You recycle, purchase fruit, vegetables and meat that are farmed using sustainable practices and opt for eco-friendly detergents, all of which do a great deal to preserve eco-systems and reduce carbon footprints. Your house may be green but the chances are whatever is parked in your garage is not.
Some vehicle manufacturers have made great strides and developed technologies that use the energy produced from braking and store it in the battery. Some cars have intuitive systems that “learn” how you drive and adjust fuel-consumption accordingly. But for the most part, South Africans have little choice when it comes to fuel-efficient cars. The market has plenty of smaller models that produce fewer emissions but very few hybrid vehicles are available.
Simply put, a hybrid vehicle is one that is powered using energy from two or more sources. Most commonly a hybrid will be powered by a combination of a combustible fuel such as petroleum or diesel and electric batteries that need to be recharged. Though hybrid technology is a buzz-word and is fast becoming a part of most major car manufacturers’ business strategies, the idea is well over one hundred years old.
In 1899 Henri Pieper developed the world’s first hybrid vehicle that was powered by an electric motor/generator, batteries, and a small internal combustion engine. The electric motor would charge the batteries while cruising and both motors would be used to accelerate or climb a hill. In 1900 Ferdinand Porsche developed a series-hybrid that used two motor-in-wheel-hub arrangements with a combustion generator set providing the electric power.
Though we see few hybrids on South African roads the market world-wide is growing. Chevrolet produced the powerful Tahoe SUV in 2007. The car is capable of running on battery power alone if the terrain is forgiving and speed is kept in check. Honda’s Insight is seen in the US, UK and Japan and is noted for being the cheapest gas hybrid vehicle available. At one stage was the biggest selling vehicle on Japan, proof that consumers are ready for more efficient cars.
We are limited for choice in South Africa. The Toyota Prius was the first mass-produced hybrid and in 2008, nearly ten years after its release, it had reached a significant milestone – 1 million global sales. The BMW ActiveHybrid range is also available in South Africa and is aimed at drivers who want to reduce emission but still enjoy luxury motoring. Naturally, the price tag is higher than that of a Prius and the vehicles are not as efficient, but the intelligent fuel-saving technology and energy generation system in the BMW range are forward-thinking.
Despite the few choices available in the South African market, the two mentioned above dispel many myths about hybrid vehicles. They are reliable, mechanically sound and won’t require additional maintenance. With car prices being as high as they are, people tend to buy vehicle that are aesthetically pleasing. While this is always subjective, the limited range available in South Africa (Prius, Lexus and BMW) does provide consumers with enough choice so that drivers don’t have to feel they are driving an ugly car. A hybrid vehicle need not be underpowered though if you do have a heavy foot you will naturally lose some of the benefit of owning one – namely major fuel savings.