Julia Hailes MBE

Sustainability Pioneer


Bee in my bonnet about fuel efficiency (Jan09)

This article was originally published in the Telegraph online titled:

Green expert Julia Hailes tries out an ‘environmentally friendly’ BMW
How does the new BMW perform as a green family car?

I’ve got a bit of a bee in my bonnet about the fuel efficiency of cars. I can’t understand why they’re not a whole lot better than they are.

With this in mind, I agreed to try out a BMW 118d. The manufacturers told me that it did 62.8 mpg. Given the size of the car – 3-door hatchback – this didn’t bowl me over but it sounded respectable.

What I liked best about it was the gizmo inside telling me how many miles to the gallon I had managed on the journeys I took. I re-set it at the beginning of most trips and kept tabs on how I was doing. My sons and I were particularly amused at managing to get 99mpg out of the car when going down the hill on the way to school.

But most of the time we were disappointed. I didn’t manage anywhere near 62.8 mpg on any journey I took – either long or short. The average was between 40-50mpg. I managed a bit more than that on a couple of long journeys. Perhaps if I’d gone 100 miles along a motorway at 50 mph, the efficiency would have soared. But for tootling around the countryside, nowhere near.

Apparently you can improve the efficiency of your car by up to 25% by driving more carefully. That means not revving the engine excessively and not accelerating or decelerating too much. I’m quite careful about this and am rather proud to get an average of about 50mpg from my Audi A3, so I don’t thing this was the problem.

Going back to BMW. The good thing is that they’re beginning to recognise that people do want low emission cars. And they’ve obviously been focused on making changes to their vehicles. In fact a survey of the top 14 car manufacturers (Transport and Environment – T&E – 2008) shows that between 2006 and 2007 BMW have improved the fuel efficiency of their cars by four times the average of other car manufacturers.

That sounds pretty good until you realise that BMW were starting from a pretty low level of efficiency. In both 2006 and 2007 their average emissions were the second worst amongst the manufacturers in the survey.

I’ve been told that I’m quite a hard task-master when it comes to judging these things. But I’m baffled by the car industry’s approach to reducing emissions. If it’s technically feasible to get 60-70mph from a medium-size car, why aren’t zillions of small cars being produced that will do 80-90mph – or even more?

Cost is the biggest driver for change in relation to efficiency – but BMW say that about a fifth of people consider the carbon footprint to be a key factor. And a huge percentage – 70% – say that the Government should be offering financial incentives for driving more efficient cars.

My children told me that I shouldn’t say anything horrid about the car we were loaned because they wanted me to try out another one – perhaps a bit bigger. But I’m afraid that I’ve had to disappoint them. Maybe another manufacturer will loan me a car when they’re certain it will exceed 70mpg down the lanes of Somerset.

Comment Section

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  1. Car fuel statements by manufacturers border on the ridiculous.
    Most company car drivers wouldn’t know how many miles to the gallon their car achieves and I doubt they would be interested. Those who have more money than sense aren’t interested either. So, who’s left? We, the cannon fodder, of course. We’re the ones who will be driving around in micro vehicles and eventually taxed off the road. I wonder if we can sue manufacturers under the trade discriptions act?

    Excellent observational article.

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