Last night I drove the 30 miles home in a family car, on the motorway using precisely no diesel or petrol and in theory had zero CO2 emissions. How did I do it? I was in a Vauxhall Ampera, a new type of electric vehicle, known as an Extended-Range Electric Vehicle (E-REV), which we had on site for a few days as part of our TravelWell campaign. Could this be the way forward?
We’re used to seeing traditional hybrids such as the Toyota Prius (which use electric motors at low speeds and switch to petrol or diesel engines as speeds increase) and also increasingly fully electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf. Hybrids are fine for short, low speed journeys but the overall fuel consumption is often not much better than the latest diesel engines, although the latest Prius Plug-In is making some strong claims. And drivers of pure electric vehicles suffer range anxiety: “will I get home before the battery goes flat?” as most have quite limited range.
The Ampera uses an electric motor at all times but claims a range of 360 miles, making it much more appealing. A full charge gives up to 50 miles of pure electric driving at which point a small petrol engine kicks in to power the electric motor.
So what was it like? I loved the styling and “the inner 10 year old” in me was transfixed by the graphics showing energy levels and driving efficiency. And the kids thought it was pretty cool. At low speeds it is practically silent. There’s even an extra horn to warn unsuspecting pedestrians – think of a polite, “make way for Noddy” type noise! That apart, it was just like driving a normal car, cruising happily on the motorway. For the round trip I managed 42 miles before the battery died and then only a small amount of fuel to get me the rest of the way to the office this morning. All good!
But is it really a better environmental option than a normal car? Official EU tests put emissions at just 27g CO2/km when in battery mode which is remarkably low (a typical car on Capgemini’s UK fleet emits 118g CO2/km) so that’s great news. However, the Consumer Association estimates the real emissions to be 95g CO2/km when you factor in the petrol consumption over a 62 mile journey and the generation and supply of the electricity from the national grid to power the battery.
And what about costs? A full charge of the battery works out at about £1.70 – roughly one quarter of the cost of a gallon of petrol or diesel and that’s good for 40-50 miles, so potentially a big saving on my daily commute. The dashboard claimed 134 mpg for the 70 mile round trip well over double what I manage on the same route in my “Blue Motion” Passat. Furthermore, there’s no road tax or London congestion charge, and currently it attracts only 5% company car tax. But then there’s the upfront cost, approximately £38,000 for our demo car, less a Government grant of £5,000 at the moment.
And what about the “dinner party” test? Well, I wouldn’t be embarrassed to sing its praises to my friends, in fact, I’d probably feel pretty smug. Until my friend jumped into their sporty Mercedes, which had cost £8,000 less…..
So overall, I’m just not quite sure…
Phil Clarke leads Capgemini UK’s Environmental Performance Improvement Programme