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The next green mile
It seems the days of combustion engines in automobiles and other vehicles are numbered.
Recently, France and the United Kingdom took steps towards completely ending the sale of vehicles with petrol or diesel engines by 2040. India and Germany have also announced intentions to push forward similar legislation by 2030, with Norway likewise by 2025.
The moves have come about as a result of the global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement, as well as the increasing burden on human health from air pollution.
Combustion engines, which are engines that burn fuel to create power, create pollution in the form of microscopic particles (PM10 and PM2.5) and gases such as carbon dioxide and monoxide, oxides of nitrogen and sulphur, plus other compounds such as hydrocarbons, all of which create a number of health problems.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 92 per cent of the world's population live in places where the air pollution exceeds WHO safe standards. It reports that in 2012, 11.6 per cent of global deaths (or 6.5 million deaths) were attributable to air pollution.
Singapore's own air pollution is far from optimal. Our PM2.5 levels exceed the WHO limit by two to three times. In January this year, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said that Singapore isn't doing enough to meet its air pollution targets.
At the end of 2016, petrol and diesel-powered vehicles accounted for 98 per cent of passenger cars in Singapore. But if the world is eliminating petrol and diesel engines - mature, reliable technologies that have powered vehicles for more than a century - what's the alternative?
One possibility is electrification, or the application of electric motors and batteries to propel cars.
Carmakers have actually been doing that for 20 years, with the first production of hybrid car in history, the Toyota Prius, making its debut in 1997, although hybrid cars have a very long history. One of the earliest hybrid cars ever was the Lohner-Porsche of 1899, just 14 years after the very first automobile appeared.
But the push for electrification has been supercharged in the past five years, with nearly every major carmaker in the world adding the electrified alternatives of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and electric vehicles, to its line-up.
Many can actually be bought in Singapore today, and some are just around the corner from being launched here.
This guide to what's on the market (or on the horizon) has many example of cars that bridge the gap between present and future.
And while the legislated demise of combustion engines in many countries seems far away, that's no excuse not to do something about pollution here and now.
Hybrid technology uses a combination of an electric motor/battery in conjunction with a combustion engine.
Energy that would otherwise be wasted in slowing down or braking is recouped by the motor, stored in the battery, and then used to power the car at low speeds. In this way, hybrid cars utilise their combustion engine far less often than their conventional counterparts and pollute less while delivering better fuel efficiency.
While their sales numbers have picked up recently, hybrids still only accounted for 0.017 per cent of the car population in Singapore at the end of 2016, despite the technology's commercial maturity and proven reliability.
More efficient than conventional vehicles.
Don't need charging or an accompanying infrastructure.
Still pollute, albeit to a lesser degree .
Toyota Prius S$130,988 with COE
97hp (engine) 71hp (motor), 0-100km/h 10.8 seconds, 180km/h;
Fuel consumption 3.7L/100km;
CO2 emissions 87g/km.
The most popular hybrid car in the world, now in its fourth-generation and more fuel efficient than ever, the Prius is optimised for city traffic, making it one of the few machines that easily achieves its quoted fuel consumption figures in the real world.
Hyundai Ioniq S$113,888 with COE
105hp, 0-100km/h 10.8 seconds, 185km/h;
Fuel consumption 3.4L/100km;
CO2 emissions 79g/km.
Hyundai's first globally available hybrid car, the Ioniq drives very much like a normal car and offers the stiffest competition the Prius has had in years. It also has the considerable advantage of being affordable, since its price isn't far off that of a normal Korean sedan.
Kia Niro S$112,999 with COE
105hp, 0-100km/h 11.5 seconds, 185km/h;
Fuel consumption 3.8L/100km;
CO2 emissions 88g/km.
Hyundai and Kia are corporate sisters, so the Niro gets the same platform and hybrid technology that the Ioniq does, but pairs it with the twist of wrapping it all up in a fashionable Sports Utility Vehicle body style and design, though trading some efficiency in the process.
The next step up in the electrification spectrum, plug-in hybrid cars simply have a larger onboard battery that can be charged by external means, usually a wall box or home power outlet.
A bigger battery means plug-ins can drive a meaningful distance, usually around 50km or less, on electric power alone. They are well-suited to short, intra-city commutes, but like full electric vehicles, need supporting charging infrastructure to get the best mileage and efficiency. Once the battery is depleted, plug-ins can operate like normal hybrid cars.
BMW is one manufacturer that has made big strides in electrification, especially in the plug-in realm. Its beautiful i8 plug-in hybrid sports car proved that demand for a sexy eco-vehicle that's fun to drive exists, and it's also one of the first manufacturers to offer numerous plug-in hybrid versions of its regular cars, dubbed iPerformance models.
In Malaysia, where there are large tax rebates for locally-assembled eco cars, a record-breaking 44 per cent of BMW sales come from iPerformance models.
Although this situation is unlikely to be replicated here, it does show the feasibility of plug-in hybrids, even in a place with larger land area.
"By 2025 the BMW Group expects electrified vehicles to account for between 15-25 per cent of sales. While we believe demand will increase in Singapore given the wide range of EVs and PHEVs that will be available, factors such as regulation, incentives and charging infrastructure will play a major role in determining the adoption rate of electrification," a BMW spokesperson told The Business Times .
Zero tailpipe emissions on short distances.
Almost the same benefits as regular hybrid cars.
Require charging and infrastructure.
BMW 225xe Active Tourer. (Price to be announced)
224hp, 0-100km/h 6.7 seconds, 202km/h;
Fuel consumption 2.1L/100km;
CO2 emissions 47g/km;
Electric driving range 41km.
A plug-in version of BMW's popular multi-purpose vehicle (MPV), the 225xe has an electric motor and 1.5-litre turbo engine that deliver a sprightly 224hp, but it also delivers great mileage and usable electric-only range.
Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid S$883,988 w/o COE
680hp, 0-100km/h 2.5 seconds, 310km/h;
Fuel consumption 2.9L/100km;
CO2 emissions 140g/km CO2;
Electric driving range 50km.
It's a sign of the times that the fastest, most expensive version of Porsche's sporty limo is actually a plug-in hybrid that marries supercar-shaming straightline speed with saintly fuel consumption.
ELECTRIC VEHICLES (EVs)
EVs are powered entirely by batteries, a bit like a gigantic remote-controlled model car, but obviously with more complex systems onboard. Since EVs don't burn fossil fuels onboard, they produce no local pollution at all and electricity is generally cheaper than petrol or diesel per kilometre travelled.
Their electric motors deliver instant torque, making EVs surprisingly fun to drive, and their mechanical simplicity (they have no gearbox, fuel system, exhaust and so on) means they could be cheaper to service and maintain in the long run.
But EVs do have significant limitations. They are limited by range, and currently that means fewer than 250km for a full charge for some models.
They also need charging infrastructure and charging times are at least six to eight hours for a full charge. Fast-charging technology exists that can deliver an 80 per cent charge in as little as 20 minutes, but it can be costly to implement.
While EVs do not produce tailpipe emissions, they're only truly eco-friendly if the power used to charge them is from sustainable sources.
But battery and charging technology is advancing at a rapid rate and EVs are fast becoming the new norm. US electric carmaker Tesla boasts its newly-launched Model 3 sedan is capable of up to 500km, with almost 280km of range available on a half-hour fast charge. Mini has also announced a fully-electric, three-door model for production in 2019, and even luxury brand Bentley will field an EV in 2021.
Produce no local pollution.
Fun to drive, mechanically simple.
Currently not suitable for long distances.
Charging times can be long
BMW i3 Price To Be Announced
170hp, 0-100km/h 8.1 seconds 150km/h;
Electric driving range 300km.
First launched in 2014, the BMW i3 was Singapore's first EV with real-life usability, and remains the best-selling EV here. This updated model, with a larger battery and 300km of range, adds even more usefulness to one of the most practical modern EVs to date.
Porsche Mission E (Price to be announced)
600hp, 0-100km/h 3.5 seconds, 202km/h;
Electric driving range 500km.
The Mission E is still a concept, but Porsche is dead set on making a full production version of this all-electric sedan by 2020. It's promised to have an eye-opening 500km of range and a fast-charge time of just 15 minutes. It will eventually expand into a sub-range of its own, with Porsche targeting 50 per cent of its whole production to come from EVs by 2023.