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Driving green?

Timur Külür looks at some of the latest developments in the production of electric and hybrid cars.



When the Toyota Prius first came out as a worldwide production car in 2003, people were convinced that it would be the answer to all of our global warming problems. The Prius was the first gasoline-electric hybrid production car. Here is a quick explanation of what a hybrid car is: a hybrid car is a car that uses a rechargeable energy storage system as well as a petrol or diesel engine to power the car. The way that hybrids charge their batteries is by using the kinetic energy that is generated when braking. Also, the combustion engine can be used to charge the batteries of the car. What makes hybrids so interesting is the fact that there are three different ways that one can drive the car. Only using the battery power, which means that the car has zero emissions and the only sound that it makes is road rumble; using both the battery power and the combustion engine which is good for normal everyday driving, and finally there is the option of powering the car by using only the combustion engine.

When the first generation Prius came out, many people were not aware of the many flaws it had. The engineers at Toyota say that the invention of the hybrid was not actually to save the environment, but for people to save money on gasoline. Interestingly though, many people who bought the Prius bought it thinking they were saving the environment. This was later proven to be very, VERY wrong. Actually the Prius uses a very environmentally damaging battery. It is not the running of the battery that harms the environment, but it is the production of it. The nickel that is put into the battery is mined somewhere in Canada from where it is shipped to Europe where the nickel is processed. Then it is sent to China where it is further processed and put into the batteries. Then the batteries get shipped to Japan where they are installed in the cars and finally the cars are shipped to the rest of the world. This process has been proven to be more environmentally damaging than running a Hummer, which can average about 18.8l of petrol per 100 km, for 10 years! And on top of these facts, the Prius is possibly the ugliest car that has ever been produced…

Toyota Prius

So we may ask ourselves what is the alternative to the modern-day hybrid? Electric cars maybe? However, when we look at the electric cars that we can choose from now there is still a lot that needs to be changed.

When we take a closer look at an ordinary electric car like the Nissan Leaf, it drives like any other ordinary five-door hatchback, and looks like one too. However, the engine doesn’t make a sound. In fact, the Leaf is so quiet that they had to fit a special windscreen wiper motor onto the car because a normal motor would be too loud and would be distracting to the driver. Also, the headlights where designed in such a way that they deflect the wind of the rear-view mirrors because the sound of the wind flowing over them was too loud. It also has zero emissions, where as the average hatchbacks can average only about 4L per 100km. What is also quite positive about electric cars like the Leaf, is that since they don’t need fuel, the space where the tank would normally be is extra storage space for the trunk. There is one drawback about the Nissan Leaf. It costs about €35,000, which is about twice the price of a normal hatchback. Thus they are not good value for money. Fully recharging the batteries on a Leaf would take about 13 hours, which is not particularly practical. Nissan is planning to have charging points at all of their dealerships which would fully charge the battery in ‘only’ 30 minutes. However engineers say that that would ruin the battery pack within three years, whereas if one were to recharge when the battery was almost empty or about half empty all the time, engineers estimate that the battery will only last from five to ten years and the cost to replace them would cost about €8,000-9,000! So then, I guess the future in cars is not electric cars. Or at least not yet…

There is however one other alternative. An alternative that does not exist yet; one that will exist within the next 10 to 15 years. It is BMW’s new VED concept. VED stands for Vision Efficient Dynamics. Two of the main focuses when BMW were designing this car were, lightness and aerodynamics. The chassis of the car is made of carbon fibre and the body is made of aluminium. Just like the Toyota Prius, this is a plug-in hybrid, however, it is a lot more complex. It has two drive terrains. It has a 1.5l 3-cylinder turbo-diesel engine. Because it is a small engine, by adding a turbocharger, they have reduced the fuel consumption. It also has electric drive. Just like the Prius; when using the electric drive, it has zero emissions. At this point you might be asking yourselves what the difference between the Prius and the BMW Vision Efficient Dynamics is. For starters, the BMW actually looks good! Also, instead of having one electric motor, the BMW has used two, one for the front axle and one for the rear, so when driving on full electric, the car is a 4X4. When driving on the highway, the car works primarily with the diesel engine, and together with a highly sophisticated double-clutch system on the rear axle, one can get high efficiency out of the engine. Here is one of the largest improvements. The same thermo-electric generator that the car uses to recharge the batteries when braking is also used to capture the heat that the cars exhaust produces to recharge the battery. Normally the car would be a rear-wheel drive car, however when overtaking someone or accelerating, the car can produce up to a thrashing 356 bhp, whereas the Prius has a maximum power outlet of 134 bhp. What makes this possible is BMW’s brand new three-transmissions-structure. The turbo-diesel engine alone can produce up to 163 bhp due to the newly engineered injection system.

One great step in technology is that the car no longer uses a nickel battery. Therefore the mining is much more environmentally friendly. The BMW VED uses a lithium-polymer battery. This clearly is the future in our cars. If I were to go into full detail of how BMW has made this car so revolutionary to the car industry, I would continue to bore you. There are still so many impressive pieces of engineering behind this car such as its clutch, injection system, battery system, etc. that I could sit here and write for days…

Timur Külür is a pupil at the Vienna International School (VIS). He has just completed Grade 9 and his dream is to study automotive engineering.

This article was first published in the May 2012 issue of VIS Spotlight.

See also the article by the EIU’s Gareth Leather about greening the automotive industry in the very first issue of Making It: Why we need to green the global automotive industry

5 responses to “Driving green?”

  1. Charles Arthur

    For Electric Car Batteries,The Race for a Rapid Charge
    The hours it takes to recharge lithium-ion batteries have been a major impediment to consumer acceptance of electric vehicles. But a host of companies and researchers are working intensively to develop a battery that could be recharged in 10 minutes and power a car for hundreds of miles.

  2. Johny Auto

    Check out this website: Green Car Reports

  3. beemer

    I just read about the new BMW Concept Active Tourer which has been designed as a so-called plug-in hybrid – ideally combining the benefits of electric drive with those of a classic combustion engine.
    See this in the NYT:
    BMW Previews Concept Active Tourer Before Paris Motor Show

    Also I read that BMW is a world leader in sustainability according to 2012 Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Read about it here.

  4. Charles Arthur
  5. Global Warming Is Real

    Nissan’s EV Shows New Promise With New Improvements for Going Green
    October 1st, 2012

    The Nissan Leaf EVAs green drivers, electric-vehicle owners shouldn’t have to compromise certain driving capacities for taking an electric vehicle to the road. The Nissan LEAF is among the top-rated electric car models that help consumers save money, improve comfort and reduce their carbon footprint. Cutting costs? More space? Going green? These pros, plus added features such as a first-rate lithium-ion battery, excellent overall protection, instant 100% torque, and more, enhance EV drivers’ experiences on the road. Nissan’s LEAF sounds too good to be true; however, improvements can always be made for unparalleled driving experiences. Nissan dealerships everywhere are stocking up on this one-of-a-kind green car, and a lot of promise in it is on the rise.

    Boosting Mile Range

    One of Nissan’s top priorities for the 2013 LEAF is to increase its mile range. Not making it to your destination because you ran out of miles shouldn’t have to be an ongoing fear whenever you’re on the road. According to Digital Trends, Japanese website SankeiBiz released a report that stated to eliminate drivers’ mileage concerns, the 2013 LEAF’s mile range will be increased to better meet the needs and improve the lifestyle of the average driver. The current LEAF has a range of 73 miles and according to Digital Trends, consumers can expect that next year’s model will boast a 30-mile increase and 25% boost. Drivers will benefit from a range of about 103 miles before recharging.

    Automotive leading manufacturer Nissan is expected to offer additional upgrades for its 2013 base model, including:

    * A lower price averaging $31,000
    * Smaller and new battery packs
    * Performance-improved lithium-ion batteries
    * Motors with better efficiency

    Nissan’s goal with these advancements is to continue leading the way in the all-electric vehicle markets. The rumored upgrades such as a lower price point, increased mile range and overall better efficiency give EV consumers something to look forward to as production begins this December.