Innovation at Goodwood: The future is here

The Festival of Speed isn't just for petrolheads. This year, it's showcasing progress towards the emission-free car, says Richard Bremner

It's the most nostalgic, atmospheric, noisiest and at times, fume-laden events of the year – and one of the most glamorous. The Goodwood Festival of Speed, which takes place on 22 to 24 June, is an annual celebration of race, rally and performance cars going back more than a century, held in the elegant grounds of Goodwood House.

The core of the event is a series of timed runs made by most of these cars up the long, picturesque and occasionally dangerous driveway. It provides a chance to see – and hear – not only glamorous battlers from eras past, but often their drivers too, and at a close range not possible at today's GP events. Jenson Button, Emerson Fittipaldi, Sir Stirling Moss and Damon Hill are among the big names to be seen there next month.

The festival celebrates a period when the world was less aware of the environmental consequences of unfettered car use and uncleansed exhausts. Walk through its paddocks of revving engines, and you'll be hit by gusts of carbon monoxide and petrol fumes, triggering memories of racetracks and cars with wanton fuel habits.

But the festival's organisers are, of course, aware that times have changed. This year, they are debuting the FoS-Tech pavilion, exhibiting the cars and technologies of tomorrow. The Earl of March, who created the festival at his family seat, says: "In order for us all to continue to enjoy the exceptional current and historic motor-racing machinery we assemble at Goodwood every year, I recognise that we also need to look to the future, and the social and sustainable impact on personal transportation for all of us. I believe FoS-Tech will give festival guests a useful insight into our future motoring needs, with an intriguing display of rarely seen state-of-the-art prototypes and concepts."

FoS-Tech has been curated by Clean Green Cars (www.cleangreencars.co.uk), the green car web guide. The pavilion will feature some the most advanced concept cars the industry has built, many not previously seen in the UK. All showcase environmentally friendly technologies that address global warming. All are arrestingly styled – but they offer different solutions to the greenhouse gas issue.

There's a good reason for this, of course, which is that the industry has not yet devised a practical, mass-producible emission-free car. Nissan's wacky electric Pivo, a city car whose cabin can rotate through 180 degrees, helping it park in tight spaces, has no exhaust with which to pollute, but its effectiveness depends on how the electricity to charge its batteries is produced in the first place.

That may sound like half an answer, then, but there are many car companies, Nissan, General Motors and Volkswagen among them, who believe that electricity generated by some means – solar, nuclear, fuel cell or clean coal, for instance – is the ultimate solution.

Electric propulsion doesn't mean we're destined for a world of low-performance cars either. The Lotus Elise-based Tesla Roadster belts to 60mph in four seconds flat – a feat it will perform on the Goodwood hill – and has a 200-mile range. As ever, performance is seen as a means of sugaring the global warming pill, which is why Toyota's latest hybrid concept, the FT-HS, is a rapid sports coupé. The FT-HS will be on show at FoS-Tech. Honda, too, is fielding an unusual hybrid coupé.

But city cars are on display as well; the Smart EV will look familiar, but its electric propulsion system, developed by Britain's Zytek, is new, while the Z-car is radical from nose to tail. Designed by the renowned Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, the egg-shaped, three-wheeled Z-car could be powered by a range of green propulsion systems. It's no fantasy, either; its creators are talking to blue-chip automotive companies keen to see it on the road. No less spectacular but considerably bigger is Peugeot's 908RC, a rear-engined V10 diesel limo closely related to the 908 Le Mans diesel race car it's campaigning this year. A V10 may sound profligate, but its technology offers the potential of more efficient road cars. Peugeot is also displaying the Quark, a fuel-cell quad bike.

Several exhibits run on straight hydrogen, their petrol engines converted. BMW's H7 might seem a modest rework of its 7 Series luxury saloon, but this car represents 25 years' worth of research, and has now gone into limited production, with eight cars coming to Britain. It can only be refuelled at a station in Wembley, but BMW believes this is a first step towards a hydrogen infrastructure. The Giugiaro Vadho, meanwhile, is a dramatic tandem two-seat concept using the H7's engine.

Another system is represented by the striking biofuel Saab Aero X, a more extreme version of the biofuel models it already offers. Citroën is fielding its cute diesel hybrid C-Airplay concept, previewing a powertrain that will be in production before the decade is out.

This exhibition is eye-catching evidence that the car industry is tackling global warming. The range of solutions underscores the fact that we have some way to go before we can buy the zero-emission car, but the promise is there.

The author is editor of www.cleangreencars.co.uk

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