fuel MI­SERS

Aus­tralia’s most efficient cars. Is yours on the list?

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Front Page -

PAUL GOVER

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CRAIG DUFF THE green­est car on Aus­tralian roads is not for ev­ery­one. The Mit­subishi i-MiEV tops the of­fi­cial Green Ve­hi­cle Guide rank­ings— ahead of the Prius and other Toy­ota-group hy­brids and the lat­est clean­burn­ing Euro­pean diesel cars — be­cause it runs en­tirely on bat­tery power that is re­newed from an elec­tric­ity socket. The elec­tric i-MiEV doesn’t even have an ex­haust pipe.

Yet, against a back­drop of more than 16 mil­lion ve­hi­cles on our roads and the na­tional fleet grow­ing by more than 2 per cent each year, there are fewer than 150 i-MiEVs in ac­tion. These are ba­si­cally just test cars in the hands of aca­demics and pub­lic ser­vants.

The num­ber will grow when the i-MiEV goes pub­lic in Mit­subishi show­rooms next month, with an ex­pected sub$50,000 price. The Aus­tralian plug-in fleet for now also in­cludes the nar­row-fo­cus and costly Tesla Road­ster, while the im­pres­sive Nis­san Leaf— just crowned as World Car of the Year— ar­rives next year.

The tiny num­bers prove elec­tric cars are a long way from sup­plant­ing pe­tro­leum power. In any case, the i-MiEV has fa­tal flaws in the real world, from its tiny, tinny body and less-than-ideal safety rat­ing to a range that makes a de­cent daily com­mute a mar­ginal ven­ture on a sin­gle charge. Dirty coal, not clean so­lar or wind or hy­dro or ther­mal or nu­clear power, pro­vides the ma­jor­ity of Aus­tralia’s elec­tric­ity. And that’s the re­ally big hur­dle for any large-scale move from oil to elec­tric­ity in a coun­try where cars are es­sen­tial, not just a lux­ury.

There will be a day when elec­tric cars, ei­ther with bat­ter­ies or on­board fuel cells run­ning on hy­dro­gen, rule the roads. Ev­ery time an ex­pert makes a pre­dic­tion, how­ever, the end game moves fur­ther into the fu­ture. Petroleumpow­ered ve­hi­cles were once tagged for a 2010 de­par­ture but that quickly be­came 2020 and most fu­tur­ists now say it’s likely to be 2050 be­fore a sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion of new cars move away from in­ter­nal­com­bus­tion en­gines.

CHOICES All of this leaves new-car shop­pers with tough choices.

There are green or greentinged cars in most price and size classes, from the Honda Civic hy­brid to the com­ing Porsche Panam­era hy­brid. In­creas­ingly there are diesels, though Ja­panese and Aus­tralian pro­duc­tion is tiny and pick­ing the right one is not as easy as you’d think.

Cars­guide favours the Ford Fi­esta ECO­netic at the bot­tom end and the lat­est MercedesBenz S350 BlueTec diesel is a ripper at the top. There is also the made-in-Mel­bourne Camry hy­brid and even the i-MiEV for peo­ple who only need a car for city trips.

But be­fore we all rush into green and po­ten­tially pay too much for too lit­tle, there are a few things to re­mem­ber. First, only 8 per cent of Aus­tralia’s nasty CO emis­sions come

2 from pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cles. Sec­ond, the coun­try’s an­nual 543 mil­lion tonnes of CO

2 is only about 1.5 per cent of the global to­tal, al­though still equal to the pol­lu­tion pro­duced by more pop­u­lous In­done­sia and Bri­tain.

Third, tailpipe emis­sions in Aus­tralia have fallen by an av­er­age of 12 per cent over the past six years, thanks to the rapid de­vel­op­ment of tech­nolo­gies for in­ter­nal­com­bus­tion en­gines. That in­cludes ev­ery­thing from elec­tric power steer­ing and on­de­mand al­ter­na­tors to stop­start en­gine con­trols and low­drag body­work.

REAL GREEN So where do you go if you want a real car that makes a real con­tri­bu­tion to the green­ing of Aus­tralian roads? The no­brainer an­swer is the Toy­ota Prius, or an­other mem­ber of the grow­ing petrol-elec­tric hy­brid fam­ily from the world’s largest car maker. But even if hy­brids can run at low speeds on bat­tery power, they are ul­ti­mately petrol-pow­ered.

A diesel, then? Yes, but diesels make more of the nasty ni­tro­gen ox­ides (NOx), there are par­tic­u­late emis­sions and the ex­tra cost of a diesel en­gine means you gen­er­ally have to cover about 30,000km a year to be in front, even with more range from each litre and a close price par­ity with petrol.

Get­ting the an­swers for the right cars starts with the of­fi­cial rat­ings, found at green­ve­hi­cleguide.gov.au, and mak­ers are now re­quired to pro­vide more in­for­ma­tion.

Mo­torists are well in­formed when buy­ing a new ve­hi­cle, with a sticker dis­played on the wind­screen of ev­ery new car ad­vis­ing of its car­bon emis­sions per kilo­me­tre,’’ says Andrew McKel­lar, head of the Fed­eral Cham­ber of Au­to­mo­tive In­dus­tries.

GREEN PICKS In the light-car class, our choice is the Ford Fi­esta ECO­netic. It gets four stars in the Green Ve­hi­cle Guide and is a sur­pris­ingly fun drive, once you re­mem­ber it has a small- ca be an it’ ac (ve fro it’ m sc 3.7 98 9a An go

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Nis­san Leaf: an EV you’d ac­tu­ally buy

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