EVEN with the use that David Cameron is making of his Toyota Lexus hybrid car to ferry his belongings while he is photographed cycling to work, the hybrids have not yet justified the claims for them as a positive factor in the fight to control the carbon emissions that cause global warming. Their cause will not have been helped by a new report from Which? that has cast doubt on the efficiency of the conventional petrol engines in the three hybrids currently on the UK market.
Hybrid cars have a self-charging electric motor for use in built-up areas and a petrol engine for the open road. The Which? survey found that the petrol engines in the Toyota Lexus, the Honda Civic and the Prius were all less efficient in fuel consumption than the most efficient comparable engines in conventional cars. The survey also found that the claims for fuel consumption in the manufacturers' specifications were exaggerated. Lexus responded to this latter point by pointing out that their tests are carried out by a “vehicle certification agency” and that the Which? figures which were based on road tests “would have been greatly influenced by the road conditions at the time”. Well, yes, they would have been, wouldn't they? Cars run on roads, don't they? In principle, there is a great deal to be said for the hybrid cars; although they are 10-20 per cent more expensive than their conventional counterparts, they enjoy a low road tax and are exempted from London's daily congestion charge. Above all, they point the way forward to the kind of innovation that will be necessary in many fields if climate change is to be contained.