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back to article French motorwonk savages hybrid cars

A French automotive-industry researcher has published an attack on hybrid cars, suggesting that they aren't a good sustainable way to save the planet and will prevent other technologies from developing. The author of Hybrid vehicles: a temporary step is Jean-Jacques Chanaron, Research Director at the French National Centre for …

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Sam
Flame

I want electric car

I drive 15 miles each way to work ( I can't afford to live any closer to work due to house prices ) Its all motor way miles.

If i could get an electric car to do the journey I would, As it is I have just bought a Skoda Fabia VRS (effectively a VW Polo with a different badge) its a sensible 1.9 turbo diesel (with a 130hp and 405nm of torque) which on my journey to work retuns 57MPG over a tank.

Tell me can I get a hybrid that does this well? Can I find an all electric car that can drive on the motorways?

And why is everyone so sure about little French cars, the German diesels are far better (performance/reliability/economic) having just replaced my old Xsara.

Flame Icon for anyone who loves their French cars.

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The future of the car

I spent my day in the warm February sunshine cutting (by hand tools) wood for my stove from a (sustainably managed) ancient coppice woodland. This AGW is not all bad.

The point that these threads always overlook is that the personal car HAS NO FUTURE. Hybrid or any other technology. We are running out of fossil energy. Oil, gas, coal. They will all be in irreversible decline within twenty years. We will all be using less fossil energy in the future. If hybrids are sold as part of our future lifestyle then it is a lie. If they are sold as a transitional technology to tide us over until we ADAPT OUR LIFESTYLES and infrastructure to live without most personal transport and other wastes of energy then they have a place.

Personally, I think a full electric car with four motors (one in each wheel hub) and a small diesel engine to recharge batteries on long journeys is a design worth further development.

www.theoildrum.com

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@Brian Miller

"There isn't much that can't be done that really requires a car, "

try getting six children to/from school, with school bags, sports bags and musical instruments ! (not all mine, we carpool with 4 other families).

ObTopical: we looked at a hybrid when we bought our peoplecarrier. Unfortunately mileage and space was too low. Maybe they're better now, but I don't get that impression.

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Myth sources

One article was already mentioned ('Hummer greener than Prius'). Another fine example is the 'Dust to dust' study by CNW Marketing Research, Inc. Their claims are not verifyable, they disclosed neither their data sources nor their methodology. Counter studies done by different research team paint a very different picture.

So don't be eager to believe either side in this debate.

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Diesel vs. petrol

@Sam:

You should know your subject better. Diesel IS NOT petrol. Diesel is a denser fuel that contains more energy per litre, weighs more per litre, costs more crude to produce and emits more co2 per litre.

Don't ever ever compare diesel mpg to petrol mpg 1:1!

57 mpg diesel is comparable in efficiency and CO2 output to a 50 mpg petrol.

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@ SAM

Here you go:

http://www.megawattmotorworks.com/display.asp?dismode=article&artid=315

(by Citroën no less, by way of two good-natured fingers @ AC and the Citroëen-bashing brigade)

Thumbs up, because I test drove a fully-electric Clio and a fully-electric AX well over 13 years ago - way ahead of their time, but the problem has always been the same for "fully electrics": lack of range (60 miles max at the time, has improved a little since, but not quite enough still).

I have been commuting my 6 - miles return trip in central Dublin on a fully-electric scooter (the vespa type, not the kiddy type) for the last 2 years now. Still not super (winter time cuts your range big time - batteries still don't like cold, regardless of tech), but it's a start.

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@MarkMac

***"try getting six children to/from school, with school bags, sports bags and musical instruments ! (not all mine, we carpool with 4 other families)."***

With the wankers that constitute our local council wanting to close fully *HALF* the existing primary schools, the school run can only get worse.

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Go

@ Perpetual Cyclists

With nuclear (or for the more PC-persuaded, wind and/or solar) electricity, fully electrics certainly appear the most viable alternative medium to long-term, if the 'personal transportation' model is to live on.

Comparable performance to run-of-the-mill cars, with better torque (less energy 'wasted' in standstill/go situations, e.g. at lights) and, save as to tyres, windscreen wipers and brake pads (and batteries but on a much larger timescale), there is no "regular maintenance" required whatsoever.

So not only do you do away with the fossil fuel production/supply line, but you also do away with the best portion of the spare parts industry (and logistical requirements of same) and the only downside that I see, would be the need to "refill" more frequently (perhaps Li-ion/Li-po tech, with substantial recharging in very small timeframes can assist) and *of course* to re-train squillions of car mechanics into electricians ;-P

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@Sam

Sorry for my post, I actually didn't read your post too well, but was annoyed with a few others that did seem to compare Diesel vs Petrol like they are the same thing.

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Diesel

Should not be compared to petrol also because it produces particulates in the emissions - something more worrying IMO that the emissions from petrol engines.

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Boffin

@AC re: Diesel

I recall reading an article about particulates in emissions. I cannot remember where I read it, but I'm sure a Google search would throw something up.

Basically, petrol also produces particulates, but they are much smaller and are more harmful as the body is unable to expell them. Diesel particulates are larger (more like soot) and the body is better able to cope with them.

I'm not saying one is better than the other. Just that if particulates are your main concern, then neither fuel is better than the other. Diesel returns better MPG per volume of fuel, so has to be the better option in terms of cost and CO2 emission.

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Circle of authority

This is a review of the original paper that requires a fee to read. But sometimes, refereed journals can suffer from circular authority and depart from reality. Commenting on a reviewer's summary is a waste of time but the comments posted have brought out a lot of emotional responses lacking facts and data that can be addressed.

As for hybrid batteries, USA patent 6,936,371 covers how Toyota approaches NiMH battery refurbishment. Full copies can be obtained via Google's patent service. I'm testing variations of this patent and one of my early tests indicate it works. As for traction battery recycling, I would rather deal with nickel and potassium hydroxide than lead and sulfuric acid. Given the amount of nickel in my battery, it has more salvage metal value today than when it was manufactured.

We have about 500,000 hybrids in the USA and the first models were sold in 2000. So far, traction batteries from accident salvage yards appear to meet our needs for 'worn out' batteries along with the occasional warranty replacement. This won't last forever but patent 6,936,371 shows how 'worn out' batteries can be rebuilt.

Toyota has already announced an operational profit on the Prius since 2004. Small wonder that last year's Prius sales in the USA were 181,000 and the Toyota Camry plant in Georgetown KY reports "1/3d of the Camrys they make are hybrids."

The ultimate test is the market place and regardless of individual opinions, the sales are hard to ignore. More importantly, GM has made a sea change towards adopting hybrid technology, following what Ford had already accomplished in their Ford Escape. Seeing 181,000 Prius sold in 2007 spoke much louder than a million words by hybrid skeptics.

Bob Wilson

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Unhappy

@Eponymous Cowherd

There are actually 4.55 litres in a gallon so at £1.04 per litre, it's more like £4.73 per gallon not £4, and when converted to $ this is approx. $9!

I do agree that the yanks have a nerve to whine about $3 per gallon! If we paid $3 per gallon I could fill my modest Peugeot 306 for about £10.

There are three things certain in life......and one of them is Taxes.

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US market quite different

Europe has a lot of diesels, which get good fuel economy, even factoring in the higher carbon density per litre/gallon. But they're verboten in much of the US! Until last year, our diesel fuel had high sulfur, which would destroy the catalytic converters needed for clean diesel engines. That was finally fixed, but then some nitwit (remember who runs the US regime now) came up with a new rule (I don't know what) that again banned even clean diesel cars. So except for a few hundred 2007-model-year European luxury cars imported in late 2006, which fell into a loophole, diesel cars have remained banned in much of the US, including the New England area where I live and California.

Besides, the #2 oil that is used for diesel fuel is used here for home heat, and it's expensive: I pay about $3.50 for heating fuel vs. $3.00 for motor gasoline, only the latter including tax. This is the reverse of the historic norm, implying a shortage of the #2 grade.

Because of regenerative braking and time spend idling at traffic lights and in congestion, hybrids (which don't run the engine when stopped) do much better in city driving than gasoline engines. That makes them a good choice for urban drivers. Diesel-electric hybrid would be even better, I suppose, if they'd allow it. That's what most American trains run on..

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Go

Diesel, ugh!

If you recall, diesel cars were the source of much humour until the late 90s here in the UK. Images of people in sandals with beards who bragged about how many cheaply they could run their Citroen BX did spring to mind!

The reason hybrids are popular in the US is that diesel cars have never really taken off there. There HAVE been occasional diesel cars out there, but they never did well because of the cheap petrol. Diesels are horrible to drive compared to an equivalent petrol, although they have got better since the advent of high pressure common rail injection.

At the end of last year I was in the market for a cheap old diesel to run on veggie oil, but I soon found waste oil is no longer free or easy to find and virgin oil costs nearly as much as diesel. The small difference doesn't make up for the increased maintenance costs as fuel pumps wear out etc. I only do 8000 miles a year so it turns out I'm better off with a petrol, both financially and because I don't like driving something that has all the grace of a tractor.

I'll stick with my mid-mounted whizzy-whooshy 8000rpm petrol engine!

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Flame

Pedal??

"We should be discussing why people are so stubborn or lazy as to need a passenger car in the first place........ How come the average car owner doesn't have the guts to peddle their own ass to work?

I'm guessing you live in one of those small and mild climate European nations.

I noticed while visiting England, the non realization most people had about how far APART everything is for most of us in the US. 30 km to my friends house, 10 km to the grocery store 15 km downtown. its a thirty-four hour drive to my mothers house!

Public transit is a bad joke and dangerous as well. And do YOU want to wait in the cold for 45 minutes with no sheter for a bus at -20 C with a wind chill twice that?

And in the winter its regularly -20 to -25 C where I live. "It gets worse", if you want to pedal a bicycle, be my guest! As to electrics, battery performance degrades incredibly at these temperatures. I want to save fuel. I traded off my old but comfortable SUV for a little Toyota pickup, when I could find someone actually wiling to part with one. Small trucks are rare, my town has the Ford Ranger "small truck" plant and its going to close because most people only buy F-150s or larger!

Very few people here have the luxury of being able to live close to a job, especially these days, or the climate that lets a bicycle be any more than it is for most people here, a summer toy.

In the US, the real trick is trying to afford an affordable smaller car when the used market is tank sized trucks.

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Paris Hilton

@Ralph Hodgson

I did say US gallons.

There are 1.2 US gallons per UK gallon, or 3.78 litres per US gallon.

Paris, 'cos even she would have known that ;-)

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Anonymous Coward

American w/ diesel

I used to have a 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit pickup truck. Was about 12 feet long, 6 feet wide, and got damn near 70mpg. Saved me a fortune when I was in high school. Sadly it bit the dust a few years back, but I've been a fan of diesel power ever since.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why petrol in hybrids?

One reason is because its easier to start and stop petrol engines due to the lower compression ratio, electric ignition and lighter construction. Hybrids frequently start and stop the engine automatically in response to power demands.

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They are an interim solution...

...because we can't buy diesels in California yet. The problem's not the diesel but the local fuel, it has had too high a sulfur content. We will be able to get our hands on those diesels later this year and then we can enjoy decent mileage figures.

Hybrids get more than their fair share of hype -- these Frenchies are on to something. Some of it is well deserved -- we used to get really good tax breaks and goodies like permits to drive in HOV (carpool) lanes and incentives to drive what are really just slightly oversized golf carts.

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Prius owner weighs in

Hey, just trying to do the right thing by purchasing the best alternative on the marketplace at this point in time. Go ahead and develop new technologies, and if they're good, consumers will buy them. But don't yank my chain for doing my part to save more of the planet's crude oil in the meantime, French Loser Boy.

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I still have to laugh...

My dad was driving cars 20 years ago that get better mileage than the current small hybrids do. Oil burner of course...

It was also cheaper to buy, cheaper to maintain and it only had ONE battery that would need replacing from time to time.

And the occasional glow plug.

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Coat

Well, since nobody else has said it...

...when the French can actually build a car that's worth driving (come to that, when they can actually drive) I'll take notice of their "expert" opinions.

Yup, bike jacket and skidlid, please.

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@ Dana W

"I'm guessing you live in one of those small and mild climate European nations."

Nope, but most people who live in flat countries like Denmark or Netherlands should be ashamed to drive. I've done most of my peddeling in a very hilly Canadian city and I can say that an average person can still maintain a good 15mph in the traffic... including stopping for lights. Cars tend to do less in the city, when you talk about door to door. Funny how drivers never want to talk about parking and all that fuss climbing in and out of the vehicle!

Where I live now in the mountains people generally need a car because they carry heavy items (like firewood) and travel distances are often in the 100 mile range. I do note though, that when my son comes to visit, he can make a trip to the store (24 miles) on my old clunker bike and be back in two hours. (Ahh to be young again)

@JamesH "any suggestions?" The problem is not individuals. The problem is a general mind set that promotes things that are "modern" or "popular" and come from China. I note someone above considering 300,000 miles on a car to be unrealistic. I would say that a mechanic that can't keep it running twice that long is the wrong one to go to... or did they really mean that by that time they would be justified in desiring a NEW one. I say... get a grip... and a wrench. My neighbour's regular driver is a 1948 GMC pickup. He wins.

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Hydrogen and compressed air

So ultimate fuel in paper, so pain in the arse at practical level and finally: Environmentally even worse than gasoline, at some point.

First: Hydrogen must be stored as a liquid to be used for anything or transported and that means severe cooling and/or very high pressure. 5 kg H2 needs a 130 liter tank at -253 ºC and the tank itself weights 90 kilos. On top of that, H2 is lost (thermal leaks, overpressure) about 1% of mass every day. 5 kilos of liquid hydrogen won't get you very far, either, about 100 miles.

Cost of cryosystem is immense and that is needed to every vehicle. And these are the problems after you've initially made a huge amount of H2 and cooled it to -250C. H2 is usually separated from seawater with - surprise! - electricity.

10-fold improvement in total efficiency if you use just batteries and electricity as itself.

Second: Compressed air. Sounds fine until you begin to think that how compressed air is made: You take a huge electric motor, a lot of cooling power and then you pump a lot of air into small container with an efficiency about 30%, the rest is heat. Then you use that compressed air to move pistons in an engine, again with about 50% efficiency and you've lost about 75% of the _electrical energy you had before compressor_. Obviously a brain dead method. Use a battery and electric motor and total losses are less than 10%.

"Hybrid car" without option to charge it from the wall outlet is a marketing gimmic, not much more.

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$40 for rubish

Having paid the $40, I'm able to quote and criticize the original report, something despirately missing from the current reviewers including those selling this useless report:

The authors report on pp. 277 that "According to Ashley (2002), OEMs ""must subsidise current hybrid car models heavily to make them affordable"" " Unfortunately, the authors failed to report from "consumerguideauto" that, "Toyota officials recently told Bloomberg News that Prius is turning a small per-unit profit after some 75,000 worldwide sales as of late December 2001. Starting with 2002, the company will increase yearly Prius deliveries to the U.S. by about 40 percent to some 17,000 units." In fact, the author's figure on pp. 273 of "Sales of HEV vehicles in the USA" shows a greater than 10 fold increase between 2002 and 2006 with no explanation of how the 2002 "subsidies" are maintained.

The authors inflate diesel efficiency pp. 276 with "when comparing with modern diesel vehicles with high pressure direct injection and turbo charging, HEVs lose out when it comes to constant driving over longer distances." This well qualified and limited diesel, by no means the standard for all diesels, is further limited to only "constant driving over longer distances" as if cities and urban driving do not exist. It is a fact taken out of context if not by the authors but certainly by the reviewers making inflated diesel claims.

There are other errors including inadequate references, pp. 279 to "Les Echos, 5/10/206"; misleading appendices pp. 287 mixing models to mask hybrid efficiency with vehicle classes having no hybrids; or pp. 288 equating the "Smart for two CDI (diesel)" and a Prius for mileage as if payload was unimportant.

The paper flaws are only matched by reviewers who cherry pick whatever nonsense they wish to echo. Worse, there is no synthesis, no value added analysis but what appears to be a collection of disjointed and often dated references. Rather than advancing our understanding, this paper sweeps together a collection of outdated and improperly qualified reports with no synthesis. Thus they remain bewildered by a Chinese hybrid market rather than observing the obvious.

With this paper, I've bought $40 of rubish and would warn serious people away from this paper and the unethical panders of this poor excuse of for research. The authors Chanaron and Teske may be serious people but this must not be their greatest work.

Bob Wilson

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@MarkMac

"try getting six children to/from school, with school bags, sports bags and musical instruments ! (not all mine, we carpool with 4 other families)."

Put 'em on the school bus. What, can't do that cuz you sent them off to some snobby school 40 miles away? This just proves you live in an area that's poorly designed. Your kids should be walking to school, doing their activities and walking home, living in a well designed *community* where the things you need are within a mile or two of home.

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Citroen bashers, mileage, cycling, etc

Just a few random thoughts while i'm supposed to be job hunting, as well as other things.

Sorry if it gets a bit tl;dr. I have lots of stuff that gets piled up in the dark corners of my head.

People making crap Citroen jokes. Well done, you're peddling the same unfunny, ignorant twaddle that your peers have doled out for almost the last *seventy* years. About one of the most interesting, pioneering and innovative motor companies in the world. The Traction Avant, 2CV/Dyane, GS, A/B/CX, Xantia, C1, etc. Not always the largest, fastest or ultimately most powerful vehicles (I understand this is a disproportionately important thing for some people), but usually pretty decent cars and often ahead of their time.

Coming out of the showroom and only fit for scrap my ass. So long as you keep a handle on the frame rust, a 2CV will likely last forever. The GS is a solid classic. My dad had a series of Xantias, all of them excellent cars (particularly the turbodiesel, though that was unfortunately a short term company car), and the last one served him quite reliably for 10 years thru a period of financial hardship, eventually still selling for £500. Biggest problems being the cost of refreshing the auto-levelling suspension fluid and the slightly slushy auto box (far better than that of both the Volvo and Honda that replaced it, however). Though the styling of the C2 and C3 don't really thrill me, and the Berlingo is admittedly horrible to drive (being a non-turbo diesel mini van), I'd have any of their current passenger car range without a second thought.

And food for thought: The AX. I almost had one, except the terrible LHD-to-RHD conversion meant the pedals were arranged for someone twelve inches smaller than me - with three left legs. That and the notoriously nonexistant crash protection. Apart from that though, it was apparently an excellent little hatchback - quick, good handling, versatile, good looking, well equipped, and surprisingly efficient. The diesel version is in the guiness book of records following an UNMODIFIED one driving from London to Seville (1000 miles) on a SINGLE 10 gallon (UK) tank of standard diesel. Or, a certified MORE THAN 100mpg.

And that's for a car designed and built in the 80s, and quick enough to happily keep up with traffic and accelerate acceptably in-town and on the motorway (on paper at least, as quick as my first, more recently built, petrol powered car).

If only it had been better adapted for the UK market, and didn't have the passenger & rust protection of a tin can filled with broken glass, sulphuric acid and double-strength seawater, I'd have taken it and would probably still have it.

Hybrid mileage: the overall Prius mileage is indeed pretty shocking considering the low performance, size/shape of it and the amount of tech that went into it.

But it does apparently manage some incredible economy around town, which is really what it's meant to be - a Z/LEV electric city car that happens to have a nominally efficient conventional engine installed to allow it to travel *between* cities as well. Reports of getting 90 or even over 100mpg if you drive it sympathetically in-town, acclerating/cruising such as to not kick the petrol motor in until the battery is nearly drained, etc, whereupon it will run quite efficiently for just long enough to recharge them, then stop again. The petrol motor itself is probably very efficient for motorway cruising, but it has all that complicated drive system in the way between itself and the batteries, sapping performance and potential economy.

The hybrid concept is sound. People's distorted expectations for it, and some of the current implementations, are not. Hybridising a car will do very little for "highway" economy, as the ICE, particularly a medium-small one, is already running about as efficiently as it's able to in these situations (in fact, they're generally tuned for best possible economy along the continuum between typical motorway & A-road limits). It is, as I've said, in town where it helps, as modern, higher powered petrol engines are drastically less efficient in comparison below 25~40mph (depending)... one of the reasons why 20mph limits are dopey. (25s could work..). The effect is similar but more muted with diesels, as both their idle and strong-acceleration fuel consumption figures are lower, though still not as good as for cruising. The electric motor and batteries fill the gap by allowing the ICE to be halted at lower speeds (eg where you'd be in 2nd, maybe 3rd gear at best, and it'd just be chewing up fuel) and run off the electric motor that has different, more sympathetic speed/efficiency curves. In particular, an electric vehicle tends to consume LESS energy per mile as speed falls, as drag and friction becomes the main factor, rather than the baseline energy needed just to keep the suck-squeeze-bang-blow cycle going...

I've even considered hybridising my own, pretty inefficient mid-90s hatchback (by which I mean, typically 35mpg UK)... get a couple 1 or 2hp hub motors, overdrive them and connect to the rear wheels with enough battery power for a mile or two. Can then be used to inch the car forward in traffic queues or to maintain a low constant speed (10-15mph, if I'm lucky?) for short distances (I live in Birmingham - the traffic isn't typically THAT horrid door-to-door), and I can still pop the engine on for a minute every 4 or 5 minutes to either move it more quickly, or recharge the batteries direct (strengthened alternator).

On the subject also of using diesels for hybrids, the reputation of diesel cars etc: Well, I think the VW TDis have comprehensively revised the overal rep, but I have a personal example. My dad has a Fiat Panda Multijet. It's a great little thing. It's only 1248cc, but it has as much power (and more torque) as my 1600cc petrol-powered Astra, and manages to double the economy with about as much comfort, handling and interior room (save for the loss of a seatbelt/room for that crucial "half an adult" on the rear seat and a bag or two from the boot). Perfectly suitable for use with a hybrid as well - the cranking effort would indeed be a bit more, as it's higher compression, but it hasn't yet had any trouble starting in a second or two (plus another second for the small turbo to spool from scratch, if you're after instant high power). Not exactly excessive fire-up time. Its not the days of old Leyland diesel vans with a two-litre lump needing two minutes and most of the battery to get going and about 30bhp net.

The impressive thing is how it scales. The panda gets something like 70-75mpg on a good day. A friend of mine with a 2 litre Mondeo TDi still reports upto 65mpg, and he drives faster to boot. Not that a hybrid with a decent motor and control setup should need anything even as large as that for good performance. There's few opportunities on the open road not involving dragging loads over mountains where you'll ever be putting down over 60hp continuous for more than a minute or two (which will send you to a ton-plus terminal velocity in that time, on the flat), and I'd hope a hybrid system worth its salt could cover the deficit for a short period.

Anyhoo. Its not just the yanks with dibs on complaining about things being too far to reasonably cycle. Even living in a city suburb, my bike often lies fallow. There's places I can walk to happily, places I can take a train if I'm going to have a drink, nearby places where I tend to need to drive as I'm going to & fro quickly or carrying loads, and far away places where cycling is technically possible, but would be a considerable undertaking. Only a couple of jobs in my work history have I considered cycling - because my measured in-car door to door average road speed was 12mph or less - and only one I've tested it (and almost took up as it WAS faster, but then the weather turned awful for an extended period, and I can't do with turning up to work looking like I showered in my clothes and didn't towel off - or being killed because my tyres no longer have significant cornering grip, and my brakes need two or three moisture-purging seconds to respond). It's just not a viable thing any more, now I'm no longer a kid with all the things relevant to my life being within a 30 minute bike ride radius. I spent my first two years at university with a bike, and it was often quite handy.... but even in a town which measured all of 2x1 miles, there were enough things that demanded some kind of motorised transport - and the local bus service so dire - that the focus of my 2nd/3rd year summer break work was to "gather enough money to get ANYTHING with four wheels and an engine".

(And get it I did. VW Polo with a 45hp, 1.0L engine. Capable of 80+mph and nearly 40mpg with five large guys and a whole load of diving gear crammed into it. Basis of my theory that most modern cars are drastically overpowered, and they could be so much more efficient if things were made more sensible, as more powerful engines often = hungrier engines. It *almost* had enough power, compared to the astra which *just* has enough. The addition of a ~15hp leccy motor for accelerative bursts would have made it a truly excellent runabout).

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