Some fuel for future thoughts...
but the public has yet to get charged up about this car market, which is still in its infancy, says Campbell Spray
SO the week started by testing a diesel hybrid and then attending the launch of the latest incarnation of a well-loved model where the message is that it is "OK to love petrol again".
The very upmarket Citroen DS5 hybrid on test, which looked in its black and white like a Harlem pimp, was replaced by a very competent diesel, the Mazda MX5.
Afterwards, I cycled down to the National Convention Centre in Dublin for the Fully Charged 2012 conference, an international electric vehicle summit sponsored by the ESB as an offshoot of the massive world science event taking place in the capital.
I had hardly sat down before I was ambushed by Volkswagen and became the first Irish journalist to drive the prototype of the all-electric Golf.
It's all been a fairly confusing few days but as Professor C C Chan, perhaps one of the world's most distinguished engineers in this field, told the Fully Charged event, we are witnessing the biggest change in vehicles since the invention of the car as the industry decides on what energy to use.
While more than 260 delegates attended the Fully Charged 2012 conference from 19 countries, ranging in size from the US, China and Japan to Estonia and Latvia (even the Isle of Man was represented), it was pretty predictable stuff. However, the global predictions for electric vehicle volumes estimate that China will become the largest market for electric vehicles/plug-in hybrids by 2020 with volumes of 13 million units.
Volumes for Europe and the US are estimated at 9.6 million and 4.1 million respectively. Yet the whole thing really is only in its infancy -- although, as we know from golf buggies, rechargeable vehicles have been around for yonks. Speed, range and battery size are more the issue while a proper infrastructure of charging points is the egg from which the chicken can hatch.
As Prof Chan said: "We are now seeing the dawn, but are still in the darkness."
The ESB is hopeful even though sales of electric cars in Ireland have been brutal compared with earlier predictions. There is a definite appetite out there when everything is in place. The company had 11,000 well thought-out applications from people who wanted to drive electric cars for either three months or 12 as part of their ambassador programme. Renault, which has been the leader in Europe, was also rather upbeat, saying that 15,000 units were sold on the continent during the first half of this year, which is five times more than last year.
However, if one message came through loud and clear from the conference it was the need for "wise" politicians to lead the move to electric cars. There had to be really strong incentives to become an "early adopter". These were not only financial but also the use of special parking places and bus lanes.
It was good to drive the electric Golf, which actually won't be arriving here until 2014 and will be then based on the next generation model which is being launched towards the end of this year. It drove well, if a bit heavy; and VW has added a buzz to compensate for the lack of engine noise. Its range of around 100km will still be an issue but hopefully by then the infrastructure will take away a lot of the anxiety. Even with the battery on board I was impressed as always with the roominess of the Golf.
I will return to a full test of the Peugeot 208 shortly but at the launch on Monday the extra interior space but shorter overall body was noticeable. Prices will start at an exceptionally good €14,495 but do rise fairly quickly. As someone who believes that we have gone overboard with our rush to diesel, I was impressed when new marketing manager Emma Toner announced that their extremely clean and economical petrol engines for the 208 -- alongiside good Peugeot diesels -- will see a resurgence in the use of that fuel.
With the smile for which she is famous, she added that "petrol will no longer be a dirty word". That's until the electric revolution, of course.