Sunday 17 December 2017

Tomorrow's world takes a step forward

The hybrid electric Porsche Panamera
The hybrid electric Porsche Panamera

Eddie Cunningham Motoring Editor

Eco summit was grounded in reality and pragmatism after years of promise and speculation on potential future technologies

You could feel the change this year. Concepts, ideas, gradual improvements on last year and beyond have galvanised. Cars I had given up on suddenly made a surge and there they were, nearly ready for the market.

This year's annual eco summit -- my shorthand for the Challenege Bibendum run by Michelin -- took place in Berlin at the historic Tempelhof airport.

There were 280 'future' vehicles on display.

What it lacked in razzmatazz it more than made up for in practicality.

I have been invited to participate in this event for years now and this represented perhaps the biggest step forward in terms of what has been done rather than what they would like to do.

The event is a coming together of future technologies and expertise -- from tyres that self-heal (a brilliant concept from Michelin) to a Mercedes A Class with a hydrogen fuel cell that is so close to being a reality.

I drove it and could only remark on how much of an advance it represented.

Last time we gave up in despair after pushing it farther than driving it.

Already up and running were the likes of the Toyota Auris hybrid.

the Ford Fusion hybrid is the model upon which the Focus equivalent will be heavily built over the next few years.

There was an hybrid electric Porsche Panamera, an electric Boxster -- yes they are all gone mad on the old electrics. Not to mention the array of Volvo electrics.

Great fun and a sense of really stepping into the future with a degree of confidence lacking over the past couple or three years.

More immediately upon us will be the the Peugeot hybrid diesel. This is first production hybrid diesel on the market. It gets here in October in the 3008 and next year in the 508.

I spoke at length with them about it.

There will be a premium of course but I am assured it will be no more than that of a petrol hybrid.

You are talking four-wheel-drive here (because they are putting an electric motor on the rear axle) and 99g km and consumption of 3.8l 100kms.

The French government is giving a €2,000 subsidy to make this more affordable and attractive.

Continuing the thread of realism running through the event was the proliferation of bicycles, electric, assisted and even -- would you believe -- a fuel-cell one.

I still love the Michelin idea of a 'motor within a wheel' to propel a vehicle.

This is pushing on apace. It makes a lot of sense.

Admittedly, there was nothing to take your breath away but that is what I think is most hopeful from this. It was pegged in reality, an almost tangible urgency to get stuff out there so emissions could come down even more.

However, some historical obstacles remain. Hydrogen cars that can travel 400 kilometres between refills are brilliant. But where do you get the hydrogen?

In Berlin there are a few outlets. And it costs between €4 and €8 a kilogram (which gets you 100kms and that is not bad).

The debate arose as we drove around in the excellent Audi Q5 Hydrogen Fuel Cell motor (136bhp).

This has a range of 250kms, though they have managed 400kms.

Berlin will be remembered for the most confident step along the road to greater practical diversity in how we get around.

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