Eco-friendly driving: Car show that's a sexy shade of green
Cutting our carbon emissions doesn't mean giving up all comfort and joy - as an inspiring event at the Eden Project demonstrates, writes Sean O'Grady
Tuesday 03 April 2007
Well, it makes a change. Most of the car shows that I've been to have been vast affairs housed in huge exhibition centres, temples to the gods of greed and speed. The Sexy Green Car Show, housed in what amounts to a glorified tent in the grounds of the Eden Project in Cornwall, is a little different. It opened, appropriately enough, on the day the news came through that the UK's carbon dioxide emissions are at a 10-year high. According to the Eden Project, transport is the only sector of the economy where greenhouse-gas emissions are expected to be higher in 2020 than in 1990, and, while aviation will be responsible for some of this, 85 per cent of the sector's emissions will come from road vehicles. The Project's wonderful Rainforest Biome reminds us what is at stake here.
So, the purpose of this event is to persuade us, gently, that green can be sexy. There are ways in which we can moderate our lifestyle without giving up too much in the way of comfort or joy. In other words, as the Environment Secretary, David Miliband, put it in his video message (no danger of him hopping on a plane to Newquay, Al Gore-style), we can live greener lives that are no worse, and may be better, than our existing ones.
It's a bit disingenuous, I suppose. If you really think that pollution from long-haul flights is a big problem, then that rules out an awful lot of enjoyable family holidays, I would have thought. Perhaps you might visit the Eden Project every year instead. But when it comes to your personal transport, things don't have to be that rough. The Sexy Green Car Show demonstrated, once again, the remarkable ingenuity of the car companies, from the ultra-economical little Volkswagens and Citroëns, to future- facing carbon-fibre technology and biofuels, thanks to Ford and Saab. It even had a Le Mans racer that can run on biodiesel derived from the seeds of jatropha trees.
In any case, they must be a fairly pragmatic bunch at the Eden Project to allow the "enemy" - the likes of General Motors and BP - into this symbol of the environmental movement, but I think they've done exactly the right thing. Just as figures such as Bono and Bob Geldof have successfully engaged with politicians and business on global poverty, so, too, should the friends of the earth (in the wider sense) become friends of well-meaning politicians and businesses.
The Eden Project is obviously about education and fun rather than direct action and puritanical preaching, and I guess that has a much bigger chance of making an impact on the public. Otherwise, we'd be governed by the Respect Party and George Galloway would be prime minister. It's easy to see why the green cause became so closely linked to anti-capitalism and anti-globalisation and anti- Americanism, but I don't think that an alliance with those head-bangers is going to deliver anything like political power, or change. Gordon Brown and David Cameron are probably better bets.
If there is a problem with the Sexy Green Car Show, it's that some transnational companies aren't there. There is no official presence, for example, from Toyota or Honda or BMW, and it's a pity that we can't see all of the makers' green creations in one spot, including the latest hybrid production models. Honda could have shown its hydrogen fuel cell cars, for example, and BMW its Hydrogen 7 - a 7-series limo in which the gas replaces petrol.
I would also have liked to have seen the G-Wiz electric car, and the Twike, a three-wheeled electric contraption steered via a joystick, and various electric bicycles now on the market. Nor did I see anyone from the Energy Savings Trust. As a result of these absences, the Sexy Green Car Show is a touch less sexy. Still, there's always next year. Let a thousand flowers bloom.
The Sexy Green Car Show is at the Eden Project, Cornwall, until 15 April ( www.edenproject.com)
Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion
A very green machine that almost busts the 100g/km barrier for CO2 emissions (it manages to get down to 102g/km). They've tweaked the 80hp three-cylinder diesel engine, given it a more aerodynamic front end, and swapped the tyres for lower-friction items. That means average claimed fuel economy of 72mpg. Thus, if you were lucky, you could drive from London to Edinburgh on a little more than £20 of fuel. Or go from London to the South of France on a single tankful. Not a bad result from existing technologies.
D1 Lola B2K Le Mans sports car
Diesels seem to be all the rage at Le Mans these days, thanks to Audi's remarkable efforts. This D1 Lola is powered by a five-litre V10 diesel modified to run on a blend of diesel and vegetable oil produced from the seeds of the jatropha tree. A tropical oilseed-bearing tree, Jatropha curcas produces seeds with a high yield, and the oil is inedible, so the potential impact on food prices sometimes associated with bio crops should be reduced.
Axon Eco-M Edition Caterham 7
Axon is a new company that aims to make carbon fibre - which can apparently now be recycled - much more commonplace in cars, expensive as it is. The material offers huge benefits in terms of strength and lightness of construction, meaning better fuel economy and lower emissions, as well as higher performance.
Saab BioPower Hybrid Concept
Combines two "green" technologies. The "hybrid" bit comes from the electric motor fitted in parallel with the internal-combustion engine. Such hybrid technology is already used with a petrol engine on the likes of the Honda Civic Hybrid and the Toyota Prius, and stores energy otherwise wasted (eg during braking) in batteries to be used when needed, eg for hard acceleration. Yet the electric motor/battery pack idea could also be used with a diesel (as Peugeot is now developing), and, indeed, on an engine that runs on bioethanol. This fuel makes a hybrid that much greener because the biocrops to some extent absorb the CO2 that the car emits, though much depends on how and where the crops are grown.
This straightforward plug-in electric car should be better than most of the breed, with a 50-mile range, a top speed of 70mph, and a proper safety kit. Sadly, it is still undergoing trial at the moment with selected corporate users, and if it ever did make production it would be much more expensive than the standard petrol- or diesel-powered Smarts.
Vauxhall Zafira HydroGen3 Fuel Cell
According to the company, "the question is not whether hydrogen fuel cells are the answer, but how quickly they can be made commercially viable". Indeed so, but it's interesting how quickly the manufacturers have overcome the technical difficulties. Honda already has a small model on trial in California, and promises a full-sized hydrogen fuel cell saloon in showrooms in a couple of years. Mercedes-Benz has also trialled such cars, and its technology powered an experimental London bus not so long ago. Whether there will be anywhere to fill hydrogen fuel cell cars up is another matter. And while hydrogen fuel cell cars only produce water vapour as emissions, a great deal of energy may be required to make and transport the hydrogen gas.
Ford Model T
This magnificent 1920 example was, naturally, black, but also pretty green: simple to produce, relatively economical and easy to recycle. Old Henry Ford once said: "All the world is waiting for a substitute for petrol. The day is not far distant when, for every one of those barrels of petrol, a barrel of ethanol must be substituted", and went on to design a Model T that would indeed run on what we now call biofuel. Today, you can buy a Flexi Fuel Ford Focus at your local dealer that can run on unleaded, ethanol or both, though there aren't many bioethanol filling stations as yet.
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