6 March 2014

Variations on electric power

Although sales of electric cars have been disappointingly small in Europe, where thrifty diesels still offer decent frugality at a competitive price, major manufacturers are continuing to push EV variants of mainstream cars, writes Brian Byrne.

The new one on the block is the Kia Soul (above), the EV version of the latest generation of which was the main feature on that brand's stand at Geneva. With a guarantee of a 200km range from its advanced battery system, it's a full sized family car that is driving closer to the point where range anxiety is no longer an issue.

Though there's no confirmation if the Soul EV will be available in Ireland soon, it is definitely going on sale in key European markets this summer, where distributors have already been issued with their targets.

Volkswagen kept faith with the electric future too, giving plenty of space to its up! EV, and also made clear that the electric Golf is available. While Renault provided plenty of copies of its Zoe hatchback and the twiddly Twizy 4-wheel single-seater.

But most automotive electrical thrust seems to be in generating more hybrid cars, especially plug-in versions which generally offer enough EV solus operation for the suburb-city commute. Or provide extra oomph to give powerful performance. That last exemplified by Volkswagen with its Golf GTE (above) making the GT range now a triumvirate. A 7.1 seconds sprint justifies the GT placing.

Audi uses a similar electric motor plus 1.4 TSI petrol engine to underpin its very sporty version of its compact hatch, the A3 Sportback e-tron which has a combined power output of 203hp.

Less aimed at sporty performance, the Mitsubishi plug-in hybrid Outlander is going on sale in Ireland shortly, and provides an extended possibility of driving in EV mode only, even up to 110km/h. It has already found good customers in Europe. The Mitsubishi stand showed the company's commitment to PHEV, with no less than three prototype/concepts, two of them with 1.1 turbocharged petrol engines as the thermal element. The SR suggests thoughts about a large MPV and the XR (above) a compact SUV sharing the 136hp hybrid powertrains, while the GC (below) looks towards a full heavy-duty offroad-capable vehicle with a 3.0 V6 petrol hybrid system.

Ford showed a solar energy C-MAX Concept (above) in this field, and also a PHEV version of its C-MAX and a hybrid variant of the upcoming new Mondeo, both of which will go on sale in Europe this year. And, of course, the Focus pure electric is already on sale on the Continent. We think they'll be looking at what VW has done with the GTE Golf and come up with a low-emissions hybrid powertrain that might rival the old ST in the performance game.

Maybe next year's show?