By Alex Kapadia
Car and tyres manufacturers are racing to provide products to encourage and reward drivers for green and economical driving.
Once power, speed and the joys of the open road were key factors for car buyers, but they have been overtaken by the need to save money – and the planet.
Low-rolling resistance tyres, low-output diesel engines, high gearing and an indicator to show the optimum gear-change points are becoming the norm for the eco model cars that emphasise fuel economy and a lower road-tax band.
The credit crunch and global warming have left motorists with more of a desire to save money – and the planet.
And the car industry is having to think of ways to sell the eco-friendly and fuel-efficient message to consumers, rather than relying on performance, looks and status.
Some are even taking cues from electronic gadgets and computer games, for example, Honda said the inspiration for its Eco Assist feature was the Tamagotchi digital pet, a hand-held toy that needs constant care and attention from its owners.
Eco Assist is included in the Honda Insight hybrid, a new model similar to the Prius, but cheaper. It is designed to encourage gentle, smooth driving, avoiding sharp application of the accelerator and brakes, thereby delivering the best fuel consumption – which for the Insight can be up to 80mpg.
An electronic display at the centre of the instrument panel has a horizontal bar graph depicting fuel consumption, where optimum economy is achieved by keeping the bar at the centre line. Above it are electronic representations of green shoots – the more showing, the more frugal the driver.
Outstanding results lead to a plant blooming. When you turn off the engine at the end of a journey, the Insight provides an “eco score” and compares it with previous trips, rewarding improvements with a digital garland and trophy or admonishing heavier-than-usual footwork with a withering plant.
Manufacturers are keen to sell these eco models because they need to reduce the average carbon-dioxide output of their cars to 130g/km to meet EU regulations that come into force in 2012.
Those rules also expect an additional 10g/km carbon-dioxide reduction from a variety of other measures, including low-energy air-conditioning systems, improved traffic management and education in driving economically.