaring oil prices and car emissions.
According to Toyota, one of the leaders in developing vehicles driven by alternative fuels, there are approximately 740 million cars on the planet today. It is estimated that this number is likely to almost double to 1.2 billion by 2020. That's a lot of cars.
The main by-product of burning both petrol and diesel is carbon dioxide (CO⊃2;), a greenhouse gas that pollutes the atmosphere and is believed to contribute to climate change. It is estimated that the average car emits around 4.5 tonnes of this gas every year. Ok, so a lot of cars and a lot of CO⊃2;.
Just to put into perspective how worrying this figure is we can look at the principle of Contraction and Convergence, which is generally regarded as the way forward for reducing global CO⊃2; emission. Using this principle to find an amount of CO⊃2; that our planetary system will be able to cope with, it has been calculated that each person in the world should have an allowance of two tonnes of CO⊃2; per year. I'm sure you've already worked out that just by driving your car around, without even starting breathing, you've already gone over your allowance, by more than double!
There are many ways in which to reduce the amount of CO⊃2; we release into the atmosphere. When it comes to cars for example we can do simple things like set up lift clubs to get us to and from work. In this article though I'm going to concentrate on how to choose a car with environmental concerns in mind and what choices we'll be able to make in the future.
Fuel consumption and CO⊃2; Emissions
Reducing the amount of fuel a car consumes to get from A to B is not only going reduce the amount of CO⊃2; it emits but considering current rumours of the price of oil reaching $100/barrel some day soon it will also help your wallet to breathe a little easier.
The size of the car is one of the biggest factors affecting its fuel economy. The general trend is simple; the bigger the car the bigger the engine, which in turn means a bigger thirst for petrol. To give you an example the gargantuan BMW X5 with its 4.4 litre engine averages around 16 litres/100km. Compare this to one of the most efficient small cars around, the Polo 1.4 TDi which achieves a lless than 5 litres/100km.
Any decent car magazine will give you a list of stats to let you compare the fuel efficiency of the cars you're interested in buying. You may not of course be able choose the most efficient car around due to constraints like living on top of an extremely rocky mountain where the roads are particularly prone to flooding but you can at least choose the most efficient car that suits your needs. A beastly juggernaut 4x4 monster may make you nice and comfortable (and maybe a little superior with your elevated view) but do you really need it to get from Bryanston to Sandton and back again everyday. Last time I checked all the roads were covered in tarmac.
Apart from looking in car magazines to find useful stats there are also a number of good websites around that can give you a reasonably accurate measurement of how much CO⊃2; your car will emit. I'd recommend checking out [http://www.smmtco2.co.uk]. It is a UK site so not all the models that we get here are covered, at least not always under the same name, but with a little imagination and research you should be able to find the equivalent.
Why don't you use that website to compare your car to the two that I mentioned above and see where you fit in? How green are you right now? And if you're looking to buy a new car why don't you check out its fuel economy and CO⊃2; rating and make a choice that suits the environment more than your ego.
The car industry is almost completely dominated by the petrol and diesel engine. There are however some alternatives already available and many others coming in the not too distant future.
Hybrid Cars - These cars have two engines and use a combination of alternative and traditional fuels. A petrol engine is used when the car needs power to pull away from a stop or for high speeds, and an electric motor running off a battery (which is charged when the car brakes and decelerates) is used at all other times such as cruising around a city.
Hybrid cars are extremely quiet and are particularly beneficial due to their low emissions in cities. The most popular hybrid and the only model available in South Africa is the Toyota Prius (see above) which boasts an extremely impressive fuel efficiency of under 5 litres/100km.
Electric Cars - There are two great benefits of electric cars; they are extraordinarily cheap to run and they have zero emissions, not a C or an O to be seen anywhere. It is of course important to bear in mind that the electricity that they're using may have been generated by a highly polluting coal powered station, but hey we can't have it all.
Although electric cars are not commercially available in South Africa there a few models buzzing around the streets of Europe. One of the most intriguing, and bizarre looking, is the G-Whiz (see right). This little car, developed by GoinGreen, can be plugged into standard electrical wall sockets and takes 6 hours to recharge. According to GoinGreen the cost of the electricity to run this car for one year is the equivalent cost of just one tank of petrol.
There are however a few major drawbacks with this technology. First is a question of range; the G-Whiz for example can only travel for 70km before needing to be recharged. The second issue is one of power; electric cars are simply no match in terms of top speeds, to petrol and diesel powered vehicles (the G-Whiz has a top speed of just 70km/hr).
Despite these significant drawbacks this car, with its suitability for short commuter trips, could I believe have a major impact in South African cities. We can look to London for example of what can be achieved, there commuters are encouraged to adopt the G-Whiz with owners exempt from road tax, congestion charges and parking costs. With these savings in mind the G-Whiz is not only the cleanest form of commuter transport but it's also the cheapest.
Hydrogen Fuel Cells - Although still a relatively new technology it is thought that this will be the future fuel of choice. Fuel cells work by making electricity via a chemical reaction between hydrogen (stored in liquid form in the fuel cell) and oxygen (from the air). The only by-product of this reaction is water, CO2 emissions are zero.
There are of course still some significant drawbacks to this technology which need to be addressed before we see the demise of the petrol engine. These include; range - which, accordingly to Toyota, is currently limited to 300km; cost - until economies of scale come into play this will continue to be an expensive technology; refueling network - current petrol stations will need to install hydrogen tanks and pumps.
So there we have it, if you're thinking of getting a new car and want to go as green as possible you now know where to go to get the information you need. Buy small or buy hybrid, import a G-Whiz from the UK or maybe just sit on your hands for a few more years and wait for the technology to catch up with your needs, both financial and vehicular, the choice is yours.