The Green Piece Column: Tuesday 27 October
With the global recession making drivers think about their wallets and the environment ahead of power and good looks, a green car race has emerged with manufacturers keen to offer more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles than their rivals.
So who is leading the green car race? In part one of our summary, we look at the leaders and the chasing pack.
The green car race – the leaders
Toyota: When the Toyota Prius originally went on sale in 1997, it was the world's first mass-produced hybrid car, meaning the Japanese automaker effectively stole a march on its rivals. The vehicle scooped the Car of the Year award in Japan in its debut year, and the third generation of the model took the prize again in 2009. Toyota has now built a plug-in version of the Prius, which may again see the company beat its rivals to the punch on name value alone.
Crucially, Toyota's success doesn't revolve solely around the Prius. It has pushed several hybrid cars in the USA including the Camry Hybrid and Highlander Hybrid, and a number of luxury hybrid vehicles through its Lexus brand. In Europe, the likes of the Yaris and the iQ have kept average fuel consumption levels low, while Toyota is working on several new concepts such as the FT-EV (see article) which has a claimed range of 50miles per charge.
Honda: On its launch in 2003, the Honda Civic Hybrid was seen as the first true competitor for the Prius with its continuously variable transmission and Integrated Motor Assist and won the International Engine of the Year "one litre to 1.4litre" size category award for three years straight from 2002 through 2004 as well as the "Best Fuel Economy" category for 2003 and 2004.
When sales of the Civic Hybrid started to flag, Honda introduced the Insight Hybrid earlier this year. It also plans to introduce the CR-Z (see article), which has been dubbed the world's first hybrid sports car; a hybrid version of the Fit; and both the EV-N and Skydeck concepts. However, arguably Honda's most innovative vehicle to date is the FCX Clarity, the world's first dedicated platform hydrogen vehicle.
Volkswagen: German manufacturer Volkswagen has taken an alternative route to early success in the green car race by placing the emphasis on clean diesel models, which it has been marketing in Europe since 2003. It developed turbocharged direct injection technology for diesel engines and has a wide range of TDI powertrains. The 2009 clean-diesel Jetta TDI for example, has scooped numerous 'Green Car of the Year' titles and reduces emissions by 90 per cent.
Despite focusing on clean-diesel technologies, VW has not been immune to alternative fuels. It has teamed up with Sanyo to develop a hybrid battery system with future VW models to be constructed with hybrid concepts. It has also launched flexible fuel vehicles in Brazil.
The green car race – the chasing pack
Nissan: Until recently Nissan's only contribution to the green car explosion was the Altima Hybrid, produced in collaboration with Toyota. However, Nissan has since embraced the need to drive down emissions and placed its focus firmly on electric cars.
As part of a partnership with Renault, Nissan will launch the LEAF in Europe and North America in 2010 before a global release in 2012 (see article). The company is also working on the radical Land Glider Concept (see article) which looks and feels like a mixture between a car, a motorcycle and an aeroplane; and the Nissan Nuvu, a compact all-electric city car with solar panels that can travel 80miles on a single charge.
General Motors: Having been universally panned for its disregard of the EV1 and failing to get off the ground with a group of comparatively unsuccessful hybrids, the new GM is aiming to hit back with the Chevrolet Volt (see article) – arguably the most eagerly anticipated green car in North America.
The Volt will launch in 2010 and is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle that can travel for up to 40miles on electricity alone, satisfying the daily commute for 75 per cent of Americans. After 40miles it reverts to a small four-cylinder internal combustion engine that creates electricity on-board to extend the Volt’s range to more than 300 miles.
Ford: The bulk of Ford's green efforts have centred on flex-fuel vehicles with E85 versions of the Focus and Mondeo among its most successful models. In 2005, it launched the Ford Escape Hybrid – the first hybrid electric SUV. In March 2009 however, its efforts really picked up pace as Ford launched to the US market the Ford Fusion Hybrid and the Milan Mercury Hybrid, both as 2010 models. The company has enjoyed a 73 per cent increase in hybrid sales this year (see article).
In the next edition of The Green Piece we'll examine the emerging contenders, including the likes of Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive.