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The path towards a low carbon transport future

January 2014 saw a spike in sales of small, fuel-efficient vehicles. Incredibly, pure-electric vehicle registrations increased more than  750 per cent compared to January 2013. Fuel efficient conventional models like the Fiesta, Focus and Corsa dominated in the popularity stakes.

This not only strikes a strong chord with us from a carbon reduction standpoint, but no doubt there are many who welcome this news from a purely economic point of view, too.

But while an overall lift in car sales is good for the industry, it does raise some concerns about whether fuel efficiency can increase enough for net carbon reduction if there are more cars on the roads.  But the trends are positive at least, with even the biggest vehicle in the top ten for sales noted for being among the best in class for fuel efficiency. Mike Hawes, chief executive of motor industry body the SMMT thinks this shows there is a definite direction for manufacturers:

As fuel economy is a major consideration for many motorists, ongoing investment by vehicle manufacturers in innovative, fuel-efficient technology is a key factor in the growing demand for new cars.”

Elsewhere, the measured roll-out of electric buses is gaining further ground with the launch of a wireless-charging bus route in Milton Keynes. The number 7 will get a booster charge at the start and end of its route using plates in the road, enabling it to run all day. The service is expected to carry 800,000 people a year.

Perhaps the novelty value will see initial increases in the number of commuters jumping on between Bletchley and Wolverton, but if the single route proves a success, it is hoped  it will set a benchmark for everyone in the town to ride electric. If it ultimately means more cars off the road at peak times, this could be a real local success story that should pique interest in other parts of the country.

While making the right changes towards low-carbon transport infrastructure in the pragmatic present is ever so important, there’s still room to dream. And Ford’s new C-Max Solar Energi Concept car is one for those who like futuristic flights of fancy.

Partly powered by solar panels on the roof (the very definition of ‘sun roof’ one might say), the hybrid model claims a range of 620 miles; with extra photovoltaic ‘kick’ coming from potential owners using a solar-concentrating canopy. The car can also autonomously move under this system, tracking the sunlight.

The fact such a model is at concept stage is very promising – though this one becoming mainstream is still a while away, not least because of  safety concerns about the effects of the sun on passengers. If these concerns can be allayed, it’s certainly one to watch.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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