Henry Ford is famously quoted as offering cars in “any colour – so long as
it’s black”. Were he alive today, he would be more likely to offer any colour –
so long as it’s green.
The environment has turned into big business for big business, as consumers
demand better fuel efficiency and tree-hugging properties from their transport
than ever before. Hot summer days with record temperatures and water shortages
only serve to hammer home the message that everybody should be doing their bit.
There have been many false starts, such as the stuttering growth of liquified
petroleum gas, but to really win consumers’ hearts, they need to be offered more
of the same, only greener.
This means the same refuelling network, the same convenience and as little
confusing technology as possible.
Research and development
Manufacturers are working hard to provide the vehicles that meet this
requirement. Ford is to invest £1bn in its UK research and development centres
in a bid to reduce the impact of its cars on the environment.
The move will see Ford’s four UK engineering centres researching ways of
improving the efficiency of its existing petrol and diesel engines by using
direct injection technology as well as investigating the use of new materials.
The centres will work alongside the new Ford department in Sweden, which will
develop hybrid powertrains for its European models and also vehicles from the
Premier Automotive Group (Jaguar, Land Rover and Mazda).
Ford is promising it will result in more than 100 vehicles, which offer
emissions or fuel economy improvements.
Put into practice
Its promises are already turning to reality, with its Flexi-Fuel Vehicle
range, which can run on bioethanol, a fuel similar to petrol derived from plants
such as cereals and sugar beet, or biomass such as wood waste.
Somerset County Council has become the first council in the UK to take on a
fleet of bioethanol cars following a successful pilot scheme.
Somerset county councillor Paul Buchanan says: “The fleet will help the
council achieve its goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 20% by 2010 and
they will be used by our staff, promoting sustainable transport across the
Other manufacturers on the biofuel trail include Saab, which offers a
Some companies have gone further, such as B9 Energy Services, which has run
its vans in the most environmentally friendly way for many years. It has used a
small fleet of Citroën Berlingo Electric vans and instead of charging the
vehicles using electricity from coal or gas-fired power stations, or even
nuclear plants, its power is generated in the most environmentally-friendly way
– by a wind turbine situated outside the firm’s office.
The problem is that they can’t be replaced, as Citroën has stopped making
them, due to low demand.
However, there is still a niche market for electric vehicles, especially in
the commercial vehicle sector. Recently, supermarket giant Sainsbury’s became
the first major UK retailer to use battery power for home shopping delivery,
after signing a deal with Europe’s largest electric vehicle manufacturer.
Sainsbury’s has bought a zero emission, battery powered delivery truck from
Smith Electric Vehicles. The Faraday model will be used for pioneering home
shopping delivery trials in London, in a partnership between Sainsbury’s, Smith
Electric Vehicles and refrigerated vehicle solutions provider, Petit Forestier.
Darren Kell, business development director for The Tanfield Group, which owns
Smith Electric Vehicles, says: “Sainsbury’s is serious about reducing vehicle
emissions and has invested considerable resources in searching for a practical,
Faraday has a top speed of 50mph, a range of up to 120 miles between battery
charges and a payload of up to 4,000kg. It has a fast charge facility that
replaces 80% of the battery power in less than an hour.
And for some companies, there is the do-it-yourself approach to helping the
environment. A west country business has put the environment at the heart of its
fleet policy with a pledge to run its vehicles on used cooking oil, a variation
Burts Potato Chips uses about 3,000 litres of cooking oil a week producing
speciality crisps for distribution throughout Europe, oil it would ordinarily
sell on to the pet food industry. But instead of making money from the oil, it
is being refined and used in place of diesel on its van fleet. A local farmer
refines the oil, before selling it back to the crisp firm.
This is similar to biodiesels made from organic materials such as rapeseed
oil, which help cut emissions and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
Jonty White, owner of Burts, which operates three Mercedes-Benz vans, said:
“Since the rise in diesel prices, bio-fuel is cheaper. It costs about 70 pence a
litre, which is mainly duty. This is part of our commitment to helping the
“You can smell cooking oil from the exhaust, but in a way that is better.
When the van goes past, people say they really can smell the crisps.”
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