Last Updated
Friday 28 November 2014, 17:55 pm.
Green motoring still a bit black and sooty

Trends and their setters are an interesting lot. Of course all these make for very intriguing living that would otherwise have been dull and colourless.
By Staff Writer Sat 29 Nov 2014, 10:25 am (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Green motoring still a bit black and sooty








It only takes three Frenchmen to convince the world that they are the world's greatest lovers, and as such every man worth his salt would be better suited looking into haute couture for cover. It even has another hazy name; metrosexual. David Beckham is said to be the perfect quintessence of such. Trends are not only seen in flimsy dress codes, since major industries like car manufacturers are also always coming up with a slew of new ideas, even airliners.  Now, admittedly, airliners are not completely out at war in innovation.

The reality is that travelling by plane has not got much better with time as should be the case. Airport security checks are more and more invasive; soon there will be full body and cavity searches to unearth hidden weaponry or such. It's a stagnant industry that thrives only through lack of choice. There is no advancement in technology that is for the good of the passengers, nothing that gets you to your destination any faster. It takes 10 hours to fly to Frankfurt, just like it did in 1970. In an accident, the fatality numbers are usually close to above scary, with usually no survivors at all.

Why can't they make sure the seats are made in such a manner that they eject in the event of a plane getting out of control and then have parachutes that deploy and then gently drift passengers safely to terra firma? Isn't that something that the main plane makers; namely Boeing and Airbus should have long looked into with the advent of car manufacturers fitting airbags to their vehicles? It is now common occurrence that even when a car gets involved in what is usually termed a major accident (or the equivalent of a plane crash) people usually walk from such tragedies. This is thanks to airbags and all these other safety features that car makers install in their cars.

Now with all that the car industry is doing, bending backwards to lessen the dangers of vehicles and  with acclaimed bodies such as the European New Car Assessment Programme or Euro NCAP; "a voluntary vehicle safety rating system which originated in the UK but is now backed by the European Commission, seven European governments, as well as motoring and consumer organisations in every EU country" according to Wikipedia; you would think they took time out to lax their productions like their airline counterparts do but no.

They are also faced with accusations and claims that cars are heavily responsible for the depletion of the ozone layer and therefore causing the earth's polar caps to melt and untold climatic dangers including the death of penguins and precious polar bears! The one and only reason cars are increasingly looking funny at their collective frontals is because of me and you. They are made that way to accommodate and lessen fatal impacts with human beings or animals. They are fitted with vastly improved braking and steering systems, all in the name of safety for humans and their surroundings. But with all these strides that car manufacturers are taking to make cars as safe and user-friendly as possible, you still have green peace and ecologists still insisting that cars are dangerously dangerous and not good at all for the environment.

How has the car industry responded to this? Looking at all they have done, they should frankly have thrown up their collective hands in despair and thrown in their grease soaked towels.  But instead here is what they have done; they have strived to make cars more efficient and safer, not to mention cheaper. I know car prices are thought to be going up every time, but if you take a moment to reflect the kind of technology interwoven in making a vehicle - the lights, steering, brakes, starter, indicators, heater and aircon, Mp3 players and navigational systems, never mind the complex engine configuration and the ability to take you from Maun to Gaborone in half a day - objectively, all these tech-know-how should be unaffordable, but no, cars are bought like fat cakes.

So a trend, one that is admittedly for the good of the planet has started; use less electricity, pick up litter and eat more organic food, bring your own shopping bag to the supermarket and climb Kgale Hill twice a week. The world has been bit by the green bug. While it might not be immediately apparent in Botswana, the rest of the world, the west to be more specific, has vigorously ridden the green bandwagon so much that it is even thought to be icy cool to own an environmentally friendly car. Such vehicles are known as hybrids and all-out electric cars.

These are vehicles that are either fully propelled by electric power alone or a combination of a smaller capacity normal internal combustion engine (that burns fuel in order to run, either diesel or petrol) and because of the waste and potentially harmful gases resulting from a normal combustion engine, the focus is now on finding alternative fuel or means of powering cars, hence the route to produce electric cars.  These employ the use of batteries that are recharged over electric charges, through a wall socket or charging stations (there are being built in more developed western countries as you read this) which are more or less like a normal filling station, only in this case electricity is the fuel for charging their batteries. This obviously means that since the car is running on electricity alone, there won't be air pollution or greenhouse gas emissions as commonly referred to. Hybrids on the other hand approach from a different angle, with economy being the main drive, excuse the pun.

Hybrids use a combination of a small internal combustion engine, usually a diesel one, augmented by batteries, more or less the same ones as in the all electric car, that can either be charged the same way as the all electric car in a normal household socket or by the engine as it is driving. The obvious drawbacks that have been encountered have been packaging, the main hurdle being that the batteries used are usually heavy and cumbersome to package in a car and therefore severely limiting the distance that a car of such nature can cover between recharges. Obviously, one does not expect their all electric car to use up all power while en-route to their destination, so manufactures are forced to make electric cars that cover an estimated distance a typical city dweller is expected to make in a single day, something they say is in the range of a hundred kilometres. 

Visually, a normal everyday car and a hybrid are not easily distinguishable. In fact they look as mediocre as any.The  differences come to life obviously by lifting the car's hood, in which case if you're familiar with a car's engine you will then note the complex and clean way an electric one looks.

The all electric doesn't use oil or synthetic oils to run, so it should look cleaner as a result. Since there are no residuals coming out of the engine, there is no exhaust pipe in the car. The cars are also eerily silent as a result of the electric drive. All this is noble and admirable, but how applicable are they in Africa or Botswana to be specific? They are in actual fact applicable. Toyota has a hybrid (using both internal combustion and electricity) in its famed Prius.  Chevrolet has joined the fray with the plug in hybrid aptly named Volt and in a bid to appear environmentally conscious, Nissan also has a car that is all electric and already on sale in Europe called Leaf. From watching various sci-fi movies, everyone expects such cars to look exceedingly futuristic, but of the above mentioned, none would make you look twice, that is how understated they are.

But in being green, there is always a misunderstanding on what the pursuit should be - less fuel burnt or no emission coming from a car. Volkswagen decided that it will pursue less fuel. This also makes sense because complaints levelled at cars are normally saying that cars drink a lot of fuel, therefore making them very unfriendly to the bio-organic industry.  What VW did was to reduce fuel consumption by fitting in a smaller capacity engine which amazingly sips only "3, 9 litres of fuel per hundred kilometres" according to the manufacturer.

Now because green is defined in different and broad strokes, a lot of confusion usually arises from what a green vehicle is, with some pointing to zero emissions as is the case in the Nissan Leaf, and others talking about low fuel consumption (VW Golf 6 Tdi) being key. But this is what it all boils down to unless the electricity that is used to power and recharge these all electrical car comes through solar or wind turbines, then the whole point of curbing harmful gases is moot because as it is, electricity is produced through the burning of coal, a very dirty un-green exercise which is just as bad or even worse, so nobody is fooling anyone. At least the car industry and certain electric trains are making strides, but how about the aviation industry?



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