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).

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!

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.


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!

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!

Electric car reality?

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2011 is apparently the yearof the electric car if the media are to be believed. The Nissan Leaf is Car of the Year and there are Government subsidies to be had in the purchase of such vehicles (£5000). But recent comments by many of the leaders of the car industry suggest this is not going to be the reality of things;

They are not worried - yet

Apparently the majority of global car executives do not foresee a reasonably priced electric vehicle being available on the mass market in the next five years! Many also believe that electric cars will not be affordable without government subsidies. 

The report produced by accountants KPMG sounds sensible – I have always believed that electric cars need to be as cheap if not cheaper than current cars to make the public even consider them as a long-term replacement for their existing fossil fuel burners. The report does suggest that the market for electric cars will be the fastest growing sector in the market, but the reality of this is that carmakers are investing in electric vehicles to reduce carbon emissions generally across their range to comply with various Governments requirements for reduced emissions.

 They would of course argue that this is to hit both emissions targets and satisfy consumers’ growing desire for fuel-efficient cars, but surely this is just a cynical move by the manufacturers? The survey did find that 91% of consumers cited fuel efficiency as the single most important factor when choosing a new car, which is understandable with recent rises in fuel costs. But note it is not emissions that they are worried about, although low emission cars tend to give good mpg.

Some carmakers, such as Renault and Nissan, are pinning their hopes on pure electric cars (and have recently suffered some ‘industrial espionage’ over its electrical developments) Others, such as Toyota and General Motors, prefer hybrid technology, which combines both electric and petrol engines.

But, I cannot help being cynical and thinking that they are going down this route for all the wrong reasons?

Will the hybrid eventually be king?

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This is an interesting concept for someone who had a brief ‘flirt’ with hybrid cars!

A sign off things to come?

I was initially convinced that they were the answer to my motoring needs, but quickly learnt that the current crop are deeply flawed! So the findings of a study by Auto Lease make very interesting (but possibly not convincing) reading!

The study found that just 5% of drivers questioned think petrol-powered options would outsell other fuel types in 10 years’ time.

The poll also found that 78% of drivers thought hybrid or electric vehicles would be the first choice a decade from now.

It also confirmed that Diesel has already overtaken petrol as the fuel of choice in the fleet sector, which is renowned for being an early adopter of new vehicle technologies.

So are we witnessing a shift in the market, or is this just the current ‘fad’ in fleet motoring? A  fleet shift to hybrids and electrics on this scale would have a massive impact on their availability on the second-hand market. Autolease has a fleet of more than 300,000 vehicles alone. However I don’t believe that this is the full story by any means.

The manufacturers are pushing this form of technology because it suites them. Mercedes for example have predicted that petrol or diesel cars will have all but disappeared by 2050 – you don’t need to be a genius for this one as fuel reserves will be beginning to tail off by then, so fuel costs will be sky-high!

The new ‘electric’ cars are a start, but hybrids as they currently stand are not going to appeal to the non fleet market – they are too costly to buy and more crucially the long-term costs in terms of age issues (failing batteries etc) are far from clear –  and they are not as nice to drive!

So yes we will all be driving different things in 10 – 20 years time, but they will be very different from today’s hybrids – I hope!

Have electric cars finally hit the mainstream?

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This years Car of the Year is the Nissan Leaf! Is this an important moment in motoring history?
Well first you need to look at the cars awarded this prize over the years since 1964 when the competition started  – how many of them were actually any good or ‘pushed the envelope’ of car design?
European Car of the Year
Year Winner Pts Second Pts Third Pts
1964 Rover 2000 76 Mercedes 600 64 Hillman Imp 31
1965 Austin 1800 78 Autobianchi Primula 51 Ford Mustang 18
1966 Renault 16 98 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow 81 Oldsmobile Toronado 59
1967 Fiat 124 144 BMW 1600 69 Jensen FF 61
1968 NSU Ro 80 197 Fiat 125 133 Simca 1100 94
1969 Peugeot 504 119 BMW 2500/2800 77 Alfa Romeo 1750 76
1970 Fiat 128 235 Autobianchi A112 96 Renault 12 79
1971 Citroën GS 233 Volkswagen K70 121 Citroën SM 105
1972 Fiat 127 239 Renault 15/17 107 Mercedes 350SL 96
1973 Audi 80 114 Renault 5 109 Alfa Romeo Alfetta 95
1974 Mercedes 450S 115 Fiat X1/9 99 Honda Civic 90
1975 Citroën CX 229 Volkswagen Golf 164 Audi 50 136
1976 Simca 1307-1308 192 BMW 3-series 144 Renault 30 TS 107
1977 Rover 3500 157 Audi 100 138 Ford Fiesta 135
1978 Porsche 928 261 BMW 7-series 231 Ford Granada 203
1979 Simca-Chrysler Horizon 251 Fiat Ritmo 239 Audi 80 181
1980 Lancia Delta 369 Opel Kadett 301 Peugeot 505 199
1981 Ford Escort 326 Fiat Panda 308 Austin Metro 255
1982 Renault 9 335 Opel Ascona 304 Volkswagen Polo 252
1983 Audi 100 410 Ford Sierra 386 Volvo 760 157
1984 Fiat Uno 346 Peugeot 205 325 Volkswagen Golf 156
1985 Opel Kadett/Vauxhall Astra 326 Renault 25 261 Lancia Thema 191
1986 Ford Scorpio 337 Lancia Y10 291 Mercedes-Benz 200-300E 273
1987 Opel Omega/Vauxhall Carlton 275 Audi 80 238 BMW 7-series 175
1988 Peugeot 405 464 Citroën AX 252 Honda Prelude 234
1989 Fiat Tipo 356 Opel Vectra 261 Volkswagen Passat 194
1990 Citroën XM 390 Mercedes-Benz SL 215 Ford Fiesta 214
1991 Renault Clio 312 Nissan Primera 258 Opel Calibra 183
1992 Volkswagen Golf 276 Opel Astra 231 Citroën ZX 213
1993 Nissan Micra 338 Fiat Cinquecento 304 Renault Safrane 244
1994 Ford Mondeo 290 Citroën Xantia 264 Mercedes-Benz C 192
1995 Fiat Punto 370 Volkswagen Polo 292 Opel Omega 272
1996 Fiat Bravo/Brava 378 Peugeot 406 363 Audi A4 246
1997 Renault Mégane Scénic 405 Ford Ka 293 Volkswagen Passat 248
1998 Alfa Romeo 156 454 Volkswagen Golf 266 Audi A6 265
1999 Ford Focus 444 Opel Astra 269 Peugeot 206 248
2000 Toyota Yaris 344 Fiat Multipla 325 Opel Zafira 265
2001 Alfa Romeo 147 238 Ford Mondeo 237 Toyota Prius 229
2002 Peugeot 307 286 Renault Laguna 244 Fiat Stilo 243
2003 Renault Mégane 322 Mazda 6 302 Citroën C3 214
2004 Fiat Panda 281 Mazda 3 241 Volkswagen Golf 241
2005 Toyota Prius 406 Citroën C4 267 Ford Focus 228
2006 Renault Clio 256 Volkswagen Passat 251 Alfa Romeo 159 212
2007 Ford S-Max 235 Opel/Vauxhall Corsa 233 Citroën C4 Picasso 222
2008 Fiat 500 385 Mazda2 325 Ford Mondeo 202
2009 Opel/Vauxhall Insignia 321 Ford Fiesta 320 Volkswagen Golf 223
2010 Volkswagen Polo 347 Toyota iQ 337 Opel/Vauxhall Astra 221
2011 Nissan Leaf 257[2] Alfa Romeo Giulietta 248 Opel/Vauxhall Meriva 244

(data from Wikipedia)

 Not many classics there are there! In many cases the car that comes second or third is arguably the better car as well – for example in 1986 The Ford Scorpio won (a total dog of a car) and 1989 the Fiat Tipo (it dissolved)!

The awards had started so well! The first winner was the Rover 2000, a classic design and well ahead of anything else around at that time, subsequent classics like the NSU RO80 with it’s wankel engine in 1968 (OK the engine was crap, but the idea was brilliant). And the Rover 3500 in 1977 (my Dad had one – clever design but built by morons!) It’s all got just a bit mainstream since then with an occasional ‘clever’ car – Prius in 2005 (clever, even if it is awful).

So the Nissan Leaf has become the first electric car to be crowned Car of the Year – do we or should we care? Probably, it is a step forward in car design even if it is also flawed. It will only be a matter of days before we start getting it advertised at every junction as the Green saviour of the planet! I still believe that pure electric cars are flawed just as much as hybrids, they will however become ‘the car’ to be seen in by some of the ‘beautiful people’ – good luck to them! 
So probably the first justifiable winner for a good few years!