Driving towards a green future

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

Business Times, October 19, 2012

Every car company is vying for a slice of the eco-pie, and their offerings are all radically different and revolutionary.

With the planet heating up fast and politics heating up even faster, people are wondering about the future of transportation more than ever. Will global warming spell the end of the car as we know it, or will car makers be able to adapt?

The automotive world may not be united in its efforts to go green, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more than a few bold companies with unique offerings trying to change the way we think about the car for the better.

From the some of the biggest names in the game such as Toyota, Honda and Porsche to radical newcomers such as Tesla and Fisker, this article will take a look at five of the the most eco-friendly and revolutionary cars on the market.

The Tesla Roadster Tesla has become synonymous with electric cars the same way Mario is synonymous with video gaming. The electric sports car’s acceleration to 96kmh rivals a Ferrari or Lamborghini, while the noise in the cabin rivals a library. However, being a solely electric car, it falls prey to the issue of range: with 365km to a charge and an eight-and-more hour charge time, this isn’t the car for a road trip. Add to that a US$100,000 price tag and it’s clear the Tesla is more of a toy than a tool.

The Toyota Prius The evergreen Toyota Prius has been with us for more than a decade now and it still stands as maybe the best all-around choice for the eco-freak inside us all. Its hybrid technology combines the efficiency of an electric motor and batteries to the stability, power and range of a petrol engine. Having quickly won over Hollywood celebrities with its distinct style and can’t-miss hybrid badges, the Prius now stands as the best selling hybrid in the world – and the car for all the other companies to beat.

The Fisker Karma So you think that a hybrid can’t have style? Fisker and its Karma beg to differ. Designed by company founder Henrick Fisker – responsible for penning such beauties as the Aston Martin DB9 and BMWZ8 – the Fisker Karma is a very different kind of hybrid. Instead of having a petrol engine power the wheels with help from an electric motor, the electric motors are the only things powering the wheels, while a petrol engine acts as an onboard power generator. This style of hybrid allows the petrol to be used in the most efficient way possible and provides the Karma with sporting pretensions due to the high torque of electric motors.

The Porsche 918 Spyder The 918 Spyder is addressing the question that every car-fanatic has had on his or her mind: does global warming and the rise of the eco-car spell the end of performance cars as we know it? Porsche says no. The 918 Spyder was first announced at the Geneva Motor Show in 2010 and it stunned the world. Thanks to a 200 horsepower electric motor, the 918 can be driven in electric-only mode for around 32km. However, when the mood strikes, you can activate the 570 horsepower V8 engine, which works in harmony with the electric motor to push this beast around famed Nurburgring race track in Germany in 7.14 seconds – a nearly unbelievable feat even for a petrol-powered supercar.

The Honda FCX Clarity The Honda FCX Clarity is the last car on this list because, though it may not look it, it is the most revolutionary car around today. It looks like any old Honda, it even drives like any old Honda; what separates this car from the pack is the way it is fuelled. The Clarity is an electric car, but instead of getting its electricity from a wall socket, which takes many hours to recharge, the Clarity uses hydrogen fuel cells. Inside the fuel cell – which can be refilled in a few minutes, just like a petrol fuel tank – compressed hydrogen is combined with oxygen to generate electricity which powers the electric motors. The only emission from this reaction of H2 and O is H20, otherwise known as water. So the Clarity is truly revolutionary because it solves the problem of range for electric cars, while keeping the clean emissions – lets hope that the rest of the world is watching.

So what can be made of this list? Well certainly, no two cars on the list are anywhere near the same, in fact they are all radically different from one another. However, I think that is a good thing. Global warming is a problem currently without a permanent solution and until we have one, the best strategy is to encourage as many ideas as possible. And that is exactly what we see here: every major car company is vying for a slice of the eco-pie and for those of us who care about the future of the environment, this is the best possible outcome because at least one of these cars represents a path towards a greener future.

The writer is founder and chairman of Horasis, a global visions community