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Byron Shire
February 28, 2021

As petrol prices rise what car or fuel technology should I buy?

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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.

Under the bonnet of a Toyota Corolla Hybrid. Photo supplied.

The hybrid

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.

Under the bonnet of a Toyota Mirai Fuel Cell. Photo supplied.

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.

Under the bonnet of a Telsa S with electric motors at each wheel. Photo supplied.

The EV

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.

Least pollution?

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.

Riotous China

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.


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3 COMMENTS

  1. We have owned an EV for over 5 years, a Mitsubishi Imiev. Old design, so limited range, but as a run around it is great!
    We have 2 elections coming: NSW State, then the Federal (if they last that long….). One thing to ask the potential representatives is for them to support Electric Vehicle infrastructure in non-Metropolitan areas. There are a number of important issues:
    -Change rules so public car parks have charging infrastructure. Some will be ‘Fast Charge’ for quick charging on trips, & some will be slower ‘top up’ chargers that should be available in all public carparks.
    -Servicing these vehicles: there needs to be trained ‘technicians’ (mechanics) in the dealers that can service these Electric Vehicles. (I live in Lismore, & to get my car serviced it needs to go to Southport: Pick your act up Mitsubishi!) Also there needs to be legislation to force manufacturers to supply reasonably priced tools & software so independent workshops can service these cars. This is currently not happening.
    -Warranty issues: The Warranties on Electric vehicles are not as good as is offered overseas. I feel there should be legislation that internationalises these warranties so we get an equivalent warranty as is offered in other countries. Currently our warranties do not adequately protect the consumer (& I have story!)

    Electric Vehicles are coming, so we need to ensure we are not the poor country cousins! (Petrol & other fuel vehicles will be around for a while, but the economies of scale will eventually make Dino-powered vehicles uneconomic, in perhaps 10 years.)

  2. EVs are cheap to use in part because they are effectively subsidised by other motorists who pay fuel excise. As the high price means EV owners are generally well off, that is a highly regressive subsidy and as EVs become popular some form of replacement for fuel excise will be needed. The best gains in reducing car emissions here will come form the replacement of the older heavy cars common in our region with newer more fuel efficient petrol models now available at relatively cheap prices second hand. That should be supported by the repair of roads – many buyers would be reluctant to use light cars on some of our rural roads.

    We could make access to cleaner transport more readily available by improving public transport in our area and promoting its use. EV buses are available now that can run all day, and if charged with sustainably produced power could provide environmentally friendly travel for the price of a bus ticket. Don;t be fooled by the claims of rail supporters and Green politicians that a train can provide sustainable travel;even so called light rail units are very heavy and can only run short distances on the flat without expensive and ugly overhead wires.

    But the best car any of us can buy and use is of course a pedal bike or trike – assisted by electric power if the rider needs that. Cheap, and unless you have beans for breakfast, 100% pollution free. That needs to be encouraged by ensuring any rider can go where they need to on roads made safer for cycling. Where is is not possible to provide well engineered cycle paths, streets and roads should have with lanes for cycles – with shared use lanes on narrower roads and the lower speed limits in shared situations now used in European countries.

  3. Well Hybrids are out with the sentence: “Toyota has produced hybrids for 21 years, …” and we are still not satisfied with hybrids.
    The Fuel Cell is out as we have a problem: “The problem with the new technology is the cost of developing a distribution system and the production of hydrogen.”
    The EV is out “Electric Vehicles (EVs) were manufactured over 100 years ago, and so was the steam car.”
    Looks like we are stuck with the 4-stroke petrol engine.
    What was the reason for this article?
    Now think back and remember when petrol was 16 cents a litre in the late 1970s, and we still use petrol today when it goes up to $1.50 a litre. Petrol has gone up more than 900 percent and we still use petrol.

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