Fuel Efficient Vehicles
With vehicle emissions accounting for about 8 per cent of the total carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, continual improvements to vehicle emissions standards and new technologies are important. Australia's road vehicle emission standards for new vehicles have been progressively tightened over the past 40 years, with the first stage of the Euro 5 emission standards for light vehicles introduced in November 2013.
In recent years, there has been an increase in the popularity of cars powered by electric motors, driven by concerns about the environment, increasing price and decreasing security of Australia's future fuel supplies.
When you are considering buying a car, a quick CO2 check is advisable. Buying a vehicle with lower CO2 emissions helps the environment and creates more demand for fuel efficient cars.
You can visit the Australian Government's Green Vehicle Guide for vehicle fuel consumption ratings. Or you can visit NRMA's Buying Green guide or Operating Costs Calculator.
The NRMA has also researched and tested different technologies and vehicles.
The most common type of electric vehicle (EV) in Australia is the hybrid – a vehicle with both an electric drive system and an internal combustion engine (ICE) using either petrol or diesel to power the vehicle. The battery cannot be charged by external means (at home or a charge station). The ICE drives the vehicle and charges the on-board battery. A computer decides which motor to use to minimise fuel consumption and maintain speed. Hybrids usually incorporate regenerative braking, a system that uses the weight and power of a vehicle slowing down to create electricity. Compared with an ICE vehicle, a hybrid vehicle can reduce the fuel consumption significantly. The biggest disadvantage is the higher purchase cost and uncertainty around how long the battery pack will last.
An electric vehicle (EV) is powered only by an electric motor. It has no ICE, petrol tank or exhaust. An on-board battery can be connected to a charging point to refuel. EVs are considered to be Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEV) when charged with renewable energy. They also contain regenerative braking technology. They are best suited for city and suburban use although as technology improves battery charge will continue to cover longer distances. They are much cheaper to run and maintain (no oil changes) than a conventional vehicle but are more expensive than petrol/diesel cars, due to the upfront cost of the battery.
Extended range electric vehicles
Extended Range Vehicles have both an electric motor and an ICE. In contrast to a hybrid vehicle, the ICE acts as a generator only, and does not drive the wheels directly. The ICE's purpose is to recharge the battery when it drops below a certain charge level, extending the maximum distance that the vehicle may travel. Essentially, it's an electric vehicle that has its own on-board power station. The system can also be charged from an external power source.
Honda and Toyota were the first manufacturers in the market with petrol/electric hybrid technology, but they have since been joined by others.
In Australia, we currently have a range of hybrid models to choose from. Toyota's Prius was first to market but there is now a wide range of hybrids available, including the Honda Jazz hybrid at a price of around $23,000, and some luxury variants from Lexus and European manufacturers. Even Ferrari, the traditional high performance sports car manufacturer, is developing a hybrid variant.
Will hybrid technology make significant improvements or will there be a shift away from electric-powered cars?
We won't see a shift away from hybrid cars; we'll probably just see more of them. And because they'll be more user-friendly, people will get used to them and there'll be a growing acceptance, especially when they don't look any different to conventional vehicles.
When driven, does a hybrid car feel different to a petrol-fuelled car?
Currently they do. Toyota starts and drives off in electric mode, then the petrol engine cuts in. The transition is virtually seamless - the 'Hybrid Synergy Drive' system that Toyota has developed is particularly good. You'll only feel the slightest vibration.
The Honda isn't as refined. It does the same thing, but it's very noticeable when the engine shuts down and restarts, to the point that in suburban driving you're aware of the engine's stopping and starting, which does begin to annoy you.
What are hybrid's disadvantages?
The biggest disadvantage is the higher purchase cost and uncertainty about the car's long term resale value. Currently, 3-4 year old Prius's are selling at around 50% of purchase price, which is not that much different to a conventional vehicle.
The other question for some people is, how long will the battery pack last? Toyota claims it has only replaced 4 Prius batteries in Australia, and two of those were in vehicles used in Cairns as taxis that had covered over 500,000 kilometres.
With the adoption of battery technologies used in mobile phones for powering cars, there is a rapidly expanding interest in producing pure electric vehicles, with no internal combustion engine at all.
As noted in the latest Jamison Group Report electric vehicles, once a pipe-dream, are now a reality. They are part of the revolution to introduce a low-carbon economy and reduce motorists' reliance on oil. In the UK, the Government plans to roll out 1 million electric vehicles by 2020 using incentives such as free parking for electric vehicle owners.
What does it mean to drive electric?
For starters, it means a significant reduction in air pollution in cities as noxious tail pipe emissions like nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide are zero with an electric car. This is good news for our health. Depending on the price of electricity it may also mean it may cost less to run your car. Maintenance costs are less thanks to simpler technology so electric vehicles may mean big saving to motorists.
It also requires charging points dotted throughout the city. In the UK, it is planned that no Londoner be more than a mile from a charging point by 2020, with payment likely to be in a "pay as you go" format - as for mobile phones.
Powering electric cars does mean shifting the carbon pollution to the source of electricity generation. However, if we use power sourced from renewables like wind and solar - it will mean a significant reduction in carbon emissions. The benefit of reduced air pollution in cities will also be significant for our health - particularly for reduced respiratory disease.