By Eddie Cunningham
You could feel the change this year. Concepts, ideas, gradual improvements on last year and beyond have galvanised. Cars I had given up on suddenly made a surge and there they were, nearly ready for the market.

This year's annual eco summit – my shorthand for the Challenege Bibendum run by Michelin – took place in Berlin at the historic Tempel hof airport.

There were 280 'future' vehicles on display and what it lacked in razzmatazz it more than made up for in practicality.

I have been invited to participate in this event for years now and this represented perhaps the biggest step forward in terms of what has been done rather than what they would like to do.

The event is a coming together of future technologies and expertise – from tyres that self-heal (a brilliant concept from Michelin) to a Mercedes A-Class with a hydrogen fuel cell that is so close to being a reality.

I drove it and could only remark on how much of an advance it represented. Last time we gave up in despair after pushing it farther than driving it.

Already up and running were the likes of the Toyota Auris hybrid.

There was also an hybrid electric Porsche Panamera, an electric Boxster – yes they have all gone mad on the old electrics. Not to mention the array of Volvo electrics.

Great fun and a sense of really stepping into the future with a degree of confidence lacking over the past couple or three years.

More immediately upon us will be the the Peugeot hybrid diesel. This is first production hybrid diesel on the market. It will be launched in Europe in October this year in the 3008 and next year in the 508.

I spoke at length with them about it. There will be a premium of course but I am assured it will be no more than that of a petrol hybrid.

You are talking four-wheel-drive here (because they are putting an electric motor on the rear axle) and 99g/km and consumption of 3.8 l/100km. What’s more, the French government is giving a €2000 (R19 600) subsidy to make this more affordable and attractive.

Continuing the thread of realism running through the event was the proliferation of bicycles, electric, assisted and even – would you believe – a fuel-cell one.

I still love the Michelin idea of a 'motor within a wheel' to propel a vehicle. This is pushing on apace. It makes a lot of sense.

Admittedly, there was nothing to take your breath away but that is what I think is most hopeful from this. It was pegged in reality, an almost tangible urgency to get stuff out there so emissions could come down even more.

However, some historical obstacles remain. Hydrogen cars that can travel 400km between refills are brilliant. But where do you get the hydrogen?

In Berlin there are a few outlets. And it costs between €4 and €8 (R39 and R78) a kilogram (which gets you 100km and that is not bad).

The debate arose as we drove around in the excellent Audi Q5 Hydrogen Fuel Cell motor, which has a range of 250km, though they have managed 400km.

Berlin will be remembered for the most confident step along the road to greater practical diversity in how we get around. -Irish Independent

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