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Driving towards a low emissions future

With low emissions vehicles accelerating into showrooms everywhere, the UK is on a government-backed drive to be at the forefront of ultra-low carbon automotive technology, as Ashley Martin reports

Nicky Gavron, Deputy Mayor of London receives a BMW Hydrogen 7 from John Hollis, BMW?s Head of Government and Industrial Affairs

The 2012 London Olympics are set to play a key role in showcasing the everyday role that ultra-low-carbon vehicles can have in Britain by 2015.

BMW is to provide a fleet of 4,000 low emissions vehicles for the Games to transport athletes, technical officials, media, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games operational teams, national Olympic Committees, International Sports Federations, the IOC and marketing partners.

Announcing the partnership, BMW board member Ian Robertson said: ?We see our partnership as a major opportunity to focus attention on our range of the most fuel-efficient premium cars ? and also to shine a light on the future of individual mobility. This partnership will be an inspiration for our customers, employees, dealers and suppliers.? Carbon dioxide emissions on the Olympic Games vehicle fleet will average less than 120 g/km ? significantly below the average 149.5 g/km CO2 emissions figure for new cars sold in Britain last year, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). However, the year-on-year 5.4% emissions reduction was the best on record and means that since 1997 average UK new-car CO2 emissions have fallen from 189.8 g/km, according to the SMMT.

The emissions decline is set to intensify as manufacturers race to bring new low emissions petrol and diesel models to showrooms, as well as alternatively fuelled vehicles as they face up to legislators? demands for countries worldwide to embrace low-carbon/ low emissions economies. European Union law makers have already set strict pan-European targets for average new-car emissions from each manufacturer to be 130 g/km of CO2 by 2015. Meanwhile, the UK government is driving fleets, company car drivers and private motorists towards low-carbon/low emissions vehicles by linking all vehicle-related taxes to emissions. The politicians? message is therefore simple ? choose low emissions vehicles and save cash and the planet.

The government?s support for low-carbon/ low emissions vehicles ? hybrids, electric and hydrogen models ? through various funding initiatives, is designed to reduce the dependence on petrol and diesel vehicles. Transport Secretary Lord Adonis said: ?We want Britain to be at the forefront of ultra-low-carbon automotive technology, blazing a trail for environmentally friendly transportation.

?Our aim is for ultra-low-carbon vehicles to be an everyday feature of life on Britain?s roads in less than five years.? But a move to low emissions vehicles will not mean the end of the road for petrol and diesel engine technology. Manufacturers are using a wide range of technological innovations to progressively drive down combustion engines to low emissions levels and improve MPG without any loss of vehicle performance. Indeed, carmakers are extracting increased performance (bhp) from smaller engines.

In petrol and diesel cars, a combination of the use of lightweight materials, improved aerodynamics, improved engine manage-ment systems, the use of direct fuel injection, more efficient transmissions, the introduction of regenerative braking technology, the arrival of stop-start technology ? the engine cuts out when the car is stationary and restarts when the clutch is depressed ? and the use of driver information devices, such as dashboard gearchange indicators, are all contributing to low emissions and significant CO2 savings. Many manufacturers are highlighting their low emissions cars by branding the technology. For example, BMW?s EfficientDynamics technology ? which is prevalent in a wide range of its models ? has contributed to the recent launch of the upper-medium-sector 316d ES saloon, which emits 118 g/km and with fuel economy of 62.8 mpg, the model is the most fuel efficient and cleanest 3 Series ever.

Birmingham University?s hydrogen refuelling station

Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz is gradually introducing BlueEFFICIENCY technology to its model line-up ? its solution for getting low emissions and fuel consumption ? while other manufacturers are introducing special branding to identify their low emissions cars, typically sub 140 g/km. For example, Ford brands its low emissions diesel models ?ECOnetic? and this year is introducing ECOboost for petrol cars, Vauxhall chooses ?ecoFLEX?, Renault ?eco2?, Peugeot ?Blue Lion? and Volkswagen ?BlueMotion?.

And low emissions does not restrict mainstream vehicle choice to city cars or superminis. Ford, for example, has recently introduced the 2.0 litre turbo diesel Mondeo ECOnetic which, with CO2 emissions of 139 g/km and average MPG of 54.3, is billed as the ?cleanest, greenest Mondeo ever?. A glance at the government?s car-fuel consumption and exhaust emissions database ? ? reveals that there are currently almost 100 petrol and diesel cars on sale in the UK with a sub 110 g/km CO2 figure.

They include a new CO2 ?champion?, which has just gone on sale ? Mercedes-Benz-owned Smart claims its Fortwo diesel emitting 86 g/km of CO2 is ?cleaner? than all its competitors. Although the majority of ultra low emissions models are small cars, the list also includes Volvo?s C30, S40 and V50 1.6 diesel DRIVe models (104 g/km). While engineers are working round-the-clock to mprove performance from petrol and diesel engines while having low emissons they are simultaneously developing a portfolio of other technologies in a bid to meet the legislators? emissions-busting targets. But no clear new technology for low emissions winner has yet emerged. While Honda, Lexus and Toyota already have hybrid petrol-electric models on sale in the UK with more to be launched imminently, other carmakers are developing hybrid diesel-electric, so-called plug-in rechargeable electric hybrids ? Volvo is promising such cars by 2012 ? and pure electric vehicles (see separate story).

PSA Peugeot Citroen and the Renault-Nissan Alliance have already decided that electric vehicles are the future. Both have had their colours firmly nailed to that mast for several years and their faith has been rewarded with the UK government supporting electric and plug-in electric hybrid vehicle programmes ? trials that also involve the likes of Jaguar Land Rover, Mitsubishi/Colt, Mercedes-Benz/Smart, Nissan, Ford, Mini and Toyota. But also expect to see in a showroom near you in the next two or three years many other low-carbon low emissions vehicles including: hybrid diesel/electric versions of the Peugeot 3008 and Citroen DS5, a hybrid Jaguar XJ and a ?green? Range Rover.

However, with the world?s fossil fuels running out the ultimate long-term transport solution is, according to motor manufacturers, likely to be hydrogen power. The Technology Strategy Board recently announced a £7m investment on behalf of the government in 15 demonstrator projects, which include vehicle development and the trial of the hydrogen-fuelled ?black cab? in London.

Most of the world?s major motor manufacturers view hydrogen as the Holy Grail. However, it is likely to be at least a decade or probably longer before vehicles move from the test bed to becoming a viable commercial proposition ? although BMW conducted a world tour of its hydrogen 7 Series car, which included a stop in London, two years ago. Indeed, the government-financially-supported CABLED (Coventry and Birmingham Low Emissions Vehicle Demonstrators) project includes the trialling of 10 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Birmingham University has one of the UK?s few hydrogen refuelling stations, while another one is due to be opened at Coventry University. In total, the trial involves 110 low emissions vehicles and clearly points to the future, but as Iain Gray, chief executive of the Technology Strategy Board, says: ?The journey towards low-carbon transport will not be easy.?

The range of low emissions vehicles that are now accelerating into showrooms and the various government-funded low-carbon demonstrator programmes are a major step in the right direction ? but perhaps the London Olympics will prove the real turning point.

Ashley Martin
A journalist for more than 30 years, Ashley has specialised in writing about the fleet industry since 1991.

After more than a decade at leading industry title Fleet News, which he edited for seven years, he launched Ashley Martin Communications in 2001, which specialises in writing on the company car and van marketplace.

With specific reference to vehicle funding issues, at-work driving safety and the environment as well as all issues relating to fleet management

Added the 19 April 2010 in category Innovation UK Vol6-1

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Tags: Low carbon, low emissions, ultra-low-carbon vehicles, automotive technology