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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

The air bag: Fuel-saving game en route to the Middle East?

Recently, I moved to Britain after six years living in the UAE. To say that the cost of fuel has been a shock would be an understatement.
Petrol in the UAE is cheaper than in Britain. Sarah Dea/ The National
Petrol in the UAE is cheaper than in Britain. Sarah Dea/ The National

Recently, I moved to Britain after six years living in the UAE. To say that the cost of fuel has been a shock would be an understatement. In Dubai, filling my Volkswagen Golf GTI cost... well, I don’t know, as I never really looked. I’d hazard a guess at about Dh100. In Britain, my Renaultsport Clio 172 Cup drinks up the equivalent of Dh325 every time. And it’s a pretty frugal car.

The expenditure mounts up. When it comes to cost, the UAE is a great place in which to drive, not just because of the cheap fuel, but because of the nature of the cities – everything is close by, so it’s rare that any journey within a city takes more than half an hour. Dear old England has everything spaced out around the country, so a drive to a meeting that in Abu Dhabi might be on the other side of town is now a dreary three-hour slog. Consequently, my wallet is taking a battering at the pumps. I need to stem the flow of cash.

One of the reasons fuel is so expensive outside of the Middle East is that governments are slapping high taxes on it, as societies pressure their leaders to slow the dwindling of fossil fuels. This not only ensures that the public thinks more about consumption, but also prompts manufacturers to make cars more fuel-efficient.

Before I bought my Clio, I had a succession of hire cars, among them a Chevrolet Volt – a petrol-­electric hybrid born from the desire to save fuel. Partly to inform its driver and partly, I suspect, to show off its novel technology, the Volt comes with a series of clever displays on its central screen. They show where the power flows from and to, depending on your driving style. You can see whether thrust is delivered from the engine or the electric motor; when the battery recharges during coasting or braking. And do you know what? It’s actually interesting, much like playing a video game. It made what would normally be a dull journey fun, as I tried to better my previous “scores”, with the added bonus that the better I did, the less money I spent.

Saving fuel during the boring bits of motoring is currency. My Renault is 11 years old, so it doesn’t have as sophisticated a system as that of the Volt. But it does have an average fuel display on the dash, and I now monitor it constantly. My thinking is thus: if I can get close to 6L / 100km while pondering down congested motorways and through towns, I feel far less guilty – both ethically and financially – about revving the needle off the Clio when the right road and circumstances present themselves. A day of careful throttle use means I can legitimately spend half an hour battering through back roads. In many ways, it makes the times where I can really burn through that valuable fuel much more precious than if I were blatting around all the time with the throttle nailed into the carpet.

To all the indignant petrolheads: I want V12s forever as well, but it ain’t gonna happen. Much as I want climate change and peak oil to be a hoax, it’s hard to argue with 99 per cent of the world’s scientists. Even if they’re wrong, too many people are convinced. Car manufacturers are global companies, and they’ll follow the wishes of the majority of customers.

Increased awareness of fuel efficiency is therefore coming to the Middle East. Residents might not be tempted to save fuel by the goodness of their hearts, and it’s unclear whether governments will force them to do so, by hitting their wallets. But whatever happens, the need to save fuel is pretty much undeniable; perhaps if we can have fun doing it, the Middle East might start taking heed.

weekend@thenational.ae

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