Slow start for ‘green’ cars on the local market

Newsroom 17/03/2008 | 15:54

More than other factors, CO2 emissions have the most damaging effect on the environment, say scientists. And the future does not sound too bright, given that car sales will continue to increase, albeit at a lower pace than in 2006. Deforestation is not helping either: most of Baneasa forest has been destroyed, making room for big shopping centers, office buildings and parking lots.
British company Clean Green Cars has put together a league table, ranking the CO2 emission levels of the car models on the market. The research found the lowest emissions were from the Volkswagen Polo 1.4 TDI, Toyota Prius, Mini, Honda Civic, Citroen C1 and Peugeot 107 with 109g CO2 per km. At the other end, the big polluters were the Lamborghini Murcielago with 495g CO2 per km, Bentley Azure and Lamborghini Gallardo.
The ranking of the “greenest” cars is led by two hybrid models, the Honda Civic and Toyota Prius.
Toyota was the first carmaker to promote a hybrid car – the Toyota Prius in 1997. Since then the car has sold 920,687 units worldwide, and is number one in sales among hybrid cars. “In Romania, the hybrid model Toyota Prius was launched in the second half of 2006 and until now it has sold 53 units, 37 cars last year,” said Mihai Bordeanu, marketing manager at Toyota Romania. The Toyota Prius has an emissions level of 104g/km, meaning that in one year the hybrid car's emissions are lower than those
of a car equipped with a diesel engine.
The Honda Civic is a conventional model unconventionally propelled, equipped with an 1.3l i-VTEC gas engine combined with the electric system Integrated Motor Assist (IMA). “Since August last year when the hybrid model Honda Civic appeared on the local market, we have sold nine. The CO2 emissions for the Civic hybrid model are 109 g/km. The Civic Sedan's emissions reach 159 g/km,” company officials told Business Review.

Lower emissions come with higher prices
In September last year, a replica came from the German carmaker Volkswagen which launched the Blue Motion range in Romania, with models such as the Passat, Passat Variant Blue Motion and Polo Blue Motion. According to company information, this year models such as the Golf, Golf Variant, Golf Plus and Jetta will be equipped with Blue Motion and in the following years the Eos and Touran may join them.
“Environmental protection is not one of Romanians' strong points, which is why it is important to educate our customers in this regard,” said Matei Albulescu, brand manager for Volkswagen Romania. The price of a Volkswagen Passat Blue Motion reaches a little more than EUR 22,000 while a Volkswagen Passat 1.6 engine standard level costs over EUR 19,000.
The numbers prove a significant price difference also in the case of hybrid models.
The price of a Honda Civic reaches EUR 23,776, VAT included, and the Honda Civic Sedan (the model with the automatic gear box) is EUR 20,087 with VAT. “This year we intend to sell approximately 25 units on the local market,” says the Honda importer.
The price of a Toyota Prius is EUR 25,500, VAT included, a price comparable with other models from the D class equipped with a diesel engine and the highest level of equipment.
“We estimate that sales of the Toyota Prius will grow rapidly in the near future, but considering that we are dealing with a niche product, our sales target for Prius stands at approximately 100 units until the end of the year,” said Bordeanu.

New ‘green' solutions
Toyota Motor Corporation announced at the beginning of January this year that it plans to launch the production of “plug-in” hybrid cars by 2010 and to offer a hybrid version of each model Toyota now has in showrooms, models equipped with a traditional engine, by 2020. “Concern for the environment is a much discussed subject lately in the local media. This means more people have became interested in hybrid technologies and their advantages. We estimate that the hybrid segment will grow for sure, at the same pace as the market. We do not believe that we can talk about high volumes on this segment, at least not in the next couple of years,” added the Toyota Romania representative.
At the Geneva Car Show which ended last week, carmakers have launched several versions of hybrid solutions. The Golf TDI Hybrid model was launched at Geneva and BMW announced it would introduce a mild hybrid diesel concept vehicle based on the BMW X5.
Many analysts believe that the economics of combining a diesel engine and a hybrid system – both of which add significant production costs – make diesel-hybrids a difficult proposition. “This is no pie-in-the-sky project,” said Klaus Draeger, head of development at BMW.
“All of the features are production-feasible. We could easily and without too much delay implement various technologies featured on our latest concept on existing showroom models.”
General Motors presented its improved mild hybrid system in Geneva. The carmaker says the new version will use lithium ion batteries, which will produce three times the power of the current nickel metal hydride battery pack. The new system is expected to be ready for production in North America by 2010, and for global markets shortly after. Given the negative impact that CO2 emissions have now on the environment, some might say it's a relatively long time to wait for the “green” solutions.

By Dana Ciuraru

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