Peugeot HYbrid Air The car that runs on errr… air

BLOG Peugeot HYbrid Air (1600x1018)If I said one car maker had designed an engine that runs on air, you might imagine it would cost a king’s ransom. That’s when it goes on sale, which you might surmise wouldn’t be until about 2030. And anyway, doesn’t the whole notion of an engine fuelled by air seem a tad fanciful at best? Peugeot doesn’t think so. It has built one and it could be on sale within three years. But most importantly, if a HYbrid Air powered 208 was in dealers today it would be wearing a sticker saying £16,500 about the same as a diesel model.

Although called hybrid, rather than battery power accompanying petrol, the Peugeot system relies on compressed nitrogen. A tank of the gas, under very high pressure, pushes hydraulic fluid through a motor to generate power. It’s capable of around 30kW (40hp), but only for a very short time. That’s enough to get a car to 30mph, then after 300m the compressed nitrogen’s energy is exhausted. It doesn’t sound far but in the context of a big city centre that’s probably the distance between traffic lights.

The clever part is that the gas can be re-pressurised and therefore re-energised within 10 seconds of the internal combustion engine running. So a bit of idling at the lights and you’re ready to go again on air power. As with other hybrids, the car can run either on air alone, air in tandem with the petrol engine for what Peugeot calls ‘boost’, or petrol alone. In the boost phase, the engine would deliver the equivalent of 120hp. But a third of those horses would be free both in financial and environmental terms.

Although Peugeot has a prototype 208 model using this engine and claims 141mpg and 46g/km of carbon dioxide, that car uses lightweight materials and has aerodynamic tweaks designed to make it more windcheating. It would of course be correspondingly more expensive. But the exciting thing about this power source is that there are very tangible benefits to be had in an otherwise unmodified car: Peugeot reckons 94mpg and 69g/km which is well worth having.

Whether the HYbrid Air makes it beyond the prototype stage is down to whether Peugeot can find a partner and build sufficient engines to make it economically viable. I suggest, there is a sense and precedent that if something is right, build it and they will buy it, to bastardise the film tag line.

A version of this story was published in Daily Telegraph Cars


A clear view of the future

For years, replacing windscreens has been covered as part of comprehensive insurance policies. But we can no longer take it for granted.

Windscreen cover is currently a ‘free’ extra. It’s couched in this way so we think our kindly insurers are giving us something for nothing. Of course there’s no such thing as free in this world and we’re still paying for it. But ‘free’ things are easy to take away and that’s exactly what some cover providers, particularly on comparison websites, are doing.

Eliminating the cost of windscreen replacement enables a cheaper headline price. Knowing how many insurance policy buyers go for the cheapest possible cover these insurers take out screen cover and bingo! They can offer a lower price. The message is: ensure your windscreen is included in your cover or you could have an expensive surprise.

There again, the writing could be on the wall for ‘free’ windscreen cover any way. Anyone who thinks – as I did – that glass is glass, is in for some re-education. A new BLOG Windscreensreport by windscreen replacement giant Autoglass reveals that the simple windscreen will shortly be anything but. Car makers are working on adding systems such as eye trackers, augmented reality GPS and head-up displays to the windscreen. According to Dr Chris Davies, head of technical research and innovation at Autoglass, by 2020 there’ll be at least a couple of these systems on the road.

On the one hand, this is great. They’ll mean we don’t have to take our eyes off the road and thus make driving safer. They can also convey information about the driver to a third party meaning insurers can monitor people and reward or penalise them more accurately. On the other, it’s bad news. Dr Davies explained: “More exclusive, cutting edge products like this will generally see a higher price tag. Insurers will be required to take this into account as far as the pricing for premiums goes.”

So premiums could go up to take account of replacing this technology. Or windscreens may no longer be covered. I’m not saying this to scaremonger. Look back a few years and there’s a precedent. The advent of the panoramic windscreen introduced massive screens to everyday cars such as Vauxhalls and Citroens. Trouble was, they could cost the best part of £1000 to replace. The result was some insurers refused to cover them under the free windscreen section. Instead they were part of the main policy. And that meant a new windscreen stood as a claim and could have an impact on your no claims discount and therefore premium.

According to acquaintances in the trade, simply getting replacements was a challenge. The new breed of high tech windscreens is going to pose fitters such as Autoglass with similar problems. Dr Davies added: “More sophisticated technologies may require different fitting procedures and a higher level of expertise to perform additional actions such as the calibration of sensors. All of these factors can mean that the cost of replacement may be higher in future.”

So the ability for insurers to charge cheaper premiums because this technology will cut the number of accidents will be reduced by the expense of replacing the technology. However, Dr Davies said: “Glass technology will change. Companies are working on indestructible glass.” For drivers, that could be the final piece of the jigsaw, although I doubt companies like Autoglass are looking forward to that day quite as much.

The blonde in the corner

In another life I used to have to go to an annual car testing day somewhere on the European continent. This particular year it was in Italy. These test days were characterised by the large number of males, badly dressed as only German and BLOG Nico Rosberg_2Polish car journalists can be. Hardly surprising then that a sex-starved 20-something British writer should feel optimistic upon seeing a blonde sitting alone with their back to the crowd. “Who’s the blonde in the corner?” My lascivious colleague asked.

My friend, who was already working out how he was going to get this stunner up to his room, was even more interested when I said ‘she’ was called Nico. He was doubtless imagining I was going to be his ‘in’ to the exotically named foreign girl. Then Nico turned round, whereupon my friend suddenly lost interest.

At that time Nico Rosberg was 17 and had just won the German Formula BMW championship in his first year of car racing. I went over to talk to him about the cars we were testing and discovered that he’d only just qualified to drive and didn’t have any experience at all of testing road cars. However, like the majority of young racing drivers, he was mature way beyond his years. We had a sensible conversation about cars, racing and why he was competing under a German flag when his father was Finnish.

Just a couple of years later, he had a test with the Williams F1 team. I was discussing this with a friend who worked at Williams and wasn’t remotely surprised to find that the team had been impressed by Rosberg’s maturity and the quiet, focused way he got on with the job. It was a counterpoint to the other son of a famous father on the same test, Nelson Piquet Jr, who was considered a spoilt prima donna by the team.

Fast forward a decade and on the day Rosberg won the most famous prize of the lot – the Monaco GP – Piquet was failing in a World Rallycross round at Lydden Hill in Kent. Can’t say I was surprised. But whatever he achieves in his career, Rosberg will always be the blonde in the corner for me.

Drivers have never had it so good

There’s one very good reason to feel upbeat about motoring today: the amount of metal we get for our money.

In real terms, the cost of cars has stayed relatively static, yet what we’re buying has improved immeasurably. On price alone think of the Ford Fiesta. At its launch in 1976 the basic model cost £1856. In today’s money the Bank of England reckons that’s £11,313. Prices for today’s Fiesta start at £9995. Or there’s the Jaguar MkII. It was considered uniquely cheap at £1534 in 1959. That’s £30,225 today. Today’s equivalent, the XF, starts at £29,945.

Thirty years ago, SEAT launched its first car developed as an independent company. The Ibiza had a 1.5-litre engine that produced 85bhp. It cost from £3939. In today’s money that’s £10,721. It had a carburettor, wind-up windows, a radio and errr, that’s about it.

Carburettor, wind-up windows, radio and that's it. For only £690 more you can get today's far more sophisticated equivalent

Carburettor, wind-up windows, radio and that’s it. For only £690 more you can get today’s far more sophisticated equivalent

For £689 more, the current Ibiza has air-conditioning, electric front windows, remote central locking, an alarm, electronic stability control plus front airbags, power steering and an MP3 compatible sound system all as standard. It’s got a 1.2-litre 12-valve engine with 70bhp that’s good for 52.5mpg. The original was capable of just 36.2mpg.

Go back just two decades and Britain’s best-seller, the Ford Escort in basic Encore form had no electric windows, power steering was only available with the diesel, there was no central locking and no ABS, although a driver’s airbag was standard.

This lack of kit would be fine if it had been correspondingly cheap. But it wasn’t. The price for the cheapest three-door 1.3 Escort Encore was £9495 or £15,458 today. For £13,995, the equivalent Focus Studio has as standard ABS, alloy wheels, electric front windows, central locking, air-conditioning, steering wheel controls for the audio system, a Tyre Pressure Monitoring System, and like every other mainstream car, power steering.

Chairman and managing director of Ford in Britain Mark Ovenden explained why we’re getting so much more for our money: “Vehicles are engineered to global standards which dramatically reduces complexity and duplication, and delivers far greater economies of scale. We have also worked hard to drive out cost and eliminate waste in manufacturing and distribution.” The result is that in terms of the cars we drive, we’ve never had it so good.

What proposed diesel taxes will really mean

Until very recently, diesel was the fuel of choice for many motorists and for all the right reasons. Diesel cars tend to be more efficient and economical than petrol equivalents. They produce less carbon dioxide, a gas that until quite recently was apparently responsible for much of the world’s pollution woes. And while diesels usually cost more than petrol cars, they hold their value better, so you get more back come resale time.

Will taxing diesel really cut congestion and pollution?

Will taxing diesel really cut congestion and pollution?

Of course the oily fuel’s suitability remains dependent on the number and type of miles you do. And the increased pump price of diesel allied to improvements in petrol technology is encouraging many drivers to abandon it anyway. Now the hysteria has died down about the news that London’s mayor Boris Johnson wants a new £10 tax for diesel cars to enter new Ultra Low Emission Zones, with cities such as Bristol, Birmingham and Leicester following suit, it’s worth examining what the revelations really mean.

For a start, the penalty will come into place in 2020. But from the start of 2015, every diesel car will have to meet Euro 6 emissions legislation. This caps nitrogen oxide levels – the gas Boris and his regional friends are getting het up about – at 80mg/km, more than 50 per cent down compared to the Euro 5 that cars have had to conform to since 2011.

The result, according to Boris Johnson’s office, is that Euro 6 vehicles will be exempt from any penalty. Nick Reid, head of transformation at Green Flag added: “Euro 6 emissions regulations were drafted to address the concerns over particulates from diesel cars, and the criteria to meet them are tough. So drivers who wish to drive the cleanest diesel possible should ask the manufacturer’s sales staff to confirm whether their potential purchases is Euro 6 compliant.”

With the penalty unlikely to apply to cars that will be five years old and newer, used car price experts agree that residual values are unlikely to be affected. CAP’s Mark Norman told me: “It could have an impact on used prices if other cities follow London but while the capital is big it’s not big enough to hit residual values.” Richard Parkin from Glass’s added: “We don’t think it’ll have an impact. The congestion charge is substantial as it is so if you can afford to pay that on a regular basis, it’s unlikely another £10 will put you off a diesel.”

So the message is clear. If you’ve decided a diesel car ticks your boxes, go for a Euro 6 compliant model and rest easy that Boris’s emissions tax is highly unlikely to affect your investment. And whether the Government will change the car tax structure to penalise the output of nitrogen oxides is a question for another day.

This article first appeared in the Daily Telegraph Cars

Tax disc fiasco

Say goodbye...

Say goodbye…

The annual fiddle of trying to release a mint tax disc from its perforations without tearing it will soon be history. From October onwards, the tax disc is to be replaced by an electronic equivalent. The aim is to abolish administration and cut costs by putting the process online. It sounds sensible, simple and straightforward. But as with most things to do with the DVLA the reality is very different.

The outgoing paper tax disc moves with the vehicle. The new electronic Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) will be non-transferrable; it will ‘belong’ to the vehicle’s owner. When a car is sold, it will no longer be taxed and the previous owner will get a refund. The new owner will thus have to ensure the car is taxed before they drive it away. And this is where things get sticky.

For a start, if a dealer buys a car and wants to run it on the road so that his customers can test drive it, he must use trade plates. If he doesn’t have those he’ll have to tax the car, which, as the new tax system is linked to the V5C log book, means he’ll show up as an owner. “It will instantly add another owner to that car,” said Philip Nothard consumer expert for CAP Automotive.

“The trade is worried about other things too,” he added. “Currently, if a dealer buys a group M (255g/km of CO2-plus) car, having the £500 annual tax built into the sticker price makes that car easier to sell.” The implication is this will have an instant – and undesirable effect on the value of high CO2 vehicles. It’s fine if the Government wants to drive these off the road but it’s hardly fair that it does so by penalising existing owners.

Then there’s the heads DVLA wins, tails we lose issue of remaining tax. Let’s assume Mr Dealer taxes a car for 12 months at the beginning of November. I then buy that car on November 25. My road tax will start from the beginning of November so I’ll have to pay for 12 months but will only get 11 months and a few days’ worth of tax. The dealer meanwhile only gets a refund for 11 months. So the DVLA is being paid twice for a period of time where the car has probably barely been on the road.

Another question mark covers all the cars that are currently sitting on dealer forecourts with valid tax stretching into next year. “As these cars are ‘in trade’ and have no current owners, who does the rebate go to? The dealer or the previous owner?” Nothard asked. It’s a good question. According to the DVLA, if you don’t apply for a refund, that tax will be lost because any new owner will have to re-tax the car. The message is: if you’re selling a car, make sure you take the old tax disc with you.

The DVLA claims making VED entirely electronic will save government around £3m a year and business £7m a year in administration fees. Yet it appears to make the process of buying and selling a car a more costly and inconvenient one. Drivers will be able to buy their tax discs on a monthly basis for a five per cent surcharge, the DVLA counters. That’s looking fairly insignificant as benefits go, considering the potential unwanted aggravation and extra cost it’s introducing to the buying and selling process.

This article first appeared in the Daily Telegraph Cars

How to load a new car with optional extras

Speccing up a car is fun but can be expensive if you get it wrong

Speccing up a car is fun but can be expensive if you get it wrong

Buying a new car is an exciting business. It’s also a very expensive one, and if you choose the wrong options, it can prove even more costly. In an effort to make the right choices when speccing up a new SEAT Leon ST Ecomotive, I sought an expert’s advice.

Prices for this version of the Leon start at £20,485. The Ecomotive model is essentially the mid-range SE specification so it’s already a well-equipped car meaning I should be able to get a car to my liking for minimal extra outlay. Dr Richard Parkin from Glass’s Guide nonetheless warned: “It’s easy to get carried away ticking boxes but you must remember options will generally depreciate faster than the car. If the car is worth 70 per cent of its value new at the end of the first year, the options will be worth much less than that.”

There are however some extras that buck the trend. Dr Parkin explained: “Anything that you can see on the outside such as lowered suspension, DRLs and privacy glass will help add value. Things on the inside tend not to, although navigation does. Used car buyers are increasingly expecting second-hand cars to have sat nav. It’s the same with Bluetooth and USB sockets. They’re becoming ‘must haves’ rather than ‘nice to haves’.”

This connectivity is standard on all models and SEAT is adding further value to people’s cars come resale time by offering all Leon models with free DAB radio, daytime running lights, and satellite navigation, all lumped together in a £1075 Technology Pack.

I should explain that my original intention with the Ecomotive was to create an 85.6mpg motor with the visual appeal of the hot FR version. Privacy glass was £175 but I think worth it to give the Leon more attitude. I also wanted to up the wheel size to 17-inches. However, these particular wheels came off my cunning plan before I’d even put them on. In Ecomotive guise, I discovered, the Leon can only be specified with 16-inch rims.

Still the £375 I saved meant I could be adventurous with paint. The cheap choice of flat red or non-metallic saw me opt for £495 Apollo Blue because it’s neither boring and staid nor sufficiently outrageous to put anyone off. Dr Parkin agreed with being conservative here. “Out-of-the-ordinary ‘lifestyle’ colours should be reserved for top of the range or sporty ‘lifestyle’ models. With more regular cars, you need regular colours to appeal to the mass market and maximise your return on investment.”

According to Dr Parkin, the £150 I spent on the Convenience Pack primarily to add the auto-dimming rear view mirror will enhance its desirability but I won’t recoup that cost at resale. These plus some other little tweaks have bumped the Leon’s cost up to £22,810. Should I feel bad? “When you buy a used car, you invariably compromise by accepting some things that you may not like. With a new car, you can have it exactly as you want,” he reassured me. “Think of it as paying a premium for that privilege.”