Options for the Green-Minded Driver
The popularity of pure electric vehicles is unquestionably on the rise; 2019 year-to-date figures from the SMMT show an increase in EV registrations of over 63% on the same period last year. But this still represents a tiny proportion of overall car registrations – just 0.9%.
Our own research1 on Alternative Fuel Vehicles highlighted that 25% of consumers are likely or very likely to consider an EV for their next vehicle and that a further 24% were in the balance. This has been driven by increases in electric vehicle range, an increasing choice of electric-only cars and an increase in the availability of public charging points.
But the pure EV remains a niche choice, as the majority of the population struggles with its angst over whether they really deliver viable daily transport.
So, what can the seventy-odd percent of drivers1 who state that taking action to protect the environment is important to them do, if selecting an EV for their next vehicle simply isn’t practical or remains too big a leap into the unknown?
To see the full Alternative Fuel Vehicle research report, click here.
The great hybrid debate
Hybrids have, simultaneously, been labelled ‘the perfect stepping stone’ to pure electric vehicles and a ‘pointless safety net’ for those still addicted to the internal combustion engine (ICE). And, the arguments have been most vehement about (niche-within-a-niche) plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs).
There’s no question that hybrids do remove the key hurdle to alternative vehicle ownership – range anxiety. With their ICEs intact, and their electric motors mainly used to increase fuel efficiency, drivers can fulfil their desire to act for the environment without a detrimental impact on their own convenience. But some see this as a cop-out, citing the facts that the average EV range is now over 200 miles, and that PHEVs are only effective at reducing fuel use and emissions if they are actually plugged in regularly.
And this final point is the most contentious. Without a regular charge, PHEVs are basically petrol cars lugging around several hundred extra kilos of battery and electric motor. Cynics claim that, company car drivers in particular, driven by tax benefits rather than a desire for greener motoring, use PHEVs as if they are conventional vehicles, perhaps never even removing the charging cable from its original packaging.
However, research from Mitsubishi, manufacturer of the UK’s most popular PHEV, the Outlander, suggests that 90 per cent of owners charge them at least two or three times a week, with 68 per cent claiming they plug them in every day.
For the large proportion of drivers out there that would like to be doing their bit for the planet, hybrids provide one option, but there are myriad other actions that everyone can, and should, consider that can make a big difference. In the remainder of this blog we look at options for making car journeys greener; we’ll look at alternatives to driving altogether in a future post.
It’s obvious but servicing your car to the manufacturer’s schedule means that it will perform at the peak of its efficiency potential, but there are also some day-to-day maintenance basics that can make a significant difference:
- Tyres – check the pressure and tread wear regularly. Poorly inflated tyres increase rolling resistance, which reduces efficiency, and irregular wear patterns can indicate other mechanical issues that could increase fuel use. (We have a tyre guide which you can download and save or share – CLM Guide to Tyre Safety)
- Fuel – some modern petrol vehicles have a strong preference for higher octane fuel and will only operate in their most efficient mode using these fuels. Savings made at the pump by choosing a lower octane fuel can easily be wiped out through lower mpg.
Again, its not rocket-science, but careful journey planning can make a huge difference to overall fuel consumption:
- Timing – if at all possible, plan to travel at quieter times of day, where traffic will be flowing more freely, and jams are less likely.
- Combine journeys – short journeys, where the vehicle starts from cold use more fuel, so if you can combine them you’ll make savings.
- Satnav – or even a trusty old map, mean less time and fuel wasted taking wrong turns. Some satnavs even provide planning options for the most fuel-efficient route.
Join the club
Membership and the availability of car sharing services has expanded rapidly in recent years. While this has been most prolific in London, there are now some serious players in other regional centres, with business models varying from subscription-based short-term usership, to pay-as-you use hourly rental, to private car sharing services.
All of these schemes seek to reduce the number of vehicles on the road and increase the usage rates of those that remain – meaning less waste and fewer emissions.
Lose weight and streamline
Each extra kilogram of weight a car carries around with it (be it optional equipment, luggage, junk or people) uses extra fuel. Research from MIT2 suggests that for every 100kg of extra weight, fuel costs rise by around £175 over a distance of 60,000 miles. So, consider what you have in the boot of your car and remove anything that isn’t required for your next journey. It’s even worth considering not filling the fuel tank fully if you’re only making short trips.
Car manufacturers spend millions of pounds in development, trimming air resistance to an absolute minimum in wind tunnel testing to make their cars as slippery through the air as possible. What doesn’t help this is when owners then strap bikes, racks and roof boxes to their vehicles. Obviously, if you’re carrying more than the interior space can handle, this is unavoidable but remember to remove these items when they’re not required – research by Greenflag3 suggests that fuel consumption increases by as much as 10% with a roof box fitted.
Even having a car window open can significantly increase drag – for cooling above about 30mph it’s more efficient to run the air con.
There are also a whole host of things that drivers can do when they’re actually on the move to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. Below are a few of the most effective ways to reduce the environmental impact of your car journeys. We have also created a short video with some Eco Driving Tips:
Turn off equipment – every electrical item in the car uses power that has to be generated by the engine. So, when lights, air conditioners, heated screens, heated seats, even infotainment systems aren’t required, turn them off.
Use the car’s green features – the majority of new cars come with systems such as ‘stop-start’, that will automatically cut the engine when it would be idling in traffic. The claims for the amount of fuel saved vary widely, but in heavy traffic, where much of the time the car is stationary, they undoubtedly make a significant difference.
Don’t be idle – there has been conflicting advice in the past about whether turning off a car’s engine when stationary actually saves fuel. This was largely due to older cars needing more fuel to restart than they would have burned if left running for a couple of minutes when stopped. This is almost unheard of in modern cars (and indeed they’ll often turn off themselves as we’ve discussed above) so do turn off the engine, especially when parked outside schools and other areas with lots of pedestrian traffic.
Smoothly does it – the key to environmentally sound driving is smoothness in vehicle operation. This means anticipating situations where acceleration or deceleration will be required and carrying these out gently. Light acceleration and rapid progression through the gears in a manual car will deliver better mpg. Likewise, heavy breaking for corners or traffic signals can be avoided by planning ahead, and this prevents energy being lost as heat through the braking system.
Slow it down – not the advice that every motorist wants to hear, but it’s simple physics that the faster you travel the greater the air resistance and the harder the engine has to work. Roughly speaking, driving at 70mph uses around 9% more fuel than at 60mph, and up to 15% more than at 50mph.
So, even if EVs or hybrids aren’t an option for you right now, there are still plenty of ways to minimise the environmental impact of your journeys.
For more driving tips and other useful guidance visit CLM’s Driver Resources. And, look out for our future blog on green alternatives to driving.
1 CLM Alternative Fuel Vehicle research conducted from November 2017 to November 2018 with over 500 drivers
2 On the Road in 2035: Reducing Transportation’s Petroleum Consumption and GHG Emissions. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2008).