(Nederlandse versie hier)
The Dutch TV program “Tegenlicht” aired a documentary on energy efficiency of cars this past Monday (mostly in English; viewable here). One of the unexpected highlights (starting at 3:40 into the video) was a 1973 Opel P-1 experimental car, which supposedly got a mileage of 159 km for 1 liter of petrol (0.63 liter/100 km or 373 mpg; It’s not road worthy as-is though). How did they achieve this 35 years ago? At least as interesting is the question why such a technical possibility (in a road-worthy adaptation) hasn’t been brought to the market? Why are we still driving in cars that use 7 liter/100 km, when with technology from 35 years ago it can be made 10 times more efficient?
A journalist for The Economist explained that car companies get most of their profit from big, luxury cars, and just don’t see much financial promise in fuel efficient cars. Apparently they don’t see such technology as helping their bottom line. The close ties between the car manufacturers and the oil industry is not conducive to improving energy efficiency either. Let alone working towards electric transport, which is generally the most energy efficient.
Another interviewee pointed out that half the new cars are sold to fleet owners (e.g. as lease cars). The drivers of these cars typically don’t pay for the petrol themselves, so there’s no financial incentive to drive a fuel efficient car. The U.K. is the exception: You pay differential taxes according to your lease car’s fuel efficiency. It is therefore the only country where company cars are on average more fuel efficient than privately owned cars. This is one of many examples how financial incentives can influence consumer behavior.
Of course Tesla Motors was also featured, with their all-electric sports car. It accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 3.9 sec and has an action radius of 300 km. A full charge takes 3.5 hours (to be decreased to 1 hour; it costs a few dollars in electricity), which is an important bottleneck for all-electric vehicles. For most trips a range of 300 km is plenty, but for those occasional longer journeys, the long charging time poses a problem. For long journeys, people need to either own or rent a second car which allows a quick charge (i.e. petrol, biomass-derived fuel, hydrogen, etc). Not ideal. As a “family-car” a plug-in hybrid may be more promising in the short term, since it will usually run on electricity (i.e. efficient and cheap), while it can also be used for the occasional long journey (using liquid fuel). Another all-electric vehicle that will soon be on the streets is the Think City. And in contrast to the Tesla, it’s (more or less) affordable.