Prius

An even more pointless Prius?

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Once in a while a car comes along that is so pointless that it beggars belief – some would claim that the original Toyota Prius filled that role – perhaps slightly unfair as it did develop some technologies that have found their way into many vehicles – but the overall concept is in my opinion deeply flawed (I am not a fan).

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good looking - not!

As I understand it one of the Prius ‘selling points’ is its low fuel use (totally flawed as well) – this is managed by being aerodynamic, light and having an electric motor (it’s a hybrid). The downside of all this is that it is noisy (very), built from rubbish materials (the interior is like a 70’s eastern block car) and generally ‘nasty’ (told you I don’t like them).

To make matters worse it also is nowhere near as economical as Toyota claim – so you have to put up with all the downsides with no upside! (It doesn’t even save many fluffy bunnies) The only fun to have in a Prius is getting out of it!

So can someone please explain to me why they are now producing the Prius+? This is in effect a people carrier version. Now I am a fan of small people carriers, I have had a few in my time and they are excellent for growing families. What they are not however is aerodynamic, light or economical – plus cheap build quality is a definite ‘no no’ in a people carrier – it needs to be bomb proof against small people!

So unless I have missed something Toyota have just produced the worlds most pointless car!

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A limo for the ‘new age’?

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the beast

We are all used to seeing limos on our streets now a days – they used to be the preserve of presidents and royalty, but now every hen do or similar has a limo. But they are normally huge, with really poor environmental credentials – the worst is probably President Obama’s;

Known as ‘the beast’ it carries tons of extra reinforcements like bulletproof glass, bomb-proof chassis, run-flat tyres and personal oxygen supply and is thought to be able to survive a direct hit from an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) and biological weapons. One also assumes that it is not particularly economical or ‘green’!

However there is now an alternative – based on a cute city car (possibly one of the cutest currently built) and with electric power! The car in question?

A Fiat 500! But this one has been custom-built with a few extras;

Enter Castagna Milano, and its LimoPresidential, available to discerning buyers (or anyone with the money) as build-to-order vehicles.

Combining two electric motors capable of reaching a top speed of 100 mph, and a battery pack large enough to carry its occupants in opulent luxury for 160 miles, the all-electric limo is certainly different.

cute?

At nearly twice the length of a standard Fiat 500, the limo boosts the diminutive city car’s proportions from a tiny 3.5 meters in length, to 5.32 meters and an increase in wheelbase by 1.8 meters, to 4.1 meters. The vehicle’s height is also slightly raised to 1.58 meters. The all-electric LimoPresidential loses some of the maneuverability of the original but will still be more agile than President Obama’s armoured Cadillac!

I love the idea of a greener mini limo – I can’t see it catching on but it is a great fun idea! Oh, and the downside? A certain Algerian Dictator was a previous client of the company!

A practical hybrid? – apart from the price!

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I have a very poor opinion of hybrids since a Prius tried to kill me. More seriously they have not so far in my view provided a decent driving experience and decent savings in both fuel and emissions (the Prius is nowhere near as economical as Toyota claim unless you drive like a snail!).

yes it's an estate - what do you expect - it's a Volvo!

In recent months the next phase of hybrid electrics have started to appear or be announced (I don’t count the plugin Prius (it’s a personal hate thing). But the likes of Peugeot, Citroen and Vauxhall are starting to produce more interesting machines. All of them do appear rather ‘hobbled’ though – with either poor performance or economy.

The latest offering from Volvo however does appear on the face of it to be a possible ‘decent hybrid’;

The V60 Plug-in Hybrid is powered by a 212bhp 2.4-litre diesel engine (good start!), which drives the front wheels. The rear axle is driven by an electric motor, which provides a further 69bhp and the car has a six-speed automatic gearbox. The 11.2kw lithium-ion battery pack is situated beneath the boot floor and can be charged from the mains, or boosted by the diesel engine’s alternator as well as by recapturing energy generated by the brakes.

On average, the V60 Hybrid should return 148.6mpg and emit just 49g/km of CO2 – pretty impressive figures (and far better than a Prius). But there is a more interesting side to this car – there are three driving modes available – Pure, Hybrid and Power;

Selecting Pure allows the car to drive for 32 miles on electric power alone – plenty for urban trips.
Selecting Hybrid engages the diesel engine to increase performance, so much so that the car can tow up to 1800kg (possibly more important for Volvo drivers?)
Power mode combines the electric and diesel motors to give an output of 276bhp, which should do the 0-62 sprint in just 6.9secs – pretty good!

The downside? The cost – Volvo are offering them at £47,000 – just a bit on the expensive side!.

The start of a realistic charging network?

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One of the major issues holding back the uptake of electric cars (like car of the year Nissan Leaf) is the lack of a decent national charging network – people correctly believe they can’t realistically do long journeys in an electric car. Because of this electric car drivers have been unwilling to break free of the city and hit the open road. Well now green energy firm Ecotricity has launched the world’s first national motorway charging network for electric vehicles and all the power is coming from renewable sources, from the Wind and the Sun. If you are an Ecotricity user at home or work (and they will price match the standard suppliers tariffs) the charging points are free to use – quite an attraction.

It has installed free power points at 12 Welcome Break service stations, with 17 more promised later in the year.

Welcome Break’s power outlets offer two types of sockets – a three-pin one for 13A current supply and a seven-pin one for a higher 32A supply. Using the 13A supply takes around 12 hours to charge the vehicle and would probably require spending the night in one of the service area hotels – not a great idea unless you were planning to break your journey this way.

Opting for the higher current option will top-up a car in just 20 minutes – and fully charge it in one hour, so in the time it takes to get a cup of coffee and a sandwich, the system can charge your car. The downside? Not all electric vehicles are compatible with the newer 32A system.

This is a real step forward and if a major roll out of similar charging points is made across the UK it would offer a real option to the city dweller who only goes on long journeys once in a while (and there are a lot of them). For once a positive addition to our motorway service stations!

It can be done!

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Today I have been up to Gateshead for work, travelling up the A1 – not the fastest road but a steady journey.

To date on a long journey I have not got close to Volvos “official” miles per gallon figure of 75mpg for my car (and I don’t expect to). But today it did 67.5mpg which can’t be bad in anyone’s language. And I wasn’t driving like an old man either – I think the engine is finally loosening up!

Oh, and it’s not a hybrid! – it’s a proper car!

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The proof!

Now THIS is a hybrid!

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I have had a very poor experience of hybrids to date – a Prius tried to kill me and they just don’t tick (any) of the boxes as far as I am concerned. However, Jaguar may have just come up with something that does…… 

The £700,000 hybrid C-X75 supercar.

The original concept C-X75 used two on-board micro-turbines to generate power for its batteries, a technology it says it continues to develop now that parent company Tata has taken a significant stake in Bladon Jets. According to Jaguar this technology will not appear “on the majority” of production versions of the C-X75. Instead, most cars will be powered by a small-capacity, highly boosted petrol engine along with a pair of electric motors, one at the front axle and the other at the rear. Rumours suggest the petrol engine could be based on the 1.6-litre, four-cylinder Williams will use in its Formula One car from 2013.

But a proportion will have gas turbines!

The car maker and Williams F1 are combining to produce 250 examples of the supercar, each costing around £700,000 with Williams providing its engineering expertise for the carbon-fibre chassis, aerodynamics and hybrid powertrain.

The targets set out by the company for the car include a top speed in excess of 200mph and CO2 emissions of less than 99g/km, an all-electric range in excess of 50km or, when the engine and motors combine, accelerate from 0-60mph in less than three seconds.

Jaguar is taking expressions of interest in the car, which is expected to go into production in 2013, via its website. I can’t wait to see one on the road!

Car emissions are dropping – it’s official!

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There is a general trend in our office towards more efficient cars, partly due to fuel costs but mainly if I am honest because of the company car tax rules – the lower the emissions the less tax you pay (thankfully no one has decended to choosing a hybrid yet!). This trend appears to be a general one as there has been a steady drop in car emissions over the last few years with the latest figures showing a 3.5% drop in CO2 in 2010 to 144.2g/km.

Perhaps more impressively 40% of cars now emit less than 130g/km, compared with just 1% in 2000.

More than half of new cars had emissions below 140g/km, compared with 8.2% in 2000

Since the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) started its CO2 report in 2000, average emissions from new cars have fallen by 20%, from 173.5g/km to 144.2g/km.

The 2010 reduction is the 10th successive fall, but is slightly smaller than the 4.7% drop recorded in 2009 and the 4.2% decrease reported in 2008. Difficult economic conditions and the scrappage scheme have encouraged people into smaller cars and helped with these bigger reductions in average levels over the past three years.

More importantly – most of these cars aren’t hybrids – wh needs them!