Green machines: cars of the future

G Magazine

Start your engines! Take a look at where new technologies, fuelled by climate change fears and soaring oil prices, are taking us.

Car on the road

Driving into the future: what will become of our cars?

Credit: iStockphoto

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Holden's latest release is hot. The HSV W427 is a sleek, masculine car, all subtle curves and strong edges. Men tremble with desire when they behold its 7.0 litre V8 engine.

It growls like a caged tiger when you turn the key, and your head is pinned to the headrest when you push the pedal to the metal, hitting 100 km/h from a standing start in just 4.7 seconds.

The W427 also chews through 17.2 litres of petrol per 100 km and emits 404 grams of carbon per km.

If you drive the beast 15,000 km a year - the average for an Australian - you'll be spitting out just over six tonnes of carbon dioxide and ringing up $3,870 in petrol bills (if the price sticks around $1.50 per litre).

It's hard to think of a more inappropriate car to launch at a time when petrol prices are going through the roof and the world is fretting about carbon dioxide emissions. How could they have got it so wrong?

Well, of course, they didn't get it wrong overnight; the HSV didn't just appear from nowhere.

According to Kate Lonsdale from Holden Australia, "On average for a an all-new vehicle to go from concept to production takes seven years. The VE Commodore took seven years for example."

And a lot can happen in seven years. Seven years ago petrol was 80c per litre.

Today, even the experts don't know where petrol prices could go.

"The future price of oil is uncertain," says John Wright, director of the CSIRO's Energy Transformed Flagship.

"Modelling shows that if oil production peaks, prices could climb as high as $8 per litre by 2018 in the most extreme case."

At $8 per litre, the W427 would cost you $20,640 in petrol each year.

Makes a dent in the resale possibilities, doesn't it?

The peak of petrol

"More than ever, it's important to consider not only the car's ticket price but also its ongoing running and environmental costs," says Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese.

Which is why in 2008 the government launched a new-look online Green Vehicle Guide so everyone could size up their own car, and get an idea what they might be emitting compared to everyone else.

The revamped website now includes a calculator so you can estimate your annual fuel costs.

Wright's prediction of $8 per litre is based on a scenario of oil becoming too expensive to extract, thus leading to a decrease in oil production, a situation often described as peak oil.

Petroleum engineer Phil Hart from the Australian Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO Australia) believes peak oil is not far away.

"Oil production has been essentially flat since 2005, and we have only another couple of years at this same sort of level of production before we start seeing oil production going into decline," he says.

And this is where the peak oil lobby, often known as 'peakists', get quite stirred up. They fear that if we wait till peak oil is upon us before developing alternative transport ideas, we're in serious trouble.

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