According to Forbes magazine ‘petrol prices are expected to increase by 75 per cent over the next 10 years’, when using figures from World Energy Report, 2016. Some car manufacturers dispute this because of anticipated growth in electric vehicles and hybrids. So what are your choices?
The better the options, the thicker the wallet needs to be. Here’s the low-down on the four major technologies, commencing with purchase affordability.
Hybrids combine a petrol motor with an electric motor charged whenever you brake. The friction (kinetic energy) from the brakes converts into electricity, in a large battery, under the back seat or under the boot. Hybrids also have a ‘top up’ button: when taking your foot off the accelerator, press the ‘regen’ button and you increase the battery charge.
Toyota has produced hybrids for 21 years, selling over 12 million, and are renowned for their reliability. Hybrids are also available from: VW, Audi, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Renault, Peugeot, Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Coming soon are the Mini and Ford hybrids.
Hyundai offers three Ioniq models: hybrid $33k, a plug-in hybrid $41k, full electric $55k.
The number of hybrids rapidly increases yearly. Toyota says they will have hybrid versions of most models, including their luxury Lexus range, within a few years.
Toyota Priuses and Camrys are widely used as taxis because of reliability and fuel use. Hybrid users driving 25,000km per year save between $1,500 and $2,000 a year in fuel. Most hybrids average 4.5 litres of fuel per 100km.
All Paris buses are hybrids except for all-electric buses climbing Montmartre. F1 racing cars have all been hybrids for the last 11 years to show they are serious about conserving fossil fuel!
Plug-in hybrids have a plug at the filler cap end. When attached to solar panels with software managing the charging, a plug-in vehicle travels 50+km, depending on the car’s battery size.
One Byron local with solar owns both a Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in 4WD hybrid and a Corolla hybrid. He uses the Outlander around town to do his daily errands free on sunshine. His non-plug-in Corolla hybrid is for longer-distance travel, reducing fuel costs by 30–50 per cent.
Toyota produce the largest number and range of plug-in hybrids but none for Australia as all go to the big markets of USA, Europe, and Asia.
The fuel cell
Fuel-cell vehicles, like electric cars, only use electric motors, but store energy differently. Instead of charging a battery, they store hydrogen gas in a tank. The fuel cell combines hydrogen with oxygen from the air to produce electricity for its battery. There is no smog-forming or climate-changing pollution from the tailpipe – the only by-product is water.
Fuel-cell vehicles are sold by Honda, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, GM, and Toyota’s mid-size Mirai at US$57,500.
The problem with the new technology is the cost of developing a distribution system and the production of hydrogen. Australia’s CSIRO boasts they are devising a cheaper way of storing and delivering hydrogen. But technology visionary Elon Musk believes these problems will hold back fuel-cell technology. I find his view persuasive.
Electric Vehicles (EVs) were manufactured over 100 years ago, while electric-powered trolley buses and trams produced over decades were squashed by the oil and tyre giants.
Enter Elon Musk, who, like Apple with their Mac, started at the top end of the market with Tesla Model S. They out accelerate Ferraris, Porsches, etc because electric motors develop peak torque from the start, unlike sluggish petrol engines.
All EVs are plug-ins. The fuel is cheap – free from a home solar system or equivalent to $0.30 per litre from NRMA E-pump sites.
A woman from Biloela in Central Qld did a round-Australia-trip in a Tesla. Her fuel cost was $150.90.
But EVs themselves are not cheap. The world’s cheapest EV car, the Nissan Leaf, a smallish four seater, is $40,000 here, while the similar-sized, more luxurious BMW i3 sells for $64,000.
Which emits less CO2, electric car or hybrid? If you power your EV from the grid and you live in NSW, VIC, or QLD, the hybrid emits less CO2 because these states’ power generation is inefficient. But in hydro-rich TAS and wind and solar-rich SA, EVs generate less CO2.
Prompted by often under-reported riots and demonstrations over domestic pollution, China has become the world’s biggest producer of electric vehicles. But these EVs are restricted for local consumption.
What did I buy? I bought a low-mileage secondhand 2008, reliable, roomy and smooth Prius hybrid in excellent condition for $8,500. I’ve already saved $4k in fuel. If I bought new today, I would buy a hybrid Corolla (2018 entry level $25,870) or hybrid Camry ($33,911), while wishing Toyota would sell plug-iIns in Australia.