EXECUTIVE CARS : Achilles Wheel – Green with Envy

Throw few small, hybrid, or low-emission cars into your car pool and hey presto, you’ve gained instant environmental kudos for your company. You can parade your ‘smaller environmental footprint’ through the city centre as Kiwibank did recently in Auckland with its lime green ‘Smart Cars’, or you can paint them with the globe and develop ‘green’ tag line like “we cover the world, but not with our emissions” (belonging to national freight forwarding company TriStar).
Whatever you do, there’s no doubt that running environmentally friendlier vehicles is good look that’s about to turn dazzling on the back of environmental publicity like the British-commissioned Stern Review which warns the world has 10 years to tackle climate change or face global recession. But how far are New Zealand companies prepared to take commitment to ‘cleaner’ cars? Are senior executives, head honchos and the rich and famous ready to give up those guzzling, gorgeous, gigantic, go-anywhere cars in the name of an improved environment?
Yeah, right. With an apologetic nod to any eco-warriors reading this, it seems distinctly un-environmentally friendlier cars are the ‘Achilles wheel’ of too many New Zealand executives. grunty four wheel drive resembling military humvee that can tow the boat to the weekend bach and back and cost the company $1000 per tyre is still the ultimate sign of power, prestige and employment status, say our top executive car marketers. Big boys and their toys? You bet, and in this game the girls aren’t playing passenger either.
“Women seem to be adopting some of that [traditional male] petrol culture and are into ‘hotted-up’ vehicles. Cars are still fun and we love them – New Zealand has the highest number of cars in the world per capita,” says Graeme Meyer, marketing manager for Honda New Zealand. As such, Meyer says environmentally friendlier car sales remain slowly emerging niche for the New Zealand automotive industry.
Christopher Young, business development manager for fleet management software and payment system specialists Cardlink, notes that whilst there is movement towards executives buying more fuel-
economic and lower-emission vehicles, that trend is “only starting” and is sensitive to the cost of the environmentally friendlier vehicle and how far that is balanced out by fuel savings. Even when that equation starts to work, Young says business owners are reluctant to start replacing their high-end vehicles with hybrids or smaller cars. (A hybrid or gas-electric hybrid car uses mixture of technologies such as internal combustion engines – ICEs – electric motors, petrol and batteries.)
“Executives do want cars that will use less fuel [but] treating the environment better is, I suspect, secondary consideration. If fuel hadn’t got so expensive so quickly, you wouldn’t see such move from cars like [Ford] Falcons and [Holden] Commodores to smaller two litre cars. Companies are paying lip service to the need for environmentally friendlier vehicles and few put on good show, but those with small fleet find it too cost prohibitive,” he says.
Young reasons that in tight labour market, company won’t risk losing good executives by telling them they can’t have the car of their choice; prerogative often written into the employment contract – SUVs and other large cars such as Commodores and Holdens remain status symbols, and that’s just the way it is.
Meyer: “To say to valued executive that they are out of that three litre V6 and into whatever, could mean that the status [of that executive] at the pub is decreased and they might look for another job. Cars are status symbol and speak of job position.”
Crikey, are our executives really that shallow? Despite the evidence, it’s actually unlikely. More probable is the theory that environmentally friendlier features in cars are desirable, but never as high on the priority list as size and performance, end cost and fuel efficiency. Who better to illustrate this point than the Prime Minister, who thundered away about the radical measures needed to cut greenhouse gas emissions, then, when asked what she intended to do about the Department of Internal Affairs’ 46-strong vehicle fleet (mostly older Ford Fairlanes), told the New Zealand Herald it was not simple matter of buying smaller cars.
“You’ve got driver, minister, staff member – if not two other people in the car. We do have to have sizeable car. We have got to have car where people like myself, who work constantly, can actually work and read in the back as well,” Clark rationalised.

Moving forward
By now you may be feeling outraged, guilty or just rolling your eyes. Hopefully though, you are mildly interested New Zealand executive or businessperson looking for sexy car that hugs the environment (hopefully stopping short of trees) and that’s pleasure to drive.
So, does it exist? Of course it does – you can even ask BMW. Mark Gilbert, managing director for BMW New Zealand says that, historically, New Zealand executives have been “ambivalent” about environmentally friendlier features in cars and as result BMW still sells more petrol cars than safer-emission diesels. But, he says, the shift has started – while executives who buy BMW do so because they “probably like to drive”, BMW is doing lot to refine its engines to be easier on the environment and is “very strict” on improving technologies that reduce emissions.
“Our European guidelines are probably stricter than those used by the Japanese and we have very fuel efficient diesel and petrol engines that increase power, performance and efficiency.”
Gilbert believes Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth has raised awareness of environmental impact around the use of cars and will result in people, including executives, re-thinking their car purchases. Whether the messages in the movie are factually true or not probably doesn’t matter, because it has made sustaining the environment “a cerebral issue”, says Gilbert.
BMW has been working internationally on electrifying the drive and converting hydrogen in combustion engines and is following CO2-free driving BMW CleanEnergy initiative. BMW is also in consortium with Chrysler and other car makers looking at efficient dynamics, friction-reduced parts and advanced electronics – all of which help cars to go further on less fuel. While BMW does not have hybrid vehicle for sale in New Zealand, it recently launched non-commercial hydrogen car prototype in Athens (in hydrogen mode, these cars emit mostly vapour). The BMW 7 Series Hydrogen 7 Saloon is powered by 191kW/260hp 12-cylinder engine and accelerates from zero to 100km/h in 9.5 seconds. Top speed is limited electronically to 230km/h or 143mph and dual-mode power unit can switch over to conventional petrol.
“If someone asked me what the solution today is for better efficiency and economy, I would say diesel, and eventually hydrogen cars,” he says. “Our environmentally friendlier vehicles for the executive market are probably the BMW 320 diesel, 330 diesel and the 120 diesel. There is also trend towards smaller cars – we introduced Series 1 – plus trend towards lifestyle vehicles which we call Sports Activity Vehicles or SAVs.”
Gilbert says the latter is designed to be more on-road than off-road, but automatically switches to four-wheel drive when it realises it needs to. Because the car is not driving four wheels all the time it is not pumping out the energy needed to drive all wheels at once, which Gilbert says uses more fuel. However, while manual cars are still deemed to be more fuel efficient, 90 percent of BMW car sales in New Zealand are automatics.
Gilbert says hybrid cars are less of an environmental solution in New Zealand than diesel vehicles because hybrids are mainly effective within city limits.
“If you’re powering down to the Coromandel you won’t get use of the electric engine in hybrid; we’re not like Paris or London. Kiwis get out of Auckland. We tow the boat and go on holiday,” s

Visited 5 times, 1 visit(s) today
Close Search Window