Monday, April 30, 2007

The German Car Industry Needs to Grow Up

According to a recent article in the Financial Times, 'Renate K√ľnast, Germany’s former environment minister and a current Green MP, knows how to provoke.

She recently managed to infuriate the entire German car industry by urging consumers to buy Japanese. “I expect the German industry finally to produce modern cars,” she told a German newspaper."

“And if they can’t do that, people must buy a Toyota Prius ... Whoever falls asleep over the trend today will have to close factories tomorrow, just like you can see in the US.”'

Top Gear Presenter Questions 4x4s in London

Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond admitted in a recent interview for GQ magazine that driving a Range Rover [4x4] in London was 'pretty unnecessary'.

It's so refreshing to hear that there is some evolution happening within the motoring ranks. Unlike his neanderthal co-presenter Jeremy Clarkson, Hammond understands the phrase 'Global Warming' and openly admits that "when I am in town I get around either on a scooter, a motorbike or on a [shiny Specialized] bicycle."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Large 4x4s aren't Required in the Mountains Either!

We received the following letter from Jon, a supporter who doesn't really think large 4x4s are required in the mountains.

"I live at nearly 1,000 metres on a mountain that measures nearly 3,000m in the French Pyrenees. I drive a regular domestic car that I fit with snow tyres each winter and I have to carry chains at all times but for most people here 4x4s are not essential - the roads are either clear and safe for all vehicles or un-passable for any (enforced). There is rarely any road scenario that demands a special vehicle.

The only people here who do actually drive 4x4s are people who need to go off road: local farmers, ski station workers, engineers and similar. Most locals do not see any kudos in a large vehicle and they are difficult to manage on narrow mountain roads so only people who really need them want them.

Of course, as soon as winter comes then the number of 4x4s on local roads increases dramatically, not because of the arrival of snow but because of the arrival of tourists who seem to think they need their big 4x4s to accommodate their one or two week annual vacation in the mountains. The fact that they don't see the irony in being skiers and drivers of gas guzzlers bewilders me.

It must feel wonderful to them [4x4 drivers] when they can finally use their huge cars in scenery that actually looks like the scenery in the television adverts - perhaps they then feel they have justified their choice of car. The locals just giggle when they bash them on the walls of the narrow village roads (which need extra care when you are driving a normal car) or get stuck and need help reversing back out of a road that is too narrow.

When you live in an environment like this and see how most people manage without anything more than chains and specialist tyres then the type of London Range Rover owner who boasts that his wonderful 4x4 helps him through the difficult terrain of the M25 during December makes you want to laugh (or perhaps cry?)

The thing that really worries me is the fuel consumption on mountain roads; the fuel figures you see advertised are for flat roads. Ever considered how much energy it takes to haul 3 tonnes of 4x4 up a 10 to 15 percent gradient? Perhaps it is a good thing that the tourists only drive their 4x4s in the mountains one week in each year."

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Bio Fuels - Climate Solution or 'Deforestation Diesel'?

There has been a lot in the news recently about biofuels. The UK government, as part of their Climate Change Action plan, want to see up to 5% biofuel mixes as mandatory by 2010. This will, they say, reduce our CO2 emissions from the transport sector.

Quite rightly, the Secretary of State for Transport, Douglas Alexander, in a speech to an IPPR audience, cautioned that the biofuels must come from a sustainable source. But is there a sustainable source? And can we, let alone the world, provide a 5-10% biofuel crop in a way that is sustainable?

Already the price of corn has shot up in the US, due to the new push for ethanol. This has led to food riots in Mexico where people can not afford the higher price for their maize. George Monbiot called last week for an immediate moratorium on biofuels until more research is carried out. He warns that biofuels are a recipe for a humanitarian and environmental disaster.

And even the oil companies are saying that we can not meet targets to bring 5% biofuel to the UK forecourts without endangering wildlife.

So are biofuels a magic bullet to reduce our carbon footprint? Consider this:

* The grain required to fill the petrol tank of a Range Rover with ethanol is sufficient to feed one person per year. Assuming the petrol tank is refilled every two weeks, the amount of grain required would feed a hungry African village for a year

* Much of the fuel that Europeans use will be imported from Brazil, where the Amazon is being burned to plant more sugar and soybeans, and Southeast Asia, where oil palm plantations are destroying the rainforest habitat of orangutans and many other species. Species are dying for our driving

*The expansion of biofuels would increase monoculture farming

*If ethanol is imported from the US, it will likely come from maize, which uses fossil fuels at every stage in the production process, from cultivation using fertilisers and tractors to processing and transportation. Growing maize appears to use 30% more energy than the finished fuel produces, and leaves eroded soils and polluted waters behind

* Meeting the 5.75% target would require, according to one authoritative study, a quarter of the EU's arable land

* Using ethanol rather than petrol reduces total emissions of carbon dioxide by only about 13% because of the pollution caused by the production process, and because ethanol gets only about 70% of the mileage of petrol

* Food prices are already increasing. With just 10% of the world's sugar harvest being converted to ethanol, the price of sugar has doubled; the price of palm oil has increased 15% over the past year, with a further 25% gain expected next year.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Even Hummers aren't Safe

The Auto Industry Primarily Advertises Gas Guzzlers

I was at a meeting last week with car industry and advertising representatives, looking at ways to make advertisements for vehicles more informative about CO2 emissions. What shocked me was the firm belief by the industry that car adverts do not create demand. This is like saying smoking ads don't inspire people to smoke.

The auto industry is under attack for not doing it's part to reduce CO2 emissions from the cars they sell. A report last year proved that the majority of the industry is failing to reach their 'agreed' target to reduce CO2 emission levels by 2012. What they inevitably come back with is that they are only producing what the consumers want - namely larger, thirstier and more powerful vehicles. This unfortunately increases sales for more expensive 4x4s, which provides greater profits. They say that they have huge lots of smaller, cheaper and more fuel efficient cars but no one wants to buy them (when's the last time you saw an ad for a sexy lightweight efficient car?) And they insist they are doing their part for the environment by investing in new R&D on new cleaner biofuels. So they aren't part of the problem - they're doing their part. Right?
Well, a startling new survey by the environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth reveals that, again, most car ads in national newspapers are for gas-guzzling vehicles. They discovered that during a two-week period about 55 per cent of adverts in national newspapers were for cars in the most polluting bands E to G, which emit more than 165 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre. One has to ask - does the auto industry really want to do anything about climate change? Or are they just in the business for a quick buck.

OK - they are businesses, so they are legally obliged to provide a return to their investors. So they agreesively advertise what will make them the most profit. And selling little Micra's isn't where they will make a profit. But wouldn't you rather the 'dirty car industry' just say this outright, instead of all the greenwash stuff?

As a snub to the auto industry, the Eden Project in Cornwall is now hosting a sexy green car show. On display at the show are new cars that won't be appearing in Top Gear anytime soon.