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Mike Waters' blog: 8 March 2010 - A range of options

Date: 08 March 2010

Mike Waters is senior insight & consultancy manager at Arval, the leading vehicle leasing and fleet management company.

With several new vehicle technologies working their way onto the market, people often ask me what I think our vehicles will be powered by in the future, and I have to say it's a difficult question to answer. I can see where the publicity is going, what the politicians are getting behind and which trials are going on but there's still a long way to go in the race to crack the mass market.

While battery powered electric vehicles are getting the lions share of column inches and retain a high profile, they ultimately suffer from a major impracticality: their range, or lack of it. This is something that in the end may mean battery powered electric vehicles falling from front runner to race casualty, especially given that there is some strong competition.

The news just broke that a black taxi cab running on the latest hydrogen fuel cell technology is being developed in time for the 2012 Olmpics with the project funded by the government's Technology Strategy Board and developed by carmaker, Lotus. The concept is fairly simple, a fuel cell produces electricity and feeds it to a battery pack under the floor of the taxi's passenger area with the batteries then driving motors in the wheels.

In terms of performance, its pretty much as you'd expect from a standard black cab: top speed of 81mph, 0-60mph in 14 seconds but importantly has a range of more than 250 miles which is far more than any fully electric vehicle can currently manage. It makes sense becuasue it only takes a few minutes to fill up from empty and hydrogen can be produced from renewable energys.

London's deputy mayor, Kit Malthouse, announced a few months ago that by 2012 there would be six hydrogen filling stations in the capital powering 20-50 taxis as well as a fleet of hydrogen-powered buses. He said no one would be able to tell the difference between a hydrogen cab and a regular one apart from the lack of diesel fumes.

So hydrogen is one of several options in the mix and at this stage it remains very difficult to predict the fuel type that will be powering our vehicles in the future. For now its about a bunch of trials and early adopters testing the pros, cons and practicalities so that the market can decide.

For most drivers that decision will be based on cost, performance and practicality and any vehile that can't deliver on those things wont be a success, no matter how much it is trialled or how much publicity it receives. We will just have to wait and see which prevails.