Electric and hybrid cars are a common sight in other countries but not the UAE. Why not? Awakenings reporter Adrian Maul investigates the what, why, where and how much of green cars in the UAE.
Each year, air pollution kills about seven million people globally. This is more than the combined death toll of diseases such as malaria and AIDS that are devastating parts of the world. [Source: World Health Organisation.]
In China, being the ‘Asian Tiger’ has left people living in cities in which they can barely breathe. In 2010, 1.2 million deaths in China were attributed to air pollution [Financial Times]. The price of that country’s incredible economic growth and industrialisation in recent years is being paid economically and socially. China has realised things must change and is now tackling its environmental challenges with its usual ferocity and is aggressively putting measures in place to reduce its carbon footprint.
Here in the UAE, air pollution is responsible for an estimated 850 deaths a year, according to a study commissioned by the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi. [October 2009, The National]
“The greatest risk is outdoors, where residents are exposed to unhealthy levels of ozone smog and particulate matter,” the newspaper reported.
The UAE authorities understand the issues with air pollution and the government is taking steps to minimise the problems by monitoring air pollution and introducing legislation to cut emissions. Progress though appears minimal at best.
Eco-friendly cars are a relatively modern concept stemming back to the 1970s when a worldwide fuel shortage resulted in smaller, more economical cars being designed and produced. Through history however there have been other times when it has been necessary to produce more efficient cars, such as after the Second World War, again as a result of fuel shortages.
Initially all efforts were driven towards fuel savings due to the scarcity of fuel and its rising cost. The true drive towards eco-friendly cars was not until the late 1990’s when the impact of pollution and greenhouse gasses on the environment and ozone layer became widely reported.
Eco friendly cars today are considered those that are economical, have low pollutant emissions and a relatively low impact on the environment through their manufacture and disposal.
Today the manufacture and disposal of most modern cars is vastly improved from previous years, about three quarters of a modern car can now be recycled. This means that probably 80 to 90 per cent of a car’s environmental impact nowadays is as a result of fuel consumption and emissions of air pollution.
GAS, DIESEL OR PETROL
So what fuel options are there? The obvious are petrol and diesel but nowadays, alternative fuels such as Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) and Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) are becoming more commonly available for cars throughout the world. In 2012 the Executive Council in Abu Dhabi decreed that 25 per cent of taxis had to be converted to CNG, and a number of filling stations now supply CNG across the UAE. The other alternatives of course are electric vehicles (EV) and many manufacturers are now mass-producing electric or hybrid cars (hybrid cars have a combination of electric motors and internal combustion engines).
Standard petrol and diesel cars are fairly well known. They impact the environment by using up diminishing fossil fuels as well as emitting air pollutants such as carbon monoxide (CO), hydrocarbons (HC), nitrogen oxides (NO) and particulate matter. Modern petrol cars are fitted with catalytic converters which significantly reduce the CO, HC and NO emissions at the expense of producing more carbon dioxide (Co2). Diesel cars tend to have slightly less impact on the environment than their modern petrol counterparts simply because the cars are more fuel efficient.
For cars powered by CNG, emissions of carbon dioxide are similar to diesel vehicles, but outperform petrol. NO and particulate emissions are also significantly less than petrol engines; however, hydrocarbons are higher due to the methane in CNG.
SOMETHING IN THE AIR
in sum, petrol engines in cars, buses, trains and planes emit deadly greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds. This is air pollution and it’s why residents of cities like Dubai live our lives permanently shrouded in a brownish haze of poison-filled air. Overseas, the issue has prompted more uptake of less environmentally harmful vehicles and in some global cities, electric and hybrid cars are now commonplace. Invariably, this is in countries where governments are actively encouraging their citizens to adopt ‘green’ cars via incentives such as grants and tax rebates. For example, in the UK, buyers of electric vehicles (EVs) get a grant of 25 per cent of the car’s value up to GBP 5,000 as well as exemption from car tax and congestion charges.
This is just as well for the green car industry because EVs can be up to 80 per cent more expensive to buy than their combustion engine counterparts.
In the UAE, we have neither the incentive of high petrol prices nor government incentives therefore – assuming you had the option – buying an EV can be an expensive choice and the running costs of electric vehicles will likely be higher until such time as the initial purchase prices become much more comparable. This is part of the reason for why you don’t see electric cars on Sheikh Zayed Road.
WHERE’S THE PLUG?
The lack of uptake in the UAE isn’t just about fuel prices though. Another major disincentive is the lack of infrastructure such as battery recharge stations to support electric and hybrid vehicles. Many residents in the UAE live in high-rise flats without access to garaging for their cars. This means that without government-provided or private sector-provided infrastructure, EVs and Plug in Hybrids (PIVs) are limited to those people who live in villas with garaged or off-road parking available.
The US and many European countries are embracing the drive towards more environmentally friendly cars and are putting infrastructure in place in larger towns to support EVs and PIVs. Even the UAE has one such recharge power point near the Financial Centre Metro Station in Dubai.
GREEN CARS UAE
So, for those people in the UAE for whom price and power recharging is not an issue, what range of electric or hybrid vehicles are available? Interestingly, most options are at the luxury or high-end range, with brands like Porsche and Fisker Karma leading the way. This comes down to some simple facts like wealthier people tend to live in villas so there is somewhere to recharge the electric battery, as opposed to high-rise apartment owners.
For electric vehicle buyers – as opposed to hybrid buyers – the UAE offers almost nothing. I was not able to find a single supplier apart from Al Futtaim that offers a luxury hybrid, the Fisker Karma at a price of AED 560,000.
The Karma is an extended range EV with the option of a petrol engine to provide power to the electric motor; so it’s more of a hybrid than a true EV.
Hybrids are more versatile then pure EVs since they can recharge their batteries from their engines and tend to have a greater range. Many manufacturers now produce hybrids including Renault, Toyota, Nissan, Chevrolet, Ford, Peugeot, Volkswagon, Lexus, BMW, Mercedes and Porsche. Of all these manufacturers, only Lexus and Porsche offer their hybrids in the UAE. Of the rest, only BMW is prepared to special order a hybrid car for a customer. The resounding reason I was told by the companies regarding why they do not offer a green range was the lack of charging infrastructure available.
In 2012, Porsche sold a total of 9,171 cars across the region, of which 192 since 2010 were hybrids. Why do Porsche offer hybrids to UAE customers in contrast to almost all other car manufacturers? Managing Director for Porsche Middle East and Africa George Wills said: “We believe our customers should have access to the entire model range, including our hybrid offers. We don’t follow the general trend, we want to set it. It is important to start building up the awareness and confidence in customers for hybrid models in this region; only through this, the general acceptance will increase.”
Wills acknowledged the uphill battle however: “In comparison to Europe, we have less external factors influencing the consumer buying decision, such as petrol costs, tax benefits, emission standards or a well-planned charging infrastructure.”
Wills says that most people who buy hybrid cars are well aware of the benefits before they buy.
“Some are looking for an alternative to a classic combustion engine to fulfil their overall lifestyle decision of creating the least impact on the environment and use available resources in the most efficient way. However, we have also noticed that other customers see themselves as role models for others, by showcasing the convenience and reliability of modern hybrid vehicles.”
Wills says he is confident this trend towards greener cars will continue in the coming years although education is needed.
“There is a demand for educating the regional audience on environmental friendly drives and eliminate potential prejudices, for example the life expectancy of a battery, high voltage lines in a car and service intervals.”
“Our brand is ready for the challenge with an attractive model line-up. There is a lot of talk these days about hybrids in our region but we should not forget that also cars with a standard combustion engine develop further and feature a variety of fuel and emission reducing measures nowadays.”
As hybrid and electric cars become more established elsewhere in the world, chances are the UAE is almost certain to follow. Many road users drive short distances within the cities so EV range is not be an issue. In addition, the UAE’s hot climate offers a massive resource for recharging them roadside if solar power stations are introduced.
Harnessing the power of the sun with roadside charging stations that are already being used in other countries as park and charge units seems a viable solution for the region. It would only take a local entrepreneur to accept the challenge of driving the infrastructure and the UAE could be one of the highest users of hybrid and electric vehicle’s in the world thereby vastly reducing its carbon footprint and drastically improving its air quality.
WHAT IS A GREEN CAR
Eco-friendly cars are fuel-efficient, have low pollutant emissions and a relatively low impact on the environment through their manufacture and disposal.
In the 1970s, efforts to make cars more fuel-efficient were motivated by the worldwide fuel shortage and its rising cost. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that an environmental motivation was sparked by the realisation of how much damage pollution and greenhouse gasses were doing to the environment and earth’s ozone layer.
Today the manufacture and disposal of most modern cars is vastly improved from previous years, about three quarters of a modern car can now be recycled. This means that 80 to 90 per cent of a car’s environmental impact is now a result of fuel consumption and air pollution.
Initially it was thought that the environmental impact of producing and subsequently disposing of large volumes of batteries for electric cars would have a significant impact to their environmental footprint. This was widely overestimated and in fact the battery production and disposal only contributes towards approximately 15 per cent of the environmental footprint for the car, a large portion of which is attributed to sourcing and processing the raw materials such as cobalt, nickel and copper.
The other aspect of electric cars is the impact of producing the electricity to recharge the batteries when you plug them in. In the UAE, most power plants are natural gas, which produces about half the carbon dioxide and a third less nitrogen oxides than oil and coal-fired power plants. Ironically, the UK and US are two of the countries with the greatest uptake of green cars yet both of them have large numbers of coal-fuelled power stations, therefore significantly reducing many of the benefits for electric vehicles.
With both an electric motor and an internal combustion engine, the drive can be either completely electric, completely engine or a combination of the two. The batteries can be recharged by the internal combustion engine or, most efficiently, through energy absorbed through braking. Some hybrids can also be plugged into mains supply to charge the batteries.
• Plug In Vehicle (PIV) hybrids
Cars that can plug into electric charging points to recharge their batteries.
• Electric cars
Need connecting to electric charging points to recharge their batteries.
• Hydrogen Cell cars
Powered via an electric motor that’s recharged using a hydrogen cell. New to the market, these are very rare and expensive. The only waste product from a hydrogen cell is water making these extremely eco-friendly, however producing the hydrogen fuel is not!
WHAT WILL A GREEN CAR COST YOU IN THE UAE?
The UAE winner – no other manufacturer is pushing the green envelope in the UAE as much as Porsche. In the UAE, Porsche offers the Cayenne S Hybrid, Panamera S Hybrid and Panamera S E-Hybrid. The world’s first plug-in hybrid in the luxury class, the Panamera S E-Hybrid’s fuel consumption is 3.1 litres per 100km and reaches a speed of up to 135 km/h in pure electric drive mode. This year will also see the unveiling of the 918 Spyder, the first ever hybrid super sports car with a total of 887 hp combined from three engines, an acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h in less than 2.8 seconds and an average consumption of a mere 3.3 litres per 100 kilometres.
Buy it: Panamera S Hybrid AED 485,000 (petrol equivalent is AED 462,000)
Cayenne S Hybrid AED 326,000 (petrol equivalent is AED 307,000)
Contact: Porsche Centre Dubai – Al Nabooda Automobiles LLC, Shk Zayed Rd – 1st exchange. Tel +971 4 321 3911
Offers two hybrids in the UAE market, the RX450 and the LS600.
Buy one: RX450 AED 270,000 (petrol equivalent AED 249,000)
LS600 AED 570,000 (petrol equivalent AED 494,000)
Contact: Tel. 800 LEXUS (53987)
The world’s first luxury hybrid, the Karma is designed by Henrik Fisker, a car designer who had given the world iconic cars like the Aston Martin DB9 and the BMW Z8 Roadster. Unfortunately, things have come unstuck for Fisker and his company looks headed for bankruptcy.
CO2: The Karma has emissions of just 47g/km CO2, the lowest of nearly any passenger vehicle with an internal combustion engine. In comparison, CO2 emissions for the Lamborghini Aventador are 398 g/km, which is very high.
Buy one: AED 560,000
THE WORLD’S FIRST HYBRID CAR WAS A PORSCHE
Faced with public demand and the challenge of smelly steam vehicles and internal combustion engines, the Austrian Dr. Ferdinand Porsche invented an electric wheel hub in 1896 to power the world’s first front-wheel-drive car. This car had a range of around 65 km/h. To increase its range, Porsche later added an internal combustion engine to spin a generator that provided power to electric motors located in the wheel hubs. Thus the hybrid was invented in around 1900.
The Lohner-Porsche electric car, powered by wheel-hub motors, caused a sensation at the Paris world trade fair in 1900.
The Lohner-Porsche electric car, a “Chaise” with the internal vehicle number 24000, was exhibited as the only Austrian car at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair. A news report at the time described the development of the first-ever transmissionless vehicle as a revolutionary innovation.
The electric motors in the hubs of the front wheels had an output of 2.5 horsepower at 120 rpm. The 44-cell, 80-volt rechargeable battery with a capacity of 300 ampere-hours gave the car a range of 50 kilometres between recharges; the maximum speed was 50 kilometres per hour.
The slow speed of the electric motor permitted direct drive and installation in the wheel. The motor operated without chains and thus without mechanical power loss. Consequently, the electric motor was extremely efficient and was almost silent during operation.
The total weight of the vehicle was 1,205 kg. The car could be braked at all four wheels – by the motors at the front axle and with the aid of a mechanical strap brake at the rear axle.
HOW FAST ARE GREEN CARS?
A need for speed is no longer a reason to dismiss electric cars. Earlier this year, the current electric land speed record of 328 km/h was set by Britain’s Lord Drayson. The very first electric land speed record of 63 km/h was set in 1898 by Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat.