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Green cars: will someone hit the accelerator

Carmakers, hurt by the recession, have embraced the drive for eco-friendly vehicles. But are they ahead of the science?

It’s astonishing how suddenly and absolutely the motor industry has been converted to the green cause. The “environment” used to be regarded as that boring blurry thing that flashed past between Esso stations. Now data about fuel economy and CO2 emissions takes precedence over performance criteria such as torque and acceleration. Reading press packs and auto manuals, you could almost mistake car manufacturers for environmental charities.

The Range Rover, for instance, traditionally the preferred choice of vehicle for people for whom “climate change” is something you achieve by twisting an aluminium knob beneath the stereo, now comes with exhortations for owners to “go responsibly” and stickers boasting that new models are carbon-offset. Then last week Tesla unveiled the Model S, an electric saloon car that, unlike most other electric cars, does not have the aesthetic appeal of a bread bin and is being billed as the world’s first mass-produced electric car that can travel up to 300 miles on one charge.

Elsewhere, the Porsche Cayenne, a car with the looks and fuel consumption of a Second World War landing craft, is now available in a frugal diesel version; Top Gear, which previously would have no more given airtime to an eco car than reviewed a new lipstick from L’Or

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