Green cars have now been around in one form or another for quite some time. It is literally decades since cities in various parts of the world started running fleets of buses and municipal vehicles on anything from compressed natural gas to batteries.
Similarly, one could have had a car converted to LPG or CNG more than thirty years ago. A mass market for such vehicles has not been around too long, however.
For years, automakers have focused on producing petrol and diesel cars that offer previously unimaginable levels of fuel efficiency and some remarkably low tailpipe emissions levels. It has been said that the modern Porsche 911 Turbo’s exhaust is so clean that in many big cities, the gases coming out of the tailpipe are less toxic than the air being breathed by the engine (and the driver).
Since Toyota launched its hybrid petrol-electric Prius, however, the growth in sales of such vehicles has been accelerating. Not until very recently, however, has there been any serious attempt to market all-electric passenger vehicles to the masses.
Perhaps one of the most notable has been the Nissan LEAF. The healthy trend upwards in sales of the LEAF, the world’s first heavily-marketed and widely-produced electric vehicle, indicates a healthy future for the EV business and, therefore, the planet.
Now, however, Toyota has announced that its Prius Plug-In is coming next year. Though the Prius will continue to be a hybrid vehicle with a small petrol engine, adding plug-in functionality will enable Prius drivers, if they choose, to run all the time just on the battery.
Industry pundits are now asking if this means the bigger Prius V, which was recently launched, will also end up getting the plug-in feature. It’s simply, they argue, a matter of installing the same bits into what is essentially a bigger version of the same vehicle.
Whatever happens, the trend towards plug-in hybrids from the world’s biggest carmaker, which is also responsible for what is by far the most successful hybrid passenger car, is likely to provide a helpful boost to initiatives designed to broaden the availability of the charging infrastructure needed to help large numbers of drivers move to all-electric cars.
Meanwhile, Renault has been hit by a bit of a setback in its drive towards electric vehicles. The French carmaker had been planning to open a dedicated battery manufacturing facility to provide the battery packs for its upcoming range of electric vehicles.
Unfortunately, technical issues have prevented Renault from launching the plant as planned late next year. It looks like 2016 will now be the earliest the facility will be able to go into operation.
In the meantime, Renault will be sourcing battery packs for its EV range from AESC, a joint-venture formed by Nissan and NEC, as well as from LG Chem in South Korea.
Luckily, Renault is not expecting the problems with its battery plant to affect the planned launches of its electric vehicles. That means Renault’s Kangoo, Twizy and Fluence EVs will be available this year, with the Zoe to follow next year and the Twingo EV in 2014.