Recent history of green motoring
The eco car is no longer just a curiosity on the world's roads. From its birth as a clumsy, though laudable, attempt to address the concerns of the environmental lobby and motorists keen to stop pumping huge volumes of poisonous gases into the atmosphere every time they go for a drive, the eco car has become an interesting mix of hybrid engineering, high-tech wizardry and evolved attitudes to personal transport.
Drivers looking for green motoring options today can choose between all-electric vehicles, hybrids and alternative-fuel automobiles
The electric car, or EV, options range from small and cheap city runabouts that are of little use to drivers who need performance or range, to fire-breathing sports cars that provide incredible speed and handling despite the fact that they don't actually breathe or spit fire.
Hybrid vehicles are probably the easiest for most motorists to understand. They typically combine a small petrol or diesel engine for initial motivation and high-speed cruising with electrical motivation for assistance and short periods of all-electric operation.
Hybrids typically offer a certain amount of totally-silent and exhaust-free operation. This boosts comfort levels while boosting overall fuel economy and cutting total c02 tailpipe emissions.
Hybrid vehicles come in all forms, too. Small and mid-sized saloons are among the most common and most popular, but big hybrids, such as Lexus executive saloons, Japanese MPVs and various SUVs, can also be found.
Thanks to Nissan and a few European manufacturers, drivers can even buy all-electric cars that look set to revolutionise general attitudes to EV motoring. With the ability to travel for 100 miles or more, slick modern designs and easy availability backed by government refunds, the EV family car could well be taking off.
Many countries, especially those in the developing world, have long had fleets of alternative-fuel vehicles. Even 20 years ago, it was not unusual to find public buses and city vehicles running on liquid propane gas (LPG) being used in Asia.
Rapidly rising prices for petrol and diesel have also driven a revolution in alternative fuels. Though the promise of alcohol fuels produced from discarded crops or other plant sources has so far failed to pan out, many countries have large numbers of motorists driving vehicles converted to run on either petrol or LPG.
In Thailand, for example, many taxis, minibuses, public buses and heavy trucks now run on LPG. It is not unusual to find large queues of brightly-coloured taxis at the 'pumps' in Bangkok, where they wait for their chance to have a high-pressure LPG hose plugged into a special receptacle under the bonnet or somewhere under the rear bumper.
Bangkok buses, once responsible for huge clouds of choking, black sooty exhaust have largely been replaced by relatively clean (but still incredibly noisy) engines powered by LPG. Heavy goods vehicles, including articulated lorries, can be seen plying Siamese highways with huge collections of LPG bottles installed behind their cabs.
Thailand, too, is one of many countries that introduced blended fuel petrol supplies. These E-fuels use a small percentage of alcohol to reduce overall emissions. Though hardly a real, long-term solution to the world's green motoring needs, it at least signifies a broad-based understanding of the environmental pressures on transport today.