I’m sure the EU's plan to force carmakers to use 'greener' gasses in air-con systems is very laudable, but there’s a bigger question lurking behind it: is air-con as important as we seem to think it is?
Until recently I tended to regard an onboard chiller in much the same way I considered ABS and central locking – a self-evidently good idea that no modern car was truly complete without. Indeed, the lack of working air-con was practically a deal-breaker when it came to purchasing the 15-year old Mercedes E-Class that I ran last year.
But despite the autumnal sun of the Merc’s Indian summer, I didn’t miss air-con once thanks to the simple expedient of opening all the windows when it got too warm. On all except the hottest days in the UK our ambient air temperature actually feels pretty cool when flowing over you at speed.
Anyway, one of this year’s driving resolutions was to see just how late I could leave energizing the air-con on anything I was driving – and with a third of the year gone, I haven’t felt the need yet. My resolution might well slip if we get anything approaching a proper summer – there can be few nicer feelings than the first blast of chill from the vents of a car that’s been parked in the sun for a few hours. But the cost of that is a 10- 15 per cent dent in the fuel economy, extra weight and about £500 on the list price, all for a system that we actually ‘need’ for maybe a couple of weeks a year.
In the green, lightweight future don’t be too surprised if small, cheap cars start to spurn an air-con compressor in the interests of better CO2 figures and lower tax bands.
And in the meantime, I’ve got a suggestion to the EU that would see an immediate fall in CO2 emissions: stipulate that all automotive air-con systems should default to ‘off’ rather than ‘on’, because if you’re too hot how difficult is it to reach for the button with the snowflake on it?