Pack up the car and head out on your own little adventure....
The Green Road
The automobile industry is already taking this route, so why are consumers slow to embrace eco-friendly cars on a mass scale and what does the future hold?
Hybrid engines that combine gas combustion with electrical energy. 100% electric vehicles. Hydrogen-powered prototypes. The range of options explored by the automobile industry in the drive towards more eco-friendly cars grows by the day. Examples abounded at the recent Detroit International Auto Show, the most important industry event in the world, where ecologically minded cars garnered all the headlines.
And yet, consumers don’t seem to be particularly enthusiastic. According to data from the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), sales of green cars fell by 2.4% in the United States in 2010. Likewise, the information services firm J.D. Power estimates that over the past year, market penetration for eco-friendly cars barely reached 7% worldwide.
“The limited range offered by the models and difficulties in recharging them have put the mass-scale growth of electric car use in doubt, at least in the short term,” explains Eduardo Kronberg, public relations and social responsibility manager for Toyota in Argentina. The company has developed Hybrid Synergy Drive technology, which combines the power of a gas engine with the efficiency of an electric motor. Where are the company’s research efforts headed? “By 2020, we want all our commercial models to have a hybrid version,” says Kronberg, adding that, “We’re working on a combination that allows you to recharge the car by plugging it into an external power source, which we see as the most realistic use of electricity and the next dominant car technology.
Malin Persson, manager of environmental communications for Volvo Cars, which offers » fully electric models like the C30, affirms that growth in interest in these cars “will depend in large part on government incentives.” Countries throughout the region are working towards this end. For example, this past November, Chile’s Ministries of the Environment and Transportation signed a pact with the National Automotive Association to develop strategies to promote greener vehicles.
BMW is forging ahead in the field of “electro-mobility,” investing in research and development to increase range, reduce battery weight and shorten recharge time. “Studies done with the MINI E model show that we’re on the right path,” says the company in a statement issued for its BMW Group Innovation Days: Mobility of the Future tour, held in July of 2010. In 2007, the company began Project i, with the goal of coming up with the car of the future, the Megacity Vehicle (MCV), which would produce zero emissions while satisfying the mobility needs of the modern urban area. BMW is confident that the MCV will reach the market by 2013. The chassis is made from carbon fiber-reinforced plastic, which is much lighter than steel yet equally strong, and will allow the car to offer greater range.
Despite market reports, Carolina Belcastro, president of the Alfa Romeo importer Centro Milano, remains optimistic. “There are countries where we’re seeing more conscientious and responsible consumption that values the sustainability of the entire production process, including the use of the finished product.” According to Belcastro, “Locally, we have inherited and continue to reproduce this kind of behavior. The industry must encourage this trend and offer products that meet the demand.” Alfa Romeo has designed the MultiAir, which reduces fuel consumption by up to 16% and was named “2010 Engine of the Year” by the specialized press.
Part of the Whole
Ecological awareness in the automobile industry has many facets. You don’t actually need to buy a new model to reduce your contribution to pollution. Automakers continually incorporate elements to all their products in order to improve overall efficiency. This is the case with Start & Stop systems: the engine automatically shuts off whenever the car stops for a certain amount of time, turning back on when needed. Citroën, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi are just some of the companies that have embraced this innovation. Audi has also added other new features, like a solar panel sunroof with dust and pollen filters that also relieves the engine of ventilation duties and significantly reduces fuel consumption.
“These applications have really taken on a life and personality of their own as smart systems that are increasingly helpful to modern drivers, who want to keep track of the carbon footprint of their cars,” says Kenzo Hirota, general manager of marketing for Pioneer International in Latin America. The accessories maker has created EcoGraph, which lets drivers visualize and calculate in real time the impact that their cars have on the environment.
Mario Bolo, head of Technology and Information for IBM Argentina, asserts that the adoption of hybrid and electric cars is only part of the solution. “What we really need are smart systems for urban transportation in major cities, which would reduce the length of trips and, consequently, the emissions produced.” He points out that the Danish capital of Copenhagen has already implemented tools to develop this form of intelligent control and that “a number of cities throughout Latin America are starting to plan projects of this sort.” Among other initiatives, IBM is working with the Edison Group to use wind as a 100% clean way to power cars.
But today, it looks like we are still several years away from being able to stop at a city’s busiest intersection, wait for the light to turn green and take a deep breath of fresh air as all the cars and buses pull away… in
|16%||Of the world’s man-made carbon dioxide emissions come from road transport, according to the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers (OICA).|
|5||Five million cars are produced annually in Brazil, Mexico and Argentina alone, according to OICA.|
|87.74||Millions of barrels of oil are consumed worldwide on a daily basis, according to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). In Latin America, the number has risen to 6.27 million barrels a day.|
|135,170||Tons of carbon dioxide are emitted daily by cars and public transportation in the 15 principal cities of Latin America, according to the region’s Urban Mobility Observatory. The quantity of carbon monoxide emissions has risen to nearly 8,345 tons.|