Greener Than Thou

Despite all the headlines out of Detroit just now, green motoring even in the sense of low-carbon would seem a long way off, writes Register's Lewis Page.

Published: 17-Jan-2008

The struggle among motor-industry biggies regarding who can seem the greenest (while simultaneously not actually doing very much about carbon emissions) continues. Toyota and GM are vying for supremacy in the plug-in hybrid stakes, Ferrari has dipped a toe in biofuel, and out of left field come French and Indian contenders with a car powered by compressed air.

As regular Reg readers will be aware, a hybrid car is one with both a conventional engine and a battery. Electric motor-generators permit the battery to drive the wheels, to charge itself up by braking, and to be charged by the ordinary engine while stationary or coasting. All this means that the petrol/diesel (or fuel-cell) engine can be smaller than would otherwise be required for decent performance, and can be run in a more fuel-efficient, less polluting manner.

A plug-in hybrid is one in which the battery is large enough that it can drive the vehicle a useful distance without help from the engine; very few such cars are presently on the road. The plug-in, as its name implies, can thus take power from the electrical grid while stationary and use it for short trips. In the case of a short commute where the car could plug in at home and at work, it might not burn any fossil fuel at all on most days, emitting no carbon.

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