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Pure electric, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen fuel cells – the future looks bright for alternative propulsion

Electric vehicles (or EVs) offer plenty of benefits for a full-scale switch over to Volt-led motoring on the face of things – not least zero tailpipe emissions.

So with the government subsidising your EV purchase by £5,000, why is the UK not seeing a significant increase in the take up of electric vehicles?

Answer: EVs aren’t practical or functional enough to be a viable proposition as a personal car.

Currently, electric vehicle ranges are just too short with recharging taking far too long, too. As an aside, the country’s seriously lacking infrastructure wouldn’t be able to handle an overnight switch to EV motoring anyway.

With cars like the new Focus ECOnetic returning 80mpg and emissions of 95g/km CO2, EVs like the Nissan LEAF will only return 99mpg with emissions of up to 130g/km CO2, despite its eco-friendly tech and green credentials  – not a significant improvement over a conventional diesel.

It’s true electric cars don’t emit any emissions at the point of use but the power to charge the cars has to come from somewhere. According to joint research between BMW and the Technical University of Munich, electricity produced in a coal-fired power station used to charge an EV produces an equivalent 130g/km of CO2.

With the toxic batteries that power EVs likely to need replacing in a decades time has the fiscal and environmental cost of disposing of the batteries been factored in as well? Currently, nobody knows how it will actually have to be done but it’s bound to prove costly to develop a solution.

So what is the future form of propulsion for the personal car if electric vehicles look to provide a conflicting argument for killing off the internal combustion engine?

Swedish manufacturer Volvo is intent on developing high efficiency diesel engines in conjunction with hybrid systems, achieving impressive results so far.

It’s 2.4-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel engine, combined with an Electric Rear Axle hybrid drive system in the V60 plug-in hybrid estate returns an astonishing 148.6mpg and 49g/km CO2 – figures the current crop of EVs cant hope to compete with.

Another option emerging for future technology to power the motorcar is the concept of the range-extending hybrid.

Pioneered by General Motors in the firm’s jointly developed Chevrolet Volt/Vauxhall Ampera models, an on board 1.4-litre petrol unit tuned for maximum efficiency acts as a generator, delivering power to the vehicle’s electric motor also sending power to the car’s batteries to be recharged on the move.

The result is a claimed fuel economy of 235mpg with emissions of 27g/km CO2. Range-extending hybrids eradicate ‘range anxiety’ – a phenomenon the industry is going crazy for that describes the apprehension that you might not actually reach your destination due to a lack of charge.

In short then, the future of propulsion for the car looks promising. The industry appears to be trying hard to develop powertrains for the car of the future, with different manufacturers opting to explore different routes.

None of them are necessarily correct, as each system is suited to different applications and different scenarios, but the important fact is that development is forging ahead.

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