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Save The Planet And Save Your Wallet
Save the planet and save your wallet? What a beautiful vision. This is the idea being held up to entice motorists away from the petrol pumps and into a Toyota Prius, and following skyrocketing petrol prices through the autumn, many drivers are now lending an ear to the call of the future.
Even petrol-happy Americans are turning over a green leaf as sales of mighty truck-sized SUVs slump and hybrid vehicle manufacturers report bulging order books and overflowing waiting lists.
The options and potential choices can be baffling, however. Remember LPG? Hailed as revolutionary in the 1990's, the price of a litre is around half that of petrol, but low prices aren't much use when you can’t find anywhere to buy it. Hydrogen cars are on our roads, and perform and function as well as regular vehicles, but as yet still cost upwards of a million pounds and remain a long way from mass production.
There are some hard and fast certainties however. Since 2001, road tax for new cars has been charged on a sliding scale of between £55 and £160 for a year's cover, dependent on the CO2 emissions? Basically, the lower the emissions the cheaper the car.
Road charging, along lines similar to the London congestion charge, now seems a near certainty in many UK cities with the government pouring millions of pounds into trial schemes. Like London, these will also feature discounts and exemptions for greener vehicles? And if you drive into a city every day? These could make a massive difference to running costs.
With battery powered cars pretty impractical for the average driver, (an eight hour battery charge for forty miles driving is the best currently on offer) hybrid engines using a mix of battery and petrol power are creating the biggest buzz.
The Toyota Prius, European Car of the Year 2005, is the vehicle that currently leads the pack. Hollywood stars have taken to abandoning their Hummers and rolling up in these for premieres. Crucially, unlike previous models, the Prius doesn't demand any compromise on practicality, with room for five adults and almost normal boot space.
It costs between around £17,500 and £20,000 on the road, falls in road tax band A (£55) and is exempt from congestion charging (potential savings of up to £2,000 a year for someone who regularly drives into London). It will also go for about 65 miles on a gallon of petrol.
The Honda Civic IMA comes in at second place in the hybrid league. It's slightly smaller but cheaper at approximately £15,300 on the road. It falls into road tax band B (£65), is also free from the congestion charge and a newer version promises a 20 per cent increase in power and 61.4 miles to the gallon.