Which Car? 'What can I drive to help save the planet?'

Phillip Worthington, 32, a settlements clerk from Woolwich, east London, wants to save the planet. He also wants to avoid the London congestion charge and to know more about the implications of owning an alternative-fuel vehicle. Longer term he is not so sure a car with batteries will be practical, or, indeed, environmentally friendly

Mr Worthington could buy a bicycle and go about his business in a superior and congestion-free manner. But he also needs to cart stuff and has significant distances to travel for family reasons, so that is not an option.

Possibly the most environmentally friendly thing Mr Worthington could do is to buy a used rather than a new car. The environmental impact of buying something new is colossal, however fuel-efficient it may be. The reality is though cars are being made whether there are buyers for them or not.

Another facetious suggestion to sidestep the charge would be for Mr Worthington to qualify as a licensed Hackney cab. Although avoiding the congestion charge and driving an environmentally friendly car ought to be two mutually exclusive aims, when it comes to dodging the congestion charge, alternative fuel is makes sense.

Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)-converted cars which produce lower emissions although they are not perfect. Fuel consumption is higher although its lower price makes up for this. Even better, there are electric vehicles, which pay no tax and use no fossil fuels.

A car for the head

The problem with pure electric vehicles is that their practicality is reduced because limited battery life reduces their range. If you are going to stray out of the urban jungle, you will not get far simply on battery power, and you will need a conventional engine.

The Toyota Prius is a hybrid vehicle, combining an efficient petrol engine with an electric motor. Since 1997, more than 100,000 have been sold although the company has heavily subsidised it. The good news for Mr Worthington is that the UK Government subsidises it too, to the tune of £1,000 through a Powershift grant. It is also congestion charge exempt.

Mr Worthington should not worry too much about the future because the special batteries are guaranteed for the life of the vehicle. Not only that, the Prius has an extended five-year warranty and the icing on the environmental cake is that at the end of the Prius' useful life Toyota take responsibility for recycling it. In fuel-saving terms, most diesels will match or out-perform the Prius. That makes the Prius something of a green gesture, just a clever petrol car which is a pointer to the future.

A car for the heart

If Mr Worthington wanted to drive with a clear conscience and avoid the congestion charge then he ought to go fully electric.

He could even build one because there are plenty of books and several clubs who can help, and a brilliant website, www.evuk.co.uk with loads of electrifying resources.

The problem always has been actually buying an electric car. Over the years, there have been many companies trying to do this, but now Drivelectric 0870 744 3006 www.drivelectric.com, have a range of vehicles on offer. Probably the most practical is the Citroën Berlingo van. Yes, it is a van, but it can be ordered with rear seats if need be. It retails for £12,000, exclusive of VAT, but includes a government grant.

Drivelectric sell it on behalf of Citroën in the London area because specialist servicing is required.

A significant development is the Renault's Kangoo Electric City vehicle (comes as a van and a car) which will soon be available for test driving from Drivelectric. Plug it in to your renewable electricity source for your 50 miles a day. Should you run out of range away from your socket, an on-board petrol-fuelled generator will get you back to base with an extra range of 50 miles.

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