Arenʼt we all sometimes sick and tired of changing petrol prices? We donʼt mind prices going down, of course, but rising prices can actually reduce the fun of having and driving a car considerably. Wouldnʼt it be great if we could get rid of all these worries once and for all and save the environment at the same time? Sounds like a perfect solution. Could electric cars and hybrids be this solution we are so desperately looking for?
Letʼs see what Lucy and her uncle learn about this subject from their ambitious car dealer. Lucy and her uncle Jack are back at the car dealerʼs because Lucy wants to take a test drive in one of the cars that could be suitable for her. In Jackʼs opinion this is a great idea because in this way somebody else could give Lucy some initial instructions on how to drive on the left side of the road.
Harry, the car dealer, might be the perfect man for this adventure. Why not properly test the young manʼs obvious interest in his niece right from the start?
Lucy: Oh Harry, Iʼm so grateful that you have so kindly agreed to go on the test drive with me.
Harry: Itʼs always a pleasure for me to take care of the very special customers of our place. But let me show you something else first of all. There might be another alternative for your purpose. Have you ever thought of an electric car or a hybrid? You really couldnʼt be more up-to-date at the moment. Thatʼs state-of-the-art technology.
Lucy: Sounds great to me, Harry. I fully rely on your expert advice and who wouldnʼt want to own the latest technology car. But what is the difference between an electric and a hybrid car and how does it compare with a petrol or diesel-powered car?
Harry: Well, have a look at this beautiful model behind you, thatʼs a hybrid car. Theyʼre becoming more and more popular. A hybrid car uses two engines, which means an electrical motor and a conventional petrol or diesel engine. The electric engine powers the car at lower speeds and the engine powers it at higher speeds. Thus, the advantage of a hybrid is not only its lower fuel consumption but also reduced CO2 emissions, which makes it environmentally friendly. As you can imagine, all this is controlled by a series of computers. They automatically detect certain driving conditions and different parameters. In order to save fuel, the electric motor is mainly used and not the gas engine, obviously.
Lucy: Oh wow, thatʼs fantastic, isnʼt it? What other convincing arguments can you tell me in order to persuade my uncle to invest in this latest technology?
Harry: Oh, there are many more. This hybrid is equipped with the so-called regenerative braking system. Every time you use the brakes in your car, youʼre wasting energy because the kinetic energy that was propelling your car forward is now no longer needed and becomes useless. In this hybrid, however, this kinetic energy is recaptured by the regenerative braking system and converted into electricity to recharge the carʼs batteries. On the other hand, there are also so-called plug-in hybrids which can be charged just like an electric car. In this way the owners can charge their vehicleʼs battery packs by plugging into the nearest outlet or charging station. Moreover, lighter materials are used to build hybrids, which means less energy is needed to run them and additional energy is saved because their engines are smaller and lighter.
Lucy: Uncle Jack, come over here, youʼre missing all the extremely interesting explanations about hybrid cars! It canʼt be a mistake to buy such an advanced technology car. We could do so much for our environment. Hybrids are much cleaner and need less fuel to run. So, weʼd no longer depend so much on fossil fuels and the constant ups and downs of the fuel prices. Itʼs a great way to save money and we could really lower our carbon imprint on the environment.
Jack: Itʼs true, Lucy, contributing to saving the planet is a wonderful and necessary thing to do. But has the gentleman told you what it takes to make the batteries? The process of mining the precious metals needed for manufacturing the battery packs is a very toxic and energy-intensive one, not to mention their disposal and recycling. And what about pollution from battery waste sites? When you consider all this, you see that weʼre far away from saving our planet in this way.
Harry: Unfortunately, this is something which canʼt be denied. So, weʼre all hoping for some revolutionary technological breakthrough to solve all these issues. But it could happen any time.
Jack: Moreover, Iʼve seen the price of this car over there and Iʼm not so sure of the maintenance costs in the long run. Are there enough mechanics familiar with the dual engine technology and all the continuous improvements in this area so that they can repair such a car? Such repairs could be difficult and expertise might be lacking.
Harry: I cannot fully agree with you regarding the price. This is a very special model over there. We also have smaller versions. Theyʼre available in so many shapes and sizes nowadays. But donʼt forget that it has lower running cost, there are tax exemptions and banks offer special credits for such cars. Exemption from congestion chargesis also an interesting point to make the hybrid affordable. Additionally, the resale value of these green cars has increased with a rising number of people showing interest in them as a result of the horrendous petrol prices. Therefore, in case, youʼre not happy with your vehicle, you wonʼt find it difficult to sell it at a premium price. You should consider, of course, what you would want to use this car for. If youʼre planning to mainly use it around town, itʼs the perfect choice. In this way, you can gain the most benefit from running on electric power only, which means free travel. If, however, reducing pollution is your main concern, an all-electric vehicle or EV could be the ideal solution.
Lucy: Oh, another type of green vehicle, how does an EV work?
Harry: Well, electric cars are also a great step forward in protecting the environment and fighting greenhouse gases. They donʼt need any gas at all, which saves a lot of money. They run on electrically powered engines and donʼt emit any toxic gases or smoke. As a result, theyʼre even better than hybrid cars which are running on gas and thus produce emissions. EVs get their power from rechargeable batteries installed inside the car. These batteries are also used for the functioning of lights and wipers, not only for powering the car. Consequently, there are more of them in EVs than in traditional cars. Theyʼve become very popular and their sales have really soared.
Lucy: But why donʼt we see so many of them on the road?
Harry: There is one major concern among drivers and potential drivers which is called ‘range anxietyʼ. EVs are very popular but power companies are simply not able to provide a sufficient number of compatible charging stations. Itʼs important that you have enough power to get where youʼre going and back. And if not, you must check where the optimal, compatible and available charging station on your route is. Itʼs similar with a petrol or diesel-powered car, the only difference being that normal gas stations can be found almost everywhere, so that you donʼt have to worry about this in advance. Thatʼs a reason why many drivers would prefer hybrids at the moment. This is even more true outside cities where itʼs even harder to find the infrastructure needed for electric cars.
Jack: What about the price of an EV? Arenʼt they still unaffordable?
Harry: There are small EVs which you get at a low price because you donʼt buy the expensive battery but pay a monthly fee to rent it. The fee varies depending on the number of miles you do. But there are also affordable family-size cars.
Jack: Well, we donʼt need a family-size car anyway. How about maintenance and insurance?
Harry: Since electric cars run on electrically-powered engines, there is no need to lubricate the engine and other expensive engine work wonʼt be necessary either. You donʼt need to take an EV as often to the service station as a normal petrol-powered car. In addition, EVs donʼt pay road tax or London congestion charge and this also compensates for some of the extra cost. When you regularly have to drive through the center of London, you can save thousands of pounds per year with an electric car. Regarding insurance for EVs, there are many car insurers not willing to cover them at this stage. Therefore, you have fewer insurers to compare prices and premiums may not be as competitive and you might have to pay more for an EV than for a standard car. Another advantage of EVs is that theyʼre much quieter and thus reduce noise pollution. The environmental impact of such a car is zero, so that you reduce your carbon footprint and positively affect the economy.
Jack: I see, but here again the question is whether such cars are actually kinder to the environment than standard engines. The electricity has to be generated somewhere and manufacturing and disposing of the batteries also have a big environmental impact. So EVs donʼt seem to be much greener either. I can really see you point, Harry, but I think itʼs still a bit too early regarding all the technical aspects. It might be the technology of the future, but with a shortage of electric fuelling stations at the moment, everything still seems quite complicated to me. As long as there arenʼt any of these at places where you go to on a daily basis, youʼll spend lots of time driving around just to get your car recharged and then you must consider that recharge times are much longer than just a few minutes that it takes to refuel your gas-powered car. As far as I know, it can take up to 4 – 6 hours to fully recharge your EV. Short driving ranges and limited speed wouldnʼt be a problem for us at the moment because this car wouldnʼt be used for long distances anyway, only for short ones like trips to the shops etc., but you never know. We also shouldnʼt neglect the fact that electricity isnʼt free. I think thorough market research might be necessary to find out which EV is really affordable and wonʼt add too much to your electricity bill.
Harry: A full charge will normally cost around 2-3BP which will be a typical range of 100 miles. Driving this distance in a petrol or diesel car will cost around 12-18BP. But itʼs no problem today to have a suitable plug socket in your garage because I agree that it still might take some time until there is a sufficient supply of charging stations in the cities. On the other hand, there are service stations that have rapid-charge bays where you can get a decent power-up in less than an hour. So, what about installing a plug socket in your garage, Sir?
Lucy: Oh Harry, thatʼs not a good idea. You havenʼt seen my uncleʼs garage. Itʼs a mixture between a tool shop and a storage for all sorts of necessary and unnecessary things that you can imagine. It needs some thorough decluttering before you can even set foot into it.
Jack: Come on, young lady, donʼt talk like this about all my secret treasures. I didnʼt realize that youʼve ever been in the garage. I thought that you were satisfied after having decluttered so many other rooms in my house. You might be right to a certain extent, of course, but no way of doing it now to accommodate a plug socket, let alone an entire car.
Harry: By the way, this entire ‘range anxietyʼ discussion is really exaggerated. Itʼs not that you will end up in the middle of nowhere all of a sudden because youʼve run out of power. EVs display the anticipated mileage on the dashboard. You might have to adapt your driving style a little bit, however. You should drive more efficiently because the faster you go, the quicker youʼll empty your battery. So, driving on the motorway, for example, considerably reduces the number of miles your car can do on one charge.
Jack: After having heard all this, perhaps we should change our driving habits in general. There doesnʼt seem to be a perfect solution at the moment without a major impact on the environment. Now that weʼre moving towards summer, we might also consider riding our bicycles more often, using public transportation or carpooling. The less you drive, the better it is for the environment. Oh, donʼt look so disappointed now, Lucy. You go on your test drive now with this chap. Iʼll wait for you at home to hear about your experiences afterwards. Take your time, see you later.
When talking about cars, there are also some false friends, i.e. words where the English and German sound similar, but have a very different meaning than you might assume.
When you talk about an old-timer in English, youʼre talking about a person who has a lot of experience, for example someone who has been a member of a company for a long time. The Americans use the expression to talk about an old person. (alter Hase, alter Mann) If you want to talk about a very old or classic car, you should use the expression vintage car, veteran car or classic car (Oldtimer).
To blink in English means to close and then open oneʼs eyes quickly once or several times. Iʼll have to take the picture again, you blinked! (blinzeln) If a light blinks, it flashes on and off. (aufleuchten) But when you drive in your car and want to change direction, you must indicate or signal. Before turning left or right, you must always indicate/signal. (blinken)
When you talk about the covering of paint on a surface, thatʼs the paint(work). My carʼs paintwork has been scratched. (Lack) The English word lack is a synonym of shortage. Today there is a lack of skilled workers in many industries. (Mangel)
A part is one of the pieces that together form a machine or some type of equipment. These parts of the engine come from China. (Teil) The English word tile is a thin piece, mostly square or rectangular, used for covering roofs, floors or walls. They are very proud of their new floor tiles in the kitchen. (Fliese, Kachel)
There are also some interesting expressions or idioms as they are called that have their roots in cars and driving.
- To drive someone crazy: to annoy somebody (jd. ärgern, wahnsinnig machen) This terrible heat outside is really driving me crazy.
- To backfire: to have the opposite effect (nach hinten losgehen, fehlschlagen) I bought this device to be faster, but it clearly backfired. I even need more time for it now.
- To take somebody for a ride: to cheat s.o. (jmd. reinlegen) Elderly people are sometimes taken for a ride by dishonest companies.
- To bring s.o. up to speed: to update s.o. on sth. (jmd. auf den neuesten Stand bringen) Can you bring me up to speed on our latest sales figures?
- To put the brakes on sth: to slow or stop sth. (bei etw. die Bremse ziehen) Raising taxes very often puts the brakes on the economy.
- To do a U-turn: to completely change oneʼs direction, opinion, plan (eine Kehrtwendung machen) Sometimes U-turns are necessary in life to get back on the right track.
- To step on it: to go/work faster (Gas geben) If you want to finish this project on time, we must step on it.
- To go the extra mile: to make even more effort (noch eins draufsetzen, einen zusätzlichen Einsatz leisten) We sometimes need to go the extra mile for our customers.
- To be running on empty: to have no energy left (am Ende sein, keine Kraft mehr haben) Iʼm running on empty at the moment. I urgently need a holiday.
- To move up a gear: to start to do something faster or better (einen Gang zulegen, aufs Tempo drücken) In order to reach our production targets, we have to move up a gear.
- To go into overdrive: to be in a state of great activity or hard work (auf Hochtouren laufen) They went into overdrive to finish the project on time.
- To be asleep at the wheel: not paying attention (nicht aufpassen) Somebody must have been asleep at the wheel, otherwise they wouldnʼt have made this mistake. So much for today. Even absolute car enthusiasts might be happy now with so much car-related information and so many expressions. Letʼs see what kind of vehicle Lucy will end up with in the next issue. Stay tuned!