AM Online

The big picture: Alternative fuels stay an alternative

There has been a lot of talk in the press recently about alternative fuelled cars – but speculation about the demise of the combustion engine is much exaggerated.

While Toyota/Lexus and Honda can point to growing sales of their hybrid cars, the volumes are still tiny. And these cars are failing to deliver in the real world the level of fuel efficiency claimed in the press packs. AM sister magazine Car recently tested the Toyota Prius and achieved 53.2mpg, well below the official 65.7mpg figure.

Consumers will not turn away from petrol or diesel while the performance of alternatives falls flat, or until there is an infrastructure for refuelling their cars.

Morrisons has opened a bioethanol pump at one forecourt, and several independents are piloting a scheme in Shropshire, but that’s not going to persuade anyone to buy one of these types of car – not that there are many on the market.

The industry and consumers have already been stung by the Government, which set up grants for buyers converting cars into LPG, then backtracked and withdrew funds.

It left a bitter taste for many, and didn’t help the alternative fuel lobbyists.

As for the other options, electric cars are too costly at the moment and have limited range, while suggestions like steam and solar are impractical.

Hydrogen is accepted as the fuel of the future – but that future could be several decades away. Honda is piloting its FCX model in Japan and America, but recognizes that cost is prohibitive and there’s no refuelling infrastructure.

Carmakers are putting funds into developing ‘green’ fuels, but most are putting even more money in developing improved diesel and petrol engines. This is where they see their immediate future.

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