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Can fuel efficiency be fun?
Petrol has reached at least £1.40 a litre in most parts of the UK yet there's no sign of the road blocks and forecourt chaos we had in the mid naughties - when the price hit a now-enviable £1.20. Where is everyone?! I can only assume we're resigned to having our wallets emptied as we fill the tank and our energy to protest is as spent as our cash.
we're resigned to having our wallets emptied as we fill the tank
Adding more wounds to our punctured purse now are the actual makers of our cars who, it seems, have been duping us for years with optimistic fuel economy figures. I know this is true because my daily runner is a Range Rover V8 - petrol, ouch - which I use mostly around town and get in the region of 15mpg. It rises to a celebratory 18mpg when I venture on motorways but on most trips I feel like dropping the window and the contents of my bank account with it. My husband managed a heady 24mpg once but I don't have the patience for such fun-zapping behaviour.
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Over the last 12 months fuel economy has become a topic of choice for me. Where once I chatted merrily about the merits of rear-wheel drive and brake horse power, now I'm chewing the fat over fuel economy - a subject I once thought of as beyond tedious and totally irrelevant to my life. Happy days.
I am obsessed with CO2 emission figures
But now I'm left open-mouthed, wide-eyed and incredibly jealous as I listen to the smug 'over 50mpg' brigade who whizz by petrol stations without a sweat on. And, much to the disgust of my fellow Fifth Gear petrolhead Tiff Needell, I am obsessed with CO2 emission figures as well. Oh yes, it's a barrel of laughs talking to me these days. If fuel economy is your priority then my Rangey will rank as your number one enemy, but there are worse.
However, there's a new breed of machine that will excite the misers - an 'extended-range electric vehicle' where the petrol engine acts as a generator for the electric motor, rather than powering the driven wheels directly and zapping fuel under load as in a hybrid.
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The current Car of the Year, the Vauxhall Ampera, is one such car and it boasts a mahoosive 235mpg. My jaw is still grazed from that fact. I don't know how accurate the number will be when someone like me has driven it for more than hour, but even if you account for a 35% drop (found in worst cases by What Car? magazine MPG controlled tests) that's still good for 153mpg.
It'll do up to 50 miles as an all-electric car and a further 350 miles with the engine ticking away. It's surprisingly decent to drive, has a fabulously futuristic interior and looks all right from the outside. You can buy one for £30,000 (government grant already taken into account) and it seats four adults so it'll do just fine in a one-car household.
the future's not quite so shiny when you look long-term or secondhand
But you need to fully charge the electric motor overnight because it's too inefficient to ask the 1.4-litre petrol engine to do it while on the move, and that requires some infrastructure at home. And then there's the expensive issue of replacing the battery once the car turns eight years old, so the future's not quite so shiny when you look long-term or secondhand.
A more glamorous version of this technology can be found in the Fisker Karma. Made in California where the sun always shines, it even has a solar-panelled roof to help power little things like the radio.
It's an £86,000, four-seater, four-door coupé to rival a Mercedes-Benz CLS and it makes its noise in looks alone (though there's a slight sound alerting pedestrians to its presence in town).
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The biggest concern I have about a car like this is that it won't feel like the powerful performance machine its design deigns. But a stab on the throttle quickly reminds you that the adrenalin junkie's best friend - torque - is right at hand. Or at foot. It's not only got 918lb ft of the stuff on tap from the off (a Ferrari 458 has 398lb ft) but it's also all yours in one fat maximum delicious dollop, so the Karma can hit 62mph in 5.9 seconds. You feel that punch, even if you can't hear it, and its in-gear acceleration is just as forceful so you don't really miss a V8, V10 or V12 at all... Well, not as much as you'd fear.
So perhaps we should all embrace the next generation of fuel-saving technology because there's still some fun to be had. Though my traditional heart will forever beat for the likes of the €1 million Pagani Huyara - the 6.0-litre V12-powered ubercar with stop-start technology only when you turn the key.
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So the first question is, how are Vauxhall legally allowed to get away with claiming 200 plus mpg when the car gets no where near that on petrol power and secondly, why does the petrol engine not also charge up the batteries?
If the manufacturers could make the vehicles charge the batteries as they drove along then they would indeed be a viable alternative to petrol/diesel engines. As Aiden Grindle below has indicated, the technology already exists to do this, ( and has for a long time ) so why are we not seeing it in vehicles?
Obviously wind turbines have been around for a while now, just look at the nearest piece of countryside around you and you will see them, and this technology can be fitted to, in very compact installations which will provide a charge whilst the vehicle is moving. Secondly,generators can also be connected to the undriven wheels so that as the vehicle is moving, the batteries are being charged.
This comes into play when you are cruising on the motorway for example because unlike petrol and diesel engines that can actually cruise at quite light throttle openings, ( hence they are more economical at cruising speeds ) electric motors cannot. They require a constant level of current to maintain their rev range and speed so whereas with a petrol engine you might only need a quarter throttle to maintain 70 mph, an electric motor will required three quarters, etc.
This technology already exists so why is it not being fitted?......You may well have to still recharge the batteries at night if you only do short journeys, but this has to be better than using a petrol engine to drive the vehicle.
The other factor is that whilst electric motors do indeed have huge amounts of torque at zero revs, this quickly dissipates as the revs rise so response at the top end ot the motors rev ranges are not so good.
The issue of battery life expectancy is also another consideration. All manufacturers seem to indicate that 8 years is the max you can expect from a battery from an electric vehicle, but what is this based on?.....If the battery is charged from near empty everyday, does this shorten the life of the battery and what happens when you have to replace it?....from what I have read, you are looking at many thousands of pounds to buy a new one. Also, as has been seen in the US, these batteries can catch fire after a few weeks if all the fluid drains in an accident, so if asomeone has a slight crash in their eletric car which damages the battery cell casing, but they are unaware of it, does this mean that their cars might suddenly burst into flames over night in their garage?
What is evident is that fuel will continue to go up. Remember it is not the actual price of fuel itself that makes it so expensive, it is the duty and vat and with the current government at least, you are not ever going to see that come down, so given this, we do have to look at alternatives for internal combustion powered vehicles,but as yet, no one has really come up with a viable alternative.
Oh and one other thing....if we did all switch to electric vehicles, the government will have lost a huge amount of tax revenue so what do you think they will do then?...add duty to the electricity you use to charge your batteries....think I am joking?.....just watch this space.
A tiltle "Can fuel efficiency be fun?", numerous paragraphs on dull fuel economy figures and dull cars and then one paragraph on a mildy nippy yank hybrid. I'm no expert but the Tesla and Connaught spring easily to mind. Another crap article with little point or research
So it's the same MPG as my Mk1 MR2, I thinkI know what I prefer.
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