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Mini has made its scooter debut at the Paris Motor Show 2010. with the e-concept range. Clearly aimed at young urbanites, the new range of electric scooters even boasts space on the handlebars to accommodate a smartphone, such as an iPhone.

Various colours are available including yellow/grey and British racing green. The electric motor, located in the rear wheel, is powered by a Lithium Ion battery.

renault twigy.JPGNo shortage of electric cars at the Paris Motor Show as you might expect. Some are of a conventional design like the Nissan Leaf which we test drove a little while back. But some are downright wacky like the Renault Twizy (see video below).

Available next year, the idea is that the Twizy will be produced in various designs - just vote for the one you like at the show and the most popular will go into production. Must admit I really like the multi-coloured one but I'm not sure I could see myself driving round London in one.

econav.pngThe irony with advice is that while everyone loves giving it, so few us are actually up for receiving it, writes Ashley Norris. No matter if it does make our lives easier, saves the planet or keep a few extra quid in our pocket, quite often we simply don't want to know.

So the Vexia Econav, a clever new-ish product from a Spanish company claims to be the first to tell us how to drive more efficiently. I can't help but inwardly groan a little. There are two ways of looking at this. One, that is is a genuine attempt by a progressive company to make a difference to consumers and the planet. Or two, that sat navs are all the same these days and too stand out a new company needs to have a bit of a hook.

Fortunately for the Vexia, I think it is more the former than the latter, but whether all this driving advice is going to work is another thing.

So I put the device in the car and fired it up. It locked on to the satellites quickly and presented me with a straightforward interface. It is is not perhaps as elegant as some of its rivals, but I got used to it pretty quickly. Overall the maps are clear and easy to follow and the turn by turn instructions clear and precise.

There are some decent extra features too such as advanced lane guidance - which shows you which lanes you can use when coming to a turning - speed camera alerts and a healthy database of points of interest. As a basic sat nav this works fine.

Fuel efficiency

What though of its driving features? Well the blurb is impressive. It claims to be able to reduce fuel consumption by up to 30% which means reducing CO2 emissions by up to one ton and also saving the user up to £400 per year.

To do this though I have to change gear each time I am told (it calculates which is the best gear by analysing your car's details and pairing it to the road you are driving on) and I am also prompted if I pull away too quickly or stop too suddenly.

The eco features clearly do work, but I think you have to be a certain type of person to live with them. Some people will relish being told when and where to change gear, others will reach straight for the off button.

The latest version of the Vexia's software also has a speed nag built in. This tells you not only when you are breaking the speed limit but how many points you are likely to get on your licence. I wouldn't say it was a useful feature, but the first time you use it does come as a bit of a shock to see how easy it would be lose your licence.

Overall the Vexia is a sound enough satellite navigation system. If those extra features appeal then it is well worth the additional money you'll pay for it.


Nissan Leaf.jpgIf you thought that electric cars were just teeny, tiny little things like the G-Whiz which look like they'd turn over if you blow on them, then think again. The latest crop of electric vehicles (and we're not talking hybrids here) are proper cars that look - but don't sound - like the real thing.

Last month, we checked out the Volvo C30 which won't go into production until 2013. This month it's the turn of the Nissan Leaf which is going to be available, albeit in small numbers, from next spring. Like the Volvo C30, the Nissan Leaf looks like an ordinary gas guzzling car, and houses a huge Lithium Ion Battery underneath. It's also a family car with room for 5 people.

It's available in various user friendly colours (black, red, silver, grey) but we took out a metallic blue model from Nissan's Bedfordshire HQ - a left-hand drive sample for Europe and currently the only one in the UK. As you might expect the price of the Leaf is quite steep at just under £24K (£23,990 to be precise), but prices will fall once full UK production starts from the Sunderland plant in 2013.

Until then demand will be met by Nissan's Japanese factories. "We're not expecting the Leaf to take over the road from day one," explains Gabi Whitfield, Communications Director, Nissan GB. However, those wanting to pre-order a model for next Spring can do so from Nissan's website here. Be warned though the website is very annoying with lots of flash animation and electronic voices.

Start me up
Driving a car these days it seems is more like booting up a computer and so it is with The Leaf. Obviously there aren't any gears to contend with, it's just a case of flicking a switch and putting your foot on the gas - sorry electric - pedal. Nissan claims it can go 100 miles on a single charge but this will vary according to the kind of driving you do.

Nissan Leaf 2.jpgThere is an Eco Mode but this will reduce your speed in order to maximise distance between charges. Top speed is 90 miles per hour but on the mean streets of Milton Keynes (or thereabouts) I didn't get close to that. Instead I reckon I got the car up to around 50/60 miles per hour, but I'm sure it can go faster.

What's very odd about electric cars generally I find is how quiet they are, like something out of a sci-fi movie. Nissan have got round this problem for hard of hearing folk and those who generally don't look when they are crossing roads - people like me in other words - by actually introducing noise at lower speeds.

Up to 30 miles per hour the Nissan Leaf emits a whistling turbine type noise. Faster than that the noise of the tyres going around is loud enough to alert you to the fact that a car is approaching. Apparently there isn't yet a standard that manufacturers of electronic vehicles have to follow, but Nissan's idea of introducing a noise at low speeds does seem a sensible one.

That's entertainment
While driving the Nissan is a pleasant enough experience (its low centre of gravity perhaps makes it feel a little more sporty than it really is!) what's really good about the vehicle is its in car entertainment system.

I've had to make do with a CD changer for years now, so I'm easily impressed with a car that has MP3 input jacks, USB sockets and so on. But the Nissan Leaf doesn't just stop there. It also boasts a large colour Satellite Navigation system complete with a map showing the nearest charging points - unfortunately there aren't too many of them yet!!

And apparently the vehicle will even interface with your mobile phone, telling you if it needs charging before you take it out and allowing to put the heating on in the vehicle before you set off on a cold winter morning.

So would I buy the Nissan Leaf? Well at £24K not a chance. I can see that some show offy types with loads of money might splash out on one - in the same way as Hollywood types have been photographed with their Toyota Pious, sorry Prius. But really when you can buy a top end 3 year old petrol car for half the price, it's not an option.

Then again, once mass production starts in 2013 and there are charging points all over the UK then it does become a serious proposition. Whether electric cars are that much better than petrol cars for the environment is of course a massive issue (because obviously the energy needed to power them still needs to come from somewhere), but at least electric vehicles don't chuck out nasty particulates into the atmosphere that can really damage people's lungs. What's more, they should save you money at least in the long term!

Nissan Leaf


Driving range 100 miles (160km)
Max speed 90mph (over 140km/h)
Battery Type laminated lithium-ion battery
Battery layoutunder seat & floor
Length 4445 mm
Width 1770 mm
Height 1550 mm
Seating capacity 5 adults
Max Engine Power 80kW
Max Engine Torque 280Nm
Charging times quick charger: less than 30 min for 80% charge;
Home-use 220V charger: about 8 hrs
On sale in the UK from March 2011
Built in the UK from 2013

volvo iphone app.jpg Volvo has launched a new initiative to encourage motorists to think about a broad range of health and environmental issues - not just CO2 emissions - when they buy their next car.

At a conference held at 'The Gherkin' in London yesterday, speakers from Environmental Protection UK (formerly the National Society of Clean Air) and from Kings College London talked about the dangers posed in particular by 'nasties' from vehicle exhausts like NOx, Hydrocarbons and Particulates - the key contributors to poor health especially in cities like London.

Professor Frank Kelly of London's King College said that 4,300 premature deaths in London were caused by particulate matter and there were other health issues such as lung disease and asthma associated with vehicle emissions. "The biggest concern is for our children who may not develop full lung function as a result of the vehicles on the road."

Added Ed Dearnley, Policy Officer, Environmental Protection UK: "Just as we had legislation after the Great Smog of 1952, we need new legislation to tackle the problem of air pollution."

Already well known for its record on safety, Volvo is hoping to kickstart the environmental health debate by providing information to car buyers via a phone/PC app in conjunction with www.cleangreencars.co.uk. Rather like the labelling system found on white goods, the idea is that consumers will be able to easily access information on a whole range of car emissions, not just CO2 but also Nitrogen Oxides, Hydrocarbons and Carbon Monoxide which are known to contribute to health problems.

Says Peter Rask, Volvo's Regional President of UK, Ireland and Iceland: "We need to take a more holistic approach, not just look at CO2 emissions...Millions of pounds are spent on issues like obesity and passive smoking, yet the truth is that vehicle emissions are having a massive impact on health."

He adds: "This isn't about reducing the focus on CO2, our campaign is about drivers being given easy access to the complete set of pollutants information so they can make a more informed decision when they buy a new or used car."

However, the big question remains whether consumers will show an interest in wider issues around car pollution without legislation. Admits Volvo's own environmental consultant Dominic Potts who has worked tirelessly lobbying the government for the last 14 years. "Trying to get people interested in what is seen as a very complex issue is very difficult."

In the same way as vehicles with high CO2 emissions are now taxed more, it will almost certainly require legislation before we all sit up and take notice of the broader range of health issues around car pollution.

You can join the debate at www.facebook.com/insidevolvouk and http://twitter.com/insidevolvouk

You can see the YouTube video below:

Solar Impulse.jpg I really do hope they are. Often when I've caught a plane (which admittedly isn't so much these days, largely because I hate being treated like branded cattle at airports) I've thought surely there must be a way to harness all this sunlight above the clouds, rather than relying on noisy, polluting jet engines. Now it seems we are getting closer to this becoming a reality.

Pilot Andre Borschberg has recently flown a solar panelled plane non stop for 26 hours, completing the longest and highest ever journey for a plane powered by the Sun at an altitude of 8,500m (27,900ft). Called the Solar Impulse, the solar-powered plane has a massive wingspan of nearly 64m (208 ft) and is fitted with 12,000 solar cells which can apparently be recharged so that the plane could fly indefinitely.

"People thought it was not possible but it was important for us to show that it was," said the 56 year old former Swiss airforce pilot. "We enjoyed a gorgeous day in terms of beauty, nature and scenery - it was unbelievable."

Now the challenge is on to go all the way round the world in a solar plane. How much longer before passenger planes could be developed which could harness natural energy from the sun? Will it be in our lifetimes. I would like to think so.

Technical data sheet:
Wingspan: 63.4m
Length: 21.85m
Height: 6.4m
Motor power: 4 x 10 HP electric engines
Solar cells: 11,628 (10,748 on wing, 880 on the horizontal stabiliser)
Average flying speed: 70km/h
Maximum altitude: 8,500m

Computer generated demonstration:

Smart fortwo electric drive.jpg As a driver of an ordinary petrol Smart car, I'm quite excited by the arrival of an electric version - and not before time. Unfortunately, only 340 electric Smarts - called Smart fortwo electric drives - are currently being trialled on UK roads, but it's a start.

The move coincides with Smart's Plugged-In report which shows that 86 per cent of Londoners think it's the community's responsibility to make sure residents live greener lives and 66 per cent of Londoners think the area in which they live would be less polluted with more electric cars.

The first two lucky folk to get the keys to the new electric Smart were the owners of ethical store and design consultancy Eco Age, Livio Firth and Nicola Giuggioli. "The smart electric drive is the perfect city car, you can park it anywhere and it has zero emissions so we can drive around guilt free," says Nicola Giuggioli.

See the video below which includes interviews with Kulveer Ranger (Transport Advisor to the Mayor of London), electric car nut Quentin Willson and some of the first trialists, including the wonderfully named TinyTaxi.com.

To download a copy of the Smart Plugged-In report visit www.electricsmart.co.uk.

TGB_Bikeweek_logo_RGB Twitter.jpg It's not too late to get on your bike. Team Green Britain Bike Week (19-27 June) is challenging everyone to rethink their everyday journeys and switch to cycling as the most convenient way to get around.

Throughout the week, villages and cities across the UK are hosting free cycling events with the theme of 'everyday cycling, for everyone'. Events are open to all from total novices to passionate cyclists and will inspire everyone to hop on their bikes and discover the benefits of swapping four wheels for pedal power.

Says Victoria Pendleton, World and Olympic champion cyclist who is supporting Team Green Britain Bike Week: "I would encourage everyone to get involved with Team Green Britain Bike Week. By choosing to cycle to the shops, school or for leisure, you'll find you get to your destination quicker, save money, get fit and reduce your carbon footprint all at the same time. If everyone were to swap one car journey a day for a bike trip, think of the collective benefit - to our planet, our pockets and our health!"

To find your nearest event, simply visit www.bikeweek.org.uk and enter your postcode. If you'd like to take part but don't have a bike, simply search for your nearest bike rental outlet on the website.

There seem to be few Londoners left who still battle with public transport and are yet to be converted to the cycling revolution. Either they feel that work is a little 'too far' to arrive there solely on their own steam or they believe that getting on a bike is certainly going to end with them arriving at work a sweating heap or, worse, with a broken limb.

Technological development serves yet again to convert the unconvertible with the 'electric' bike. From now on that burdensome hill can be conquered without groaning through flaming thighs, by switching on the electrics allowing you to scoot up with ease. The easier, more effortless electric cycle allows you to roll up to work sweat free and smelling fresh.

It's also apparently safer to travel by electric rather than pedal bike, although I'm not sure I fully follow the logic here. Either way, if you think the electric bike is for you, check out these options.

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Team Green Britain.jpgToday (17th June 2010) is Green Britain Day. Curiously sponsored by EDF Energy (not particularly green and not British either!) the idea is to help people to do what they can to reduce their carbon footprint. Presumably use less EDF Energy for a start!

Throughout this week 'celebrities' including Olympic cycling champion Victoria Pendleton and designer Wayne Hemingway have been showing off their dream bikes at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden as part of a series of events taking place to highlight climate change. For further details of events go to Green Britain's Facebook page here.

Other events at the museum include unicycle performances and workshops, and an exhibition of new artworks by over 50 leading illustrators.

Says Victoria Pendleton: "If everyone were to swap one car journey a day for a bike trip, think of the collective benefit - to our planet, our pockets and our health! I hope people come along to see all the bicycles and dig deep to raise money for the social enterprises who created them."

Green Britain Day coincides with a new European-wide study which shows that high levels of scepticism and indifference among Britons hamper efforts to go green. Less than one third of Britons believe the issue is 'serious and urgent', requiring 'radical steps'. And just over half of Britons are 'quite' or 'very concerned' about climate change compared to Spain which topped the pool with over three quarters saying they were quite worried.

Climate change minister Greg Baker said: "I think the British are inherently quite sceptical about theoretical politics and science and maybe are a little more cautious than some countries in Europe."

Next week sees Team Green Britain Bike Week (19-27 June) which is challenging everyone to rethink their everyday journeys and switch to cycling as the most convenient way to get around. To find your nearest event, visit www.bikeweek.org.uk or find them on Twitter here.

For further information on Team Green Britain, visit www.teamgreenbritain.org.

Well, we've all got excuses for not cycling more. "It's cold", "I've lost my helmet" and "it's a 30 mile round trip" (well that last one is fair enough). But with environmental concerns and better bike lane provision, bike use has crept up in Britain over the past few years, writes ShinyShiny's Anna Leach.

Anyway, one ingenious gadget that might tempt you away from the car more is the GoCycle a battery-assisted bike. What with it being National Cycling week next week, we thought it was time to revisit this invention first launched in 2009.

You can pedal it as normal but hold the power button on the left handlebar down to give you an extra boost. You can keep it pressed on at all times and it speeds up your performance particularly over long straight patches, or just turn it on when you want a boost coming out of corners or accelerating away from a stop. ANYWAY - here are two of the demonstrators having a little race...

The GoCycle can be bought for £45 a month, or for £1,495 outright. See Gocycle.com.
It has to be recharged from a mains supply for 3 hours, hits a max speed of 15mph and can last for up to 20 miles, depending on pedal input and terrain.

Review: Volvo C30 Electric car

Comments (5)

Volvo C30 electric car Usually, the thought of going to Bracknell to test drive a Volvo wouldn't fill me with that much excitement.

Fortunately this invite was a little different because it was to check out a car that to all intents and purposes looks and feels like a petrol car, only gets its power from the electricity mains.

At a time when most energy efficient cars are either 'hybrid' vehicles like the Toyota Prius using a mixture of electricity and petrol, or smaller electric cars like the G-Whizz, the Volvo C30 Electric stands out for being, well, a normal Volvo C30 family car - at least at first glance. Of course there are lots of differences that the boffins from Gothenburg could bore you stupid about over a pint of overpriced Swedish beer.

Open up the bonnet, for example, and rather than a big oily engine you are greeted with what can only be described as a giant fuse box with lots of neat orange cables. And running through the centre of the car under the floor is a big heavy Lithium Ion battery, like you find in a laptop or in a mobile phone, only much, much bigger.

This provides the charge for the car. Volvo claims the C30 Electric car can currently has a range of 150 Km and needs to be charged for around 8 hours using conventional AC power mains (there is a 1 hour quick charging point on the car but as yet there aren't any places where this could be used.)

low_INTL_31329.jpgAs you might expect from a brand so closely with safety, Volvo has done a lot of safety checks already. You only have to type 'Lithium Ion Battery Explode' into YouTube to see the dangers of using electricity which means that a lot of work has gone into ensuring that if the car is hit that the battery doesn't go up in flames. Always an added bonus!

This means, for example, ensuring that the passenger seats aren't pushed into the middle of the vehicle where the battery is situated if it's hit from the side. So far 11 vehicles have been crash tested but there are bound to be many more before the vehicle goes into mass production in 2014.

So how does the Volvo perform? Rather well I thought. The weirdest thing about it was it was so quiet that I hadn't even realised I had turned the engine on. (Pedestrians will definitely have to learn to look for cars when crossing the road rather than just listening out for them if they want to avoid being bounced over the bonnet of an electric car.)

The automatic vehicle handled rather well considering the extra weight of the battery and added safety features and I managed to get the car up to around 100Km/h (62 miles per hour) on a test track designed to look and feel like a normal single carriageway road without even noticing.

Volvo claims that top speed is around 130Km/h and it can go 0-62 miles per hour in 11 seconds. Obviously that doesn't make it the quickest car in the world, but it does offer much better performance than today's electric cars. Volvo reckons its performance is roughly similar to a 1.6 litre diesel engine car which sounds about right.

The first batch of production models will be available from next year, but with the Lithum Ion battery alone currently costing $80,000 I'm guessing the Volvo C30 Electric won't be exactly cheap though official prices have yet to be announced. For the rest of us mere mortals without money to burn I think it will be at least a three year wait before this particular electric dream becomes a reality.

So would I buy one? Well yeah, providing it is affordable (ie. not considerably more expensive than a petrol car) and easy to fill up. After all one of the biggest challenges will be providing enough points where you can charge the vehicle.

Those with their own garages will be able to use their own home's mains power but for those who have their cars parked on the street it's simply not practical to have cables running across the pavement! For electric cars to really represent the future a lot of work has to go into building the infrastructure first.

Below check out our rough cut YouTube videos from the test driving day.


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By Alana McVerry

wind farms.jpgThe multitude of slanderous campaigns and squabbling fights are escalating, the leaders ferociously scratching their way to the top post as the election day draws ever near.

If you still remain undecided on which one of those blokes on telly shouting at each other you would like in the top seat, then here's a quick green related guide to help you on your way.

Gordon Brown - Labour Party leaderLabour

if the events of the last 10 years haven't been too detrimental to your welfare then maybe good old Gordon is still in the running for your vote. But how green is Gordon?

Given the lovely shape our economy has been pummeled in by it's trusted instructor, we would expect some 'lets take action' style policies on this front. However, what we actually have is some vague plans to cut 'low priority' government programs, with decisions to be made post election. Ooh sneaky. What we want is better provision for health care, education and frontline services, but to pay less for it. But given how far removed the top dog is from the day to day running of the NHS and such like, it's kind of like when you were a toddler and you spent three hours trying to fit the square block through the circle hole. It always ends in tears.

The only party to be very 'un-greenly' supportive of a third runway at Heathrow. Though they seem to be trying to slip this through with a policy on electric car charging points and improved commuter services. Lesson to be learned, decoys never work when it's in print.

80% carbon cut by 2050 sounds quite promising. But given that we are really only electing them for a time period due to be up long before the 2050 deadline, and we won't really be able to hold them to count, why not just say 100%? You never know, I might believe you.

Focusing on youth unemployment with training places and education, and boosting the job market with vaguely termed 'green jobs'. 250,00 of them and all.

50p tax rate for the super earners. Seems fair.

Green Score : 6/10 (It all went wrong at Heathrow)

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soil association.gif Track down a rural hideaway with The Soil Association's new Holiday Organic web directory.

All produce foods to the Soil Association's organic standards and the nature of organic farming means they are likely to have a good mix of animals and crops, setting the scene for a fab rustic retreat.

Browse your way down country lanes and through the gates of nearly 200 working organic farms welcoming visitors to tied cottages, farm buildings, campsites and the odd yurt.

Some may give the energetic a chance to get their hands dirty and most will offer a taste of their produce, whether it be breakfast or a full meal from the field, kitchen garden or orchard.

Visitors can browse Holiday Organic by English region, Scotland & Wales, with a particularly strong showing for England's West Midlands and South West, home to a quarter of the country's organic farms. To explore, go to Holiday Organic in the Take Action area of the Soil Association website: www.soilassociation.org.

So, summer is just around the corner....Well, not quite, but post-Christmas is definitely an acceptable time to start getting excited about it without everyone thinking you're insane. Want to see some eco-friendly holiday ideas to inspire your daydreaming?

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