Eco-cars: This year's green machines

Sean O'Grady takes a look at the eco-friendly stars of the 2006 Motor Show
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

The green theme, it's fair to say, isn't that big at the Motor Show. A pity, given the state of the planet. All car makers have to deal with the challenge of climate change. But it might be easier if they had a little help from us car buyers. There are lots of ifs... If we were happy to use smaller, more economical cars; if we could drive electric cars; if the Government offered even the slightest fiscal incentive to go greener. If we buyers changed our habits, the car makers would be happy to oblige. Yet we do not, and it is going to be difficult to change our ways.

There are so few green "stars" at the Motor Show this year because there doesn't seem to be that much demand for them. An electric version of the excellent little Smart city car is being unveiled, and will be made available to selected corporate customers at least at first. It promises a range of 70 miles. The only other new vehicle for the British market is from the appropriately named Nice Car Company. Its electric car is in fact a version of an existing Aixam design, from France, but it too is a welcome addition to the narrow range of green cars.

To get the basics right: plug the Nice into the mains and it will offer a top speed of about 40mph and a range of 50 miles. It costs pennies to "fill up" by charging from the mains, and, if the power it consumes is from renewables then it is about as green as you can get without pedalling or walking. It also looks, to most eyes, more "normal" than its principal competitor, the G-Wiz, which will also be at the Motor Show.

Priced at less than £10,000, the Nice is not cheap, especially when stacked against the £8,500 G-Wiz. Both cars will take a long time to recoup their initial purchase price, but it might make sense if you live and work in London. They're exempt from the congestion charge, enjoy free parking and recharging in some boroughs, and, of course, have those famously low running costs.

More real-world alternatives to a plug-in electric car will also be at the show. Toyota's perennial Prius has been given a gadget that apparently lets the car park itself; Honda's recently launched Civic Hybrid offers conventional saloon-car styling with the new technology. There is also a bigger range than ever of big hybrids from Lexus.

The millionth Focus made by Ford will also be presented to its owner at the show. It is a bioethanol or "Flexi-Fuel model" that runs on carbon-neutral bioethanol or petrol. So green can be practical.

It can be sexy, too, according to Saab, which will be proudly showing what it claims to be the world's first fossil-fuel-free hybrid, the Saab 9-3 Convertible. Combining pure bioethanol with electric power on demand, the Saab 9-3 Convertible BioPower Hybrid Concept is also the world's first hybrid soft-top.

Most encouragingly, the Energy Saving Trust's presence at the show betokens at least some interest from the authorities in greener driving. The EST is the quango, part-funded by the Government, that used to run the Powershift scheme, which gave drivers a grant of about £1,000 towards buying a green car or converting to a greener fuel. Now the scheme has gone and the EST spends its time advising us. It is doing excellent work with fleet managers and individual drivers alike. Fine, but the only thing that will really have us driving around in electric cars is a decent financial incentive.

Search for used cars

Comments