How green a car is – used or new – isn’t just about its tailpipe emissions. No car demonstrates this better than the BMW i3, which could just be the greenest used car you can buy.
For a start, it’s available both as a pure electric car or as a range-extender complete with a thrummy two-cylinder, 650cc petrol engine that functions as a generator to keep the batteries juiced up when they’re getting low. Opt for the former and, to state the obvious, you’ve got no tailpipe let alone tailpipe emissions. Go for an early car (known as the 60Ah) and you’ll be seeing a range of around 80 miles in real-world driving, and it’ll charge up to 80% of its 18.8kWh battery capacity at a fast charger (fast charging compatibility was an option on early i3s, and so isn’t fitted to all used examples) in around 40 minutes, or some eight hours for a full charge from a home wall box. A facelift in 2016 introduced a larger capacity 28.2kWh battery in the i3 94Ah, which brought real-world range (not the misleading NEDC claimed figures) up to around 120 miles.
PURE ELECTRIC OR RANGE EXTENDER
If that range fills you with fear of being stranded, the i3 REX – or range extender – could be more your kind of thing. Go for one of these and having the backup of an onboard petrol generator means you can cover around 180 miles before running out of range. And when you do, as well as the option of plugging in to charge the battery, you can also simply refill the tiny nine-litre petrol tank. Again, post-2016 i3s in 94Ah form have a greater all-electric range, and so with the range extender on board can go farther still (to around 200 miles) than earlier 60Ah examples.
Even factoring in the range extender model with its part-petrol powertrain, the i3 is still a squeaky clean car in terms of emissions. It will, for instance, get free entry to the London Congestion and ULEZ zones and even the REX is free of road tax (assuming it’s registered before 1st April 2017 – after that point range extender i3s cost £135 per year in VED road tax), so you can feel rightfully smug about keeping air quality up, and tax and fuel costs down.
A HOLISTIC APPROACH TO BUILDING A GREEN CAR
The fact the i3 is an EV is only one reason why it’s an eco-conscious choice. Just as relevant is that it was designed from the ground up to be manufactured in the most environmentally sensitive way.
Its core structure features carbon-fibre that is constructed entirely with hydro-electric power, and which is itself made from 10% recycled sources. It also foregoes conventional plastics in favour of kenaf – a plant-based material that’s lighter than plastic and more sustainable to produce. Parts of the seats and doors are made of recycled plastic bottles, too.
Then there’s the production process itself where, for example, BMW uses electricity generated by four wind turbines at its Leipzig factory. It is also reported that an i3 requires about 50% less energy to produce than a conventional BMW, and 70% less water.
WHAT ABOUT AT THE END OF THE CAR’S LIFE?
We would add one word of caution, however, which is that recycling electric vehicles such as the i3 isn’t necessarily a job for your average scrap merchant. Speaking of EVs in general, Dr. Gavin Harper, a research fellow for the Faraday Institution, said: “There have been instances of fires at recyclers where damaged or out of condition Lithium-ion batteries have not been disposed of correctly. Furthermore, because of the costs associated with correct transportation and disposal, there have been instances of disguised Lithium-ion batteries making their way into processes for recycling lead acid batteries causing explosion and potentially injury.”
So, while there are organisations such as the Faraday Institute working to improve battery recycling (including developing robotic systems to make removing them safer), it’s still a relatively new industry with plenty to learn.
PRICES FROM £13,000
While no car is perfect in terms of its impact on the environment, they don’t come much greener than the BMW i3, now or when it was launched in 2013. The fact that you can buy such an avant-garde car complete with tech that has a distinct whiff of being well ahead of its time from just £13,000 on the used market is pretty remarkable. There’s an abundance of pure electric and range extenders to choose from, both via the approved used network and independent dealers. And so, for a green used car judged across a wide range of criteria, the i3 is currently just about as compelling as they come.
TWO ALTERNATIVE WAYS TO BUY GREEN
1. Buy a locally built car
Big shipping containers are cripplingly bad for emissions. It’s been estimated that just one can produce as much carbon dioxide in its lifetime as 50 million cars. An easy way to cut that very large part of a car’s carbon footprint is to buy local. The Honda Civic, Nissan Qashqai and Toyota Auris (as of 2019, the new Corolla) are all produced in the UK and make for practical, efficient and reliable used cars. Settle for the Toyota Auris Hybrid, for even more eco brownie points.
2. Buy old. Really old.
As we’ve said, the manufacturing and transport of vehicles forms a big part of their environmental burden. So, it’s a simple argument; keep the car you’ve got. Or buy an even older one to keep it from being scrapped, which is yet another hornet’s nest of environmental woe. Simple – or is it? The problem is that tailpipe emissions are much higher for older cars, so air quality is an issue and nobody can accurately calculate the lifetime carbon footprint of an old car versus a new car. But there is certainly an argument that says buying old is buying green.
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