A weekly look at all that sucks in the car world, plus some good bits
Iceland has conventional tarmac roads, a three kilometer long toll tunnel too, but once you leave the capital of Reykjavik good roads become fewer and fewer until, planning to reach remote towns, farms and settlements, they are decidedly primitive. Merely driving from Reykjavik to Hofsjökull in the centre of Iceland, a journey of well over a hundred kilometers, necessitates travelling across recently bulldozed land on compacted soil.
Every so often you hit deep muddy water-filled pot holes as wide as the road, or large rocks dislodged into the track, or worse, a long section previously used by a JCB digger on caterpillar tracks that leaves the surface ribbed as a giant washboard. Tooth fillings and engine gaskets are prone to ruin.
Clearing the ground for vehicles was controversial in itself, some land owners profiting handsomely, but once the pristine earth and lava plains are brutally ‘civilised’ in the cause of progress – progress being increased tourism – the mark stays on them for decades no matter weather erosion and winds. A single imprint of a shoe will remain extant for a hundred years.
Much of the terrain looks like the moon but black. Drive or stomp all over it and the fragile eco-system is right royally screwed up. You, on the other hand, are probably cosily ensconced in your hired four-wheel driven SUV or jeep, marvelling at the panoramas around you.
Here is the rub: though there are any number of conventional saloons and hatchbacks driven around the capital, VW Golfs a favourite, if you want to surmount the volcanic terrain and mountain tracks anywhere, you own an SUV invariably propelled by a diesel engine. Toyota, Mitsubishi and Nissan rule.
Above 4×4’s and SUVs there are giant all-terrain vehicles, taking Japanese and American tourists from one site to another riding on 25 inch tyres. Diesel fuel and the vast wilderness terrain clash, diesel at odds with the clean air of a land at the top of the world, low air pollution and crystal clean water. With hundreds of kilometres between habitats diesel offers the best mileage per gallon.
Stop at any isolated petrol station (relatively speaking) and you find four pumps, two for petrol, two for diesel, sometimes a third for truck diesel. They function by bank card, choose the fuel, choose the pump, choose the amount in Króna and it fills the tank up to the amount chosen.
Hot geysers and hot water aplenty mean free facilities to wash the dust and mud off your car. However, with fuels imported, where does that leave Iceland’s green economy?
For decades Iceland has been decreasing its dependence on fossil fuels by tapping the natural power all around the rainy, windswept plains of fire and ice. Waterfalls, volcanoes, geysers and hot springs provide Icelanders with abundant electricity and hot water. They have been smart heating new roads geo-thermally ridding snow swiftly.
Virtually all of the country’s electricity and heating comes from domestic renewable energy sources — hydroelectric power and geothermal springs. It’s pollution-free and cheap. Yet Iceland’s energy pioneers are heavily dependent on imported oil to operate their vehicles and thriving fishing industry.
I tended to refill when the tank was half-empty, nervous of running low in the far-flung place I was visiting, no gas station for miles. I employed the same principle as hiking in Arizona’s dusty, scrub badlands, 110 in the shade; take enough water to reach your destination leaving enough to return – same for diesel.
Iceland’s geographic isolation in the North Atlantic makes car fuel expensive, half-tank removed £56 from my pocket but driving at speeds no more than 50 mph or less over uneven ground saw the needle stay static a long time.
In 2003, Reykjavik opened a hydrogen fueling station to test three hydrogen fuel cell buses. On my journey’s I encountered one Tesla electric car. Electric cars don’t yet have the capacity to travel from the south west – where the majority live – to the far north and back. Buses are shunned in preference for owning a car.
The weather can run the gamut of four seasons, including driving rain, all within a five mile stretch. Who wants to hang around at a bus stop in the freezing cold of a winter’s night? So far, only 39% of Reykjavik’s population agrees with banning diesel by 2030.
Inevitably, once you see how remote is a remote farm in rural Iceland it comes as no surprise exemptions are given for those areas where it would be hard if not impossible to use vehicles other than petrol or diesel fuelled. And ‘remote’ covers most of Iceland.
Iceland has a problem finding how best to shake off its reliance on diesel.
GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS
Amazon buys electric vans
Internet shopping giant Amazon has given another boost to EV start-up company Rivian (Amazon owns £350 million worth of shares in Rivian) by placing an order with the company for 100,000 electric delivery vehicles. Yes, 100,000. That’s the power of international conglomerates who pay little tax. I wonder if Amazon indents for the £3,000 government grant for each vehicle? The fledgling manufacturer also plans to produce go-anywhere 4×4 electric vehicles – Iceland take note. Amazon says that the first Rivan-built vans will go into service in 2021, with the plan to have 10,000 on the road by 2022 and all 100,000 in operation by 2030.
Protect your cat
An explosion in thefts of catalytic converters from hybrid cars has left hundreds of owners of the vehicles unable to drive them because of a shortage of replacement parts. Criminal gangs – well, if they’re thieves they must be ‘criminal’ – target easily identifiable models such as the Toyota Prius and Lexus 400h, because hybrids contain more precious metals than other vehicles. Toyota said it had experienced a 2,000% increase in demand for parts as a result of the crime wave. London and Essex are hit the worst. While theft of emission-controlling devices is a nationwide problem, so far it is particularly acute in London and south-east England.
Car nut events
A reader asked that I list monthly car meetings and related events. I’ve never been one to participate in any, never had that sort of enthusiasm; been to a few to spend a lazy, hazy afternoon looking at old cars, and saw a caravan of 1930’s British cars on my Icelandic trip, Jaguar XK120’s and Porsche, including a battered old Sunbeam Rapier going around the twisty coast roads. I’ll do my best to alert folk to the main ones in Scotland. England holds the best events, such as the Malvern Festival of Transport where everybody with an classic car or a veteran car meet in the local farmers field and churn up the grass. In Scotland in October: Knockhill is the race track to take a spin in your own car – the place is badly underdeveloped, starved of cash, too windy to be a spectator. Dunfermline’s Vintage Bus Museum has a VW Beetle event 4th to 6th October, and Edinburgh’s Napier University holds its annual Electric Vehicle event on the 9th October. If you like rough and tumble crashes Cowdenbeath has its stock car racing on the 26th at the Cowdenbeath Racewall. Readers are welcome to send in local events they’ve arrange and I’ll advertise them.