It’s not only cost that’s driving change.
As temperatures rise and smog hazes the horizons of large cities, increasingly governments are accepting they’re going to have to deal with the greenhouse effect.
The French have been cleaning up their act for years once their government pushed to clean up emission standards on diesel. In Hong Kong, all 18,000 taxis will be required to run on LPG fuel by 2005.
The “Kei” car initiative of the Japanese government has provided significant encouragement and incentive for Japanese motorists to use smaller cars that are environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient by offering lower insurance premiums, lower tolls, easier licensing procedures and no parking fees. And in New Zealand, energy minister Pete Hodgson has said that the Labour-Alliance Government is considering buying alternative-fuelled vehicles for core state sector services.
Diesel is cheaper by far than petrol and fuels more than 40 percent of European vehicles. Once considered dirty and low performance fuel, new technological developments have rendered it clean and efficient. New Zealand is still behind the game with diesel, but that is beginning to change.
Peugeot’s marketing manager Cherie Brown says Peugeot has been using diesel for at least 50 years. The latest refinement is high-pressure direct injection engine that uses common rail technology, rail of injectors that force the fuel at high pressure. The result is more power, less vibration and greater economy. There is no smoke, less emission and no glow plugs, as with older diesel engines. You just turn the ignition key. In the past, only rural customers were familiar with diesel, but now it accounts for one third of their sales of 306 and 406 models which offer petrol or diesel options.
Bill Ritchie, Citroen’s technical manager, says that Peugeot/Citroen are market leaders in diesel, so much so that they have been contracted by Ford to do research on diesel engines. Diesel engines have become immensely more sophisticated, he says. Anything older than 12-18 months was worked by pump with mechanical parts which, as they wore down, would develop smoke, but with the introduction of electronics into the mechanical fuel system, the pump only supplies pressure as in conventional engine.
Land Rover’s Lyall Williamson says that while his customers are not used to diesel, he is seeing the ratio of petrol to diesel getting stronger. “It’s true to say while ago we’d have been ordering more petrol units, but now we’re having rethink and talking to our new owners, Land Rover. And they’re of the same opinion, they’ll at least equal diesel output.” He admits that they are hedging their bets, as they do not know if Kiwis will take to diesel. But, he says, “This country hasn’t seen what level diesel can bee technology today can make it do anything.”
“It is an interesting time to be in the energy game,” says Peter Griffiths, CEO of BP, one of the five or six largest corporations in the world. “We are repositioning the brand so that it has more relevance.” Apart from being one of the world’s great brands, BP aspires to be provider of energy to the world, to become an environmental champion and to be company where human rights are respected and upheld.
“Beyond Petroleum is way of encapsulating that,” he says. “We see ourselves as an energy company, but not necessarily as petrol retailer in the long term.”
About 40 percent of BP’s business is in gas, fuel source that will provide lot of energy for the next 50 or 60 years. They have always been big player in the solar energy field and expect to turn solar power into billion dollar business in seven years, which means growth at rate of 30 percent year.
“Crude is finite resource, but we have not found it all – and the amount in the world at the moment is bigger than ever,” says Griffiths. “We are finding it at greater rate than we are consuming it, but there is going to be change in the weighting of sources of energy as the world goes forward.”
He sees the beginning of the trend to more advanced engines which require fuels of different type and quality. “You may need to see higher octane which requires more refining or lower sulphur for better combustion so that they burn more efficiently. Those things are all coming.”
BP is working on fuel cells with two car manufacturers. “But the problem with hydrogen,” Griffiths says, “is that you get very nice, clean exhaust from the car, but if you are using thermal power generation you only move emissions to another place. It is not without its challenges.” Griffiths welcomes the reawakening of debate that has been around for while. The oil shock has just focused the lens more closely. “BP says we are not going to waste our energy arguing, but successfully make difference,” he maintains.
Emissions have been significantly reduced and engine efficiency and economy enhanced with petrol engines, too. Daihatsu is justly proud of the fuel economy of its new Mira and Sirion models, which do more than 50 miles per gallon. It is not by chance that green is the colour of many of their new models, for their emission levels are so low as to be barely detectable, says marketing manager Mick Kirkaldy. Another plus is that the cars’ efficiency reduces the need for servicing from every 10,000 kilometres to every 15,000 kilometres.
Daihatsu is proactive with developing alternative fuels such as CNG and LPG, but Kirkaldy is concerned that energy minister Hodgson is blowing hot and cold on his assurance to use LPG on government cars.
While CNG is declining in use, petrol price rises in the past year have sparked more vehicle conversions to LPG, which is now sold at about one third of all service stations. Past problems with engines not designed for its use have now been solved so that there is no noticeable difference in vehicle performance.
Ford New Zealand MD Nigel Harris says that the new Dedicated LPG Falcon offers big car performance with mid-sized car greenhouse gas emissions. He points to Australian studies showing that LPG produces 80 percent less air toxins than petrol and US Department of Energy Study indicating that LPG achieves 20 percent reduction in global warming potential compared to petrol.
The new fuel system has allowed Ford to cut the price of the LPG option by more than half to $1500. This means that motorists can recoup their initial investment within year of average driving and after that save more than $20 every time they fill up. “This is not concept car showcasing technology that is many years away from providing viable alternative to petrol. It is available and accessible at an affordable price here and now,” he says.
Some manufacturers such as Citroen manufacture dual fuel vehicles running on petrol and LPG, but they do not appear to be the way of the future. Hybrid cars are driving along that road. The Honda Insight was voted overall winner of the International Engine of the Year Awards 2000. Its one litre VTEC-topped gasoline engine and 10kW electric motor work in harmony to give crisp acceleration, refinement and remarkable fuel economy. It is on sale in the US, Europe and Japan at US$20,000 and is currently in New Zealand for evaluation. It has just completed mileage testing in the UK where it did 103 miles per gallon.
“The one-litre engine has electric assist so it kicks up power on hills,” says Graham Meyer, Honda’s senior marketing associate. “It does cute things – it turns the engine off at lights and as soon as you put your foot on the clutch or accelerator, it starts up again. When you decelerate, it uses the energy to charge the battery.”
He does not know when it will be on the New Zealand market, as it takes large infrastructure for operation. The Insight’s emissions are actually lower than those of battery-powered electric vehicle, at least when the emissions of the power station producing electricity f
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