Car choice: Suffolk, with punch

Electric cars aren't the only way to drive in an eco-friendly manner. James Ruppert looks at deep green options
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Wendy Hewer Norris and her husband are planning their new-build in Suffolk and will be commuting from their London home. Obviously they need some way of getting there, hence the need for a vehicle, but not a conventional one. You see, they have permission to build an eco wooden house, with energy self-sufficiency. So the new car/van has to match their new lifestyle. Wendy's budget is £10-15,000 and they are struggling to find an electric car or van that will do the round trip of about 90 miles up the M11.



Ican read the emails and letters now. According to many readers I really shouldn't be recommending an evil motor vehicle at all. Wendy and husband should be letting the train take the strain from London to Suffolk. Then it's on to their fold-up bikes for the trip to the building site.

Hold on, though: Wendy wants to travel electric, which is OK, isn't it? Zero emissions and all that. Of course, the energy to recharge really ought to come from a renewable resource, like a solar panel. However, even that line of justification is fairly pointless because, as Wendy has discovered, getting an electric vehicle that will do that sort of journey on one charge is difficult.

That's possibly why I want to encourage Wendy to think about a more efficient petrol, or diesel-powered vehicle. After all, once they have relocated to sunny Suffolk, then a battery car probably will work for them. So in the meantime surely they could make a few compromises? After all, it's only for a short while.



A car for the head

Here's the first and last time I'm going to suggest this one, but how about a car share scheme? It's a bit like hiring a car, but more right on. Streetcar (www.streetcar.co.uk) rents VW BlueMotions from £3.95 per hour, and is gaining real momentum across London. It now has more than 20,000 members who can choose from 600 cars across 400 locations. So the chances are that Wendy could utilise a scheme like this.

However, shifting stuff between London and Suffolk is going to be a pain if you have to return the Polo every weekend, and maybe it won't be big enough. Instead, Wendy could seriously consider a diesel van for a bit. She could even put some biodiesel in it, which – especially if it's recycled chip fat – is very environmentally friendly. Finding places to fill up is made easier by www.biodieselfillingstations.co.uk. Even better, if Wendy is going the whole green hog, would be making her own.

Since the Government scrapped the tax on homemade biodiesel, apparently you can make it for 9p a litre and then put it into an old Escort van costing £600. That leaves her £10,000 to £15,000 to spend on the new build. Perfect.



A car for the heart

This is a really easy one: go electric. Except that, as I explained, they are not perfect for what we have in mind. Hold on, though, there's the Citroë* Berlingo Electrique. Here are the stats: it has a rangeof 40 to 50 miles in urban driving conditions and a top speed of 60mph, which should be fine on the M11. So maybe it could get to Suffolk and – if they plug it in somewhere there – back again (it takes between eight and nine hours and 20kWh to recharge from flat).

Because it is an electric variant of the Berlingo range, the vehicle has all the comfort, safety and durability of a modern vehicle. Spares are readily available, but before getting too involved, experts tell me it's important to find out if there is a Citroë* dealer near you who can, or rather will, service the Electrique as it's not feasible to run one otherwise.

It was on the UK market for eight years and is available in more basic van form. It cost £15,895 plus VAT when new, but it is possible to pick up a used version, and the original suppliers Drivelectric (0870 744 3006) can help, with prices starting at £5,000 plus VAT. They talked the most sense I have ever heard from an "alternative vehicle" supplier and had quite a few in stock. I reckon they could tell Wendy definitively whether the Berlingo would be suitable.

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or email James Ruppert at carchoice@independent.co.uk, giving your age, address, phone number, details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested and budget.

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