How green can a luxury car be?Home » Latest issue » Good, issue 3 » Good bits » How green can a luxury car be?
BMW has at least one good story to tell on sustainability. Rod Oram wonders why it’s only telling the other ones
BMW unwittingly demonstrated the difficulties of green marketing when it presented its eco-credentials to the recent Australasian Climate Change and Business conference in Auckland.
Mark Gilbert, managing director of the carmaker’s New Zealand subsidiary, began with a video clip from Top Gear. In it, host Jeremy Clarkson pitted himself and a BMW M3 against another driver in a Toyota Prius to complete ten laps of the programme’s racing circuit.
The Prius won. No, honestly, it did. It crossed the line ahead of the Beemer—but only because Clarkson tailed the Prius around the course, pushing hybrid and driver to their limits. It was excruciating to watch.
Mercifully, the sound track wasn’t working. Gilbert helpfully filled in the highlights. Checking later on YouTube, I found a classic Clarkson line, delivered drowsily: “This is one of the dullest drives of my life.”
Clarkson was cock-a-hoop, though, when he revealed the Prius was worse on fuel than the M3, at 16.5 litres per 100km versus 14.6 litres per 100km. Ecstasy and relief swept through the studio audience, Clarkson’s colleagues and, later, abundant bloggers. Clarkson concluded triumphantly, “It’s not what you drive, but how you drive it.”
Gilbert approvingly repeated the phrase, taking it as the theme for his presentation about BMW’s green-ness.
Well, that’s nonsense. The M3 has less passenger and luggage space than a Prius. But it has a 4-litre V8 engine producing 414bhp, almost 5.5 times the power of the Prius’ four cylinder 1.5 litre engine. So the M3 is a shocker on fuel and emissions in real life, rather than the virtual reality where Clarkson lives: 12.4 litres per 100km versus 4.4 litres for the Prius, according to government website rightcar.govt.nz.
BMW New Zealand’s advertisements push the green line harder than its competitors. It can justify that on the grounds that its cars are relatively green compared with other high performance, luxury makes and models. But only by a nose
On CO2 emissions, the M3 weighs in at 285 grams per kilometre (g/km) against 101g/km for the Prius. By no stretch of the imagination or data is the M3 a green car.
In a recent New Zealand ad, BMW reported a fairer test. Two UK journalists drove a BMW 520 diesel and a Toyota Prius the 875km from London to Geneva. The BMW averaged 5.5 litres per 100km and the Prius 5.9 litres, respectively slightly better and much worse than their official efficiency figures.
Call me ultra-green if you like, but here’s my problem: the 520d produced 30 percent more CO2 and 14.5 times more nitrous oxide than the Prius. Admittedly, BMW has solved the problem of health-impairing microscopic particles in diesel exhaust—but with technology I can’t afford. So, adding up CO2, nitrous oxide and particulates, I won’t buy a diesel.
BMW New Zealand’s advertisements push the green line harder than its competitors. It can justify that on the grounds that its cars are relatively green compared with other high performance, luxury makes and models.
But only by a nose. Its range averages 212.8g/km, while Audi’s is 223.3 g/km, Lexus 226.9g/km, Mercedes-Benz 233.2g/km, Volvo 233.8g/km and Jaguar 243.2g/km, according to a recent article in the New Zealand Herald.
Here’s a third green marketing line it might try: we design our cars to be mostly recycled and we minimise materials and energy in building them. Thus, our cars are the greenest when in comes to lifecycle analysis from designer’s computer to car-breaker’s yard.
BMW has a very good story to tell on this. But it is a very complex subject that’s hard to communicate to any consumers, let alone BMW buyers. The ultimate recycling machine? Hardly a catchy slogan.
Gilbert skipped marketing lines two and three but he did have a stab at the fourth, and ultimate, one: BMW makes hydrogen-powered cars, the exhaust pipes of which produce little more than water.
It is indeed an engineering triumph. But one big flaw suggests it will end up a fascinating footnote in history: hydrogen requires the building of an expensive, complex refuelling infrastructure the length and breadth of every country where it is sold.
Yet, electricity’s everywhere. And it isn’t boring, as oil-heads would have you believe. Ian Wright, a Kiwi building electric cars in California, says drivers are deeply satisfied by the near-silence and instant torque of electric motors. Did you hear the Batmobile in the latest Batman film? The sound was his Wrightspeed X1 doing 0 to 100kph in 3.4 seconds.
On a more practical level, GM, Renault-Nissan and Mitsubishi are promising to sell electric cars in 2010. Diesel and petrol diehards will claim they still get the better drive without any of the recycling headaches of batteries. But here’s my prediction: one day, far sooner than they imagine, electric cars will outperform theirs in environmental, economic and driving terms.
I fully expect my next car will be all-electric. I’m partway there with my hybrid. It’s a Prius, but the slightly sportier touring version with tuned suspension and wider wheels. I can hear the guys at BMW killing themselves laughing while they read this. Yet, I’ve driven it from Taupo to Auckland in less than three hours, at an average of 94kph, 5 litres per 100km and 101g/km.
And, if I do it just right, I can squeal my Prius’ tyres. Oops! Tyres are part carbon. How un-eco of me.