Tag Archive | "fuel efficient cars"

ME.WE: Toyota’s Eco-Car.

If, as an animal lover, you keep a Panda as a pet then you should steer clear of this new Toyota – should it ever make it in into production. In line with current thinking, this new concept car from the Japanese giant has been christened with a silly name. It is made, at least in part, with bamboo.

This is the latest in an increasingly long line of cars that care for the environment. Now, we don’t want to bamboozle (heh) you with a load of eco-babble about rain forests and future human challenges; suffice it to say that this is Toyota’s idea of how we can all own cars in a world without petrol.

The name ME.WE is supposed to express the company’s concern for your personal well-being (ME) and that of others (WE). It might be well meaning but it’s all a tad sickly isn’t it? Still their heart’s in the right place: – this car is, as you would expect, electric and uses the same in-wheel motors as the I-ROAD, Toyota’s city-trike concept. The batteries are under the floor as they are in the iQ. Building in this way means that all the available space can be used for passengers and luggage. See image.

Toyota see this concept as being adaptable to most lifestyle choices. It responds, so they say, to people’s behaviour and expectations. Truly a people’s car then, because it allegedly surmounts social status. The company state that “the concept should propose an alternative synthesis based on personal choices”. Terrific, but will somebody please explain what ‘alternative synthesis’ is.

Still, enough levity. This is the shape of things to come. Get over it. The purpose is clearly to demonstrate that a perfectly serviceable car can be made using the lightest of materials – in this case polypropylene panels built around a tubular aluminium frame – knocking off twenty percent of the weight of the average supermini. The body panels are 100% recyclable.

The floor is made from bamboo, as are all the horizontal surfaces in the cabin. The ME.WE is said to be easy to keep clean with just a simple wash – no expensive waxes required. So, easy to use, cheap to run, a choice of two or four wheel drive, simple to clean and kind to the environment; what’s not to like? Nothing, apart from the daft name. If it does come to market then, as a second car at least, it could do well. And if you don’t like it, feed it to the Panda. Now that’s recycling.

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Ford And GM Collaborate On Gearboxes.

Across the pond in the USA – Michigan to be precise – the Ford Motor Company and General Motors have been putting their corporate heads together to come up with a deal to develop a new generation of automatic gearboxes for cars, SUV’s and commercial vehicles. The interesting thing is that these transmissions will have nine or ten ratios and there will be variants for both front and rear-wheel drive. The thinking is that these gearboxes will enhance the search for continuing improvement in both performance and economy in the vehicles of the not too distant future.

The design and engineering work is already underway and builds on the previous collaborations by these automotive giants. This will be the third time in the last ten years that the two companies have worked together on transmissions, most recently on a shared six-speed FWD (pictured) which is found in many of the popular products from both manufacturers. Each company will assemble their own but will use shared components.

This cooperation will help Ford and GM to maximise efficiencies and develop economies of scale – a concept that is increasingly occurring in the motor industry as the new ideas go global. This benefits customers, not only in terms of economy but also in value as sharing technology and parts in this way helps to keep prices competitive and shareholders happy.

The question is – do we need ten speed gearboxes? How many ratios are effective within the limited rev range of the average engine before they all start getting in each others way? Drivers with experience of seven speeds – the VW DSG ’box for example – are finding that, around town at least, they can be a bit irritating as they shift about in auto mode.

Certainly in the wide open spaces and long, straight, empty highways of America a ten-speed might make sense but in the UK and much of Europe we don’t have that luxury. Road and traffic conditions can change dramatically in the space of a few miles on this crowded island and a gearbox that is perpetually hunting around for just the right ratio might begin to grate.

However, few technical details and applications have been revealed to date. Both Ford and General Motors have said that more information will be forthcoming nearer launch time, so we’ll all have to wait and see just how good these transmissions are. Certainly there is no doubt that many of the technological advances made to new cars in recent years have benefited motorists greatly, but is there a limit to how far these advances can go?

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Fuel For The Future

Ethanol is colourless, volatile, flammable and alcoholic and has various industrial uses except in the Deep South of America where it is a recreational home-made beverage – although you shouldn’t try it at home. It is also considered to be a ‘green’ fuel and is probably in your car now. Regular unleaded petrol has, since 2008, a five percent ethanol content. Premium fuels contain no ethanol.

Later this year a new brew with a higher ethanol content will begin to appear on garage forecourts described as E10. In other words this is unleaded fuel but with a 10% ethanol content. This is because ethanol is, in effect, carbon neutral and is as a result beloved of EU decision-makers.

Some European countries have had this fuel for a while so we’re playing catch-up. It has been legal to sell it here since March but in reality we are unlikely to see any before this Summer. Motorists and motorcyclists aren’t obliged to use it and it will be sold alongside our present selection for the foreseeable future. Garages are not obliged to sell it. So that’s all fine then, but for some drivers who might choose to be greener there could be a snag. Or two.

Ethanol in this concentration is known to degrade and damage components in older cars. This is especially true of classic vehicles. It can affect rubber seals and, because it more readily absorbs water, can attack older fuel pipes and carburettor parts. Even used cars registered before 2000 could be vulnerable and, just to be on the safe side, buyers of new cars could check with their dealer. The Department for Transport reckon that 8.6 million vehicles of all types could be affected. Manufacturers are organising a dedicated E10 website where car owners can get all the facts, so watch out for that.

Obviously this is not unexpected. The messianic zeal with which the EU approaches all things green has already had a profound effect on the motor industry; much of it good, it has to be said. It’s all part of their plan to cut the use of fossil fuels to combat global warming etc.

The downside is that a recent study has shown that E10 is not so economical. The report has shown that cars might do less miles to the gallon and that drivers will find that over a year could spend as much as £80 more at the pumps. This is a bit of an issue. If the EU is so keen on their sustainability targets where is the value in a fuel that we’ll all have to buy more of?

The Germans have had E10 for a couple of years now and are said to be deeply suspicious. Many are choosing not to use it because they are unclear on the wider environmental and social aspects of this concoction. Ethanol is a biofuel made from grain so there’s also concern that taking farmland out of the food production cycle could be detrimental to food prices. We’ll have to see how the car makers approach this launch and whether, given their interest in sustainability and our well-being, the government sell it with a tax break! You wish.

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The Alternative To Electric Cars?

On and off over the last one hundred years automobile manufacturers have tried to produce a viable electric car without commercial success. Thanks to the latest technology their attempts in the last few years have been reasonably good but, as far as the majority of the buying public are concerned despite all the hype, not nearly good enough for the reasons we all know. Word is that a couple of Japanese car makers have acknowledged the fact that EV’s are still not truly ready and may never be in the foreseeable future.

In the quest to turn away from fossil fuels attention seems to be turning to what the industry hope may be The Next Big Thing, and that is hydrogen power. Immediately the climate change lobby and other vested interests (in and out of government) have become excited without taking into account the scientific fact that hydrogen is volatile and difficult to store. Imagine trying to establish the infrastructure needed countrywide to fuel all the cars! Rush towards this technology too soon and sales could go through the roof – literally.

The lack of range, the lack of charging points and the time taken to charge an electric vehicle are not lost on the public. So much so that in the USA where they expected a massive take-up, the Obama administration has backed off from its over-ambitious EV targets. For now, it seems likely that the industry will concentrate on the much more sensible alternative of petrol/electric hybrids which overcome the shortcomings of purely electric cars.

Nevertheless companies like Nissan and Toyota are still intending to pursue fuel-cell technology which they hope will become the new green breakthrough. Cars that convert hydrogen to electricity. The stakes are high on this issue. Whomsoever comes up with a viable alternate fuel stand to make a mega-fortune but it has got to be a risky and costly enterprise.

It is not expected – considering the investment – that car companies will abandon electric vehicles altogether as a niche market does exist. It took six years for Toyota’s Prius to really establish itself in the USA but in 2012 they sold well over three hundred thousand hybrids in America and some 1.2 million worldwide.

One thing that is certain is that manufacturers have got to find some answer to the increasingly stringent regulations being set by governments for future years. If not electric cars then maybe fuel-cell vehicles are the alternative. They are certainly being talked up in certain quarters but a realistic car must still be a long way off. Or will it all prove to be a load of hot air?

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Silent But Deadly

Over the English Channel at that bastion of frugality and common sense known as the European Parliament they have recently had an actual vote. Yes – that’s right. Amazingly, the members signed off their expenses, poured out of the nightclubs and bars and headed to work to cast their opinions on the noise electric cars should make. They didn’t come up with any viable ideas obviously but all agreed that a new rule was needed. This is likely to come into force by the end of next year.

It is a much belated victory for the various campaign groups who long ago realised that the new quiet cars coming onto the market were a threat to life, particularly at low speeds. The Guide Dogs For The Blind Association have been saying this for years so any legislation is not before time; after all, cyclists have been encouraged to fit and use a bell or warning device for a long time now and even the heftiest biker can’t compete with a tonne or so of car.

The USA and Japan already have laws in place to cover this issue. In Europe it was first thought that an artificial noise should be voluntary – like bikes – but it seems, quite rightly, that this policy needs to be strengthened in law. It makes sense that vulnerable others be protected -the blind and partially sighted who have to be acutely aware of noises, obviously, but also children and pedestrians on speed restricted streets, the elderly and the infirm.

Current statistics show that there are some 2700 electric cars and nearly one hundred and fifty thousand hybrids and plug-ins on UK roads. This number is expected to rapidly double within the next two years or so. Even the biggest of them is virtually silent when running on electric power alone. Research has apparently already shown that a pedestrian is more likely to be struck by an EV than a petrol-powered vehicle.

A couple of years ago some entitled wag in the House of Lords suggested a cow-bell as being appropriate. That’s the sort of blue-sky thinking that our Nation needs, isn’t it? Meanwhile car makers have got to come up with a solution, bearing in mind that the vulnerable need to be able to hear it over background noise and that different people hear at different decibel levels. It has also got to be non-aggravating for the driver. A graduated noise that sounds like a car might be a good idea.

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Save Petrol By Changing Your Driving Style

There are many ways to be economical and save petrol. Most manufacturers will tell you to purchase their latest model that has clever technology to improve the fuel consumption but what else can you do?

Other advice may come in the form of expensive modification for your existing vehicle that will only improve the consumption by 1 or 2 miles per gallon. The best way to improve your fuel consumption is very simple and will not require you to modify your car or force you to buy a new model that has greener credentials. It simply requires you to change your driving style. If you are a commercial driver, why not sign up to CPC driver training courses and start saving your company money at the pumps?

Bad habits

The majority of drivers tend to keep their foot on the accelerator right up until it is time to brake. Then straight back on the throttle once the manoeuvre that required braking is complete. Both acceleration and braking use fuel and the more aggressively you use the pedals the less fuel efficient the vehicle will be.

The best way to be more environmentally friendly is to adopt a more relaxed driving style. By slowing down gradually, for example at traffic lights, instead of remaining on the throttle until it is time to brake. Simply release the throttle and allow the vehicle to stop gradually until you finally have to brake to come to a complete stop.

The same applies for driving down steep hills. Instead of using the accelerator at all, simply pick up speed naturally on the banked road and use the brakes sparingly to avoid your velocity from becoming unsafe.

Constant speed

Maintaining a constant speed on the highways and motorways is also a good way to reduce the amount of petrol being used. In high gear, the accelerator should only need to be pressed approximately half to three quarters of the way to the floor to achieve the national speed limit depending on the vehicle you drive.

Some drivers will use their brakes when they are exceeding the limit and then accelerate again to build back up to the desired speed. However by releasing the accelerator and gradually losing speed when it looks likely that you will overrun the limit, your driving will be more environmentally friendly.

By constantly applying small adjustments to the throttle, your speed will maintained where you want it and there will be no need to use the brakes and burn more fuel than necessary. Combine these practices with the skills learnt on training courses and you’ll soon reap the benefits.

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People’s Choice

There was a time, not so long ago, when motorists aspired to bigger, better and faster cars. The automobile as status symbol. Ownership of a prestige brand was a demonstration that the driver was successful and people aspired to this. Well, now it has all changed and the car is seen as just part of what we are pleased to call lifestyle.

This means that performance figures and sheer physical size are being ignored in favour of real world choices like running costs, fuel consumption and safety. We like our cars to be part of what we do and, increasingly, they are being electronically connected to our social activities, like a home away from home.

Car makers have responded to this very astutely. Cars are, by and large, pretty good value. They are very reliable. Most importantly they are becoming smaller and much more efficient. Out and out performance has given way to comfort and mod-cons.

Traditionally, new developments have slowly trickled down from the R&D departments, through the luxury end of the market until such time as the economies of scale could see them fitted to our everyday motors. It took ten years for the airbag to filter down from its introduction in an expensive Mercedes to be fitted as standard to a family hatchback – the Honda Civic.

Today, the pace of change is much faster. Cars that are within everyday budgets can do some remarkable things for themselves and this year – seen recently at the Paris motor show – many popular models will be available with real cutting edge technology.

Seatbelt airbags, intelligent lighting that gets brighter the faster the car is going, parallel parking assistance and auto-braking are all in evidence as standard. Lane departure warnings and adaptive radar based cruise control are becoming the norm.

Ford have taken another important step. At some point in the life of an adult a day will come when, as parents, they become afraid; very afraid. One of the kids has just passed their driving test and want to borrow the car. This of course is a cunning ruse by the former ankle-biter to get the parent to buy a separate car for them; but for those grown-ups of a sterner disposition who hold their ground, be thankful for Ford’s MyKey system.

This allows for certain parameters to be enforced on the car. Set speeds can be programmed and warnings emitted. Volume controls can be set to stun rather than loud enough to make ears bleed and so on. It’s a great step forward that teenagers will hate, but, hey, that’s part of the fun of being a parent. We may no longer aspire to expensive vehicles but at least we are now able to avail ourselves of the best and latest safety features. We might not ride in luxury but we ride well and you can’t say fairer than that.

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How to Save Money on Petrol

Petrol is a major ongoing drain on any driver’s pockets.  It is needed by most drivers on a weekly or even daily basis and is consistently going up in price.  Every month sees another price hike and indeed it is possible to see petrol go up day after day sometimes.  The huge price of petrol means that any saving made can be substantial and highly welcomed.  Here are a few simple ways to save when you next fill up the tank:


Supermarket petrol is often cheaper than some of the big brand petrol stations.  This isn’t because the quality of the petrol is any worse, it is simply because they can afford to subsidise their prices due to the high volume of traffic they already have coming in and out of their premises.  It is also a way that they attract people in; the way they see it is if they offer you cheap petrol you will come in, fill up and then pop into their supermarket and spend more money.   Therefore it is always worth trying to fill up at a supermarket rather than a “big brand” petrol station whenever you can.

Petrol Comparison Sites

The power of the internet has now provided us with websites that will analyse petrol prices on a daily basis and then let you know the cheapest garage in your area.  So, if today is the day you are going to go fill up with a full tank of petrol then have a look on one of these sites, find the cheapest petrol station and head straight over there!  Just make sure it isn’t going to cost you more in petrol to get there than you will save!

Special Offers

Supermarkets will sometimes run special offers in order to attract more shoppers.  For example, “Spend £50 on your shop and get 5p off per litre” is a common offer that some supermarkets run.  Some supermarkets have offered as much as 10p off per litre at their pumps when combined with a shop.  If such an offer is being run then this is the time to fill up the tank.  If you know an offer is being run for the next week or so then put off the “refill” for as long as possible so that you can fill up with as much cheap petrol as possible.  Combine it with your normal weekly shop and you have made a substantial saving.

Drive More Economically

Of course the most consistent way to save money is in the type of car you drive and how you drive it.  If you have a gas guzzler then consider changing it over for something more economical.  However, even the smallest and most economical of cars can still be made to use less petrol simply by driving carefully.  Avoid accelerating hard, make sure you are not carrying unneeded weight (for example, heavy golf clubs in the boot that are not even being used)  and avoid heavy braking.  Other advice is to never fill up with a full tank of petrol.  Instead, always drive on half a tank.  The extra power required to propel your car with the weight of a full tank of petrol actually makes your car less economical.

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