by Neil Lyndon – Sod’s law can nobble even the mighty. Just at the moment when much of the wind and solar power seems to be draining out of the Green movement, a veritable slew of alternative-energy cars is about to arrive.
2012 will see the introduction of a host of new electric and hybrid vehicles from most of the world’s top manufacturers, all of whom will be struggling to flog these expensive green wares against increased market resistance and customer scepticism.
Why would the car companies choose to offer these products at such an unpromising time? Answer: they had no choice. During the last decade, car makers came under such immense and sustained pressure from governments, especially in Europe, that they had to offer up the promise of alternative-energy cars or risk being forced out of business altogether.
Most of the products which are now about to arrive were conceived in that era and have been developed over the intervening years, even while followers of political and social fashion have been slinking quietly away from their earlier green fanaticisms.
It is a monumental tribute to the ingenuity and inventiveness of the automobile industry that some fascinatingly brilliant – if expensive – cars are about to emerge from this imposition of what might reasonably be called brute ignorance.
Take the new Honda NSX, which astounded the automobile world when it was unveiled in concept form at the Detroit Motor Show this month. Since it first appeared more than 20 years ago, the NSX supercar has been Honda’s showpiece – the leader of the band which showed off to the rest of the world that Honda could not only turn out superbly reliable and enjoyable mopeds and family cars by the million but also had technical wizardry to put Ferrari in the shade.
An intrinsic element in Honda’s formula for the NSX has always been near racing-car levels of ultra-high performance. Imagine, then, the astonishment in Detroit when we learnt that Honda planned to drive the next generation NSX with hybrid electric power.
Ever since Toyota made a fortune out of selling its hybrid Prius to pious greens, hybrid power has been synonymous with a stodgy, self-righteous eschewal of any hint of style or excitement in cars. Now, with the new NSX’s two little electric motors on its front wheels and another embedded in its gearbox, hybrid gets cool.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised. The NSX follows the Jaguar C-X75 concept which was unveiled last year. With the ambition that it should be “potentially as fast as a [Bugatti] Veyron yet with the emissions of a Prius”, the C-X75 is expected to go into limited production as a joint development between Jaguar and the Williams F1 company. But the C-X75 is bound to be expensive.
In fact, it’s a reliable rule that green indulgences can only be afforded by the well-heeled. This even applies to little plug-in electric cars like Renault’s Twizy, due in 2012. The retail price of this magnetic-looking, inner-city two-seater is expected to be an affordable £6,690, but it’s only a two-seater and doesn’t qualify for the £5,000 government subsidy because it’s not technically a “car”.
It does seem very taxing to make grand green projects work for cars. News comes from Paris that Autolib – the imaginative scheme to allow Parisians to pick up an electric car on the street and borrow it for as long as they want – has run into trouble. Less than a month after the launch, vandalism has forced the withdrawal of at least a quarter of the 200-car fleet.
In any case, the arguments for alternative energy are being constantly undermined by improvements in conventional engines. The latest diesel version of Kia’s Rio does 88.3mpg and produces 85g/km of CO2 figure.
You can’t get greener than that at any price. See more by Neil Lyndon…