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