Electric cars are very popular in Oslo…

A Look At Life: Electric Cars

21st October 2011

Toasters… kettles… perhaps even air fresheners if you’re desperate – they’re the sort of modern items you plug in.

But not cars.

I know they’re saving the planet and I know they cost only 2p per mile to run – but (sorry, polar bears; sorry, bank manager) all the environmental guilt and financial inducements wouldn’t persuade me to buy an electric car.

And I’m not alone. According to recent government figures, plug-in vehicles have proved a massive turn off. Despite grants of £5,000 per vehicle to jump start this transport revolution, we are all resisting the temptation… quite probably because they cost a shocking amount – around £28,000, about a third more than gas guzzlers – and go about the same speed as your average turbo-charged milk float.

The G-Wiz (can’t you just imagine the meeting when some bright spark came up with that name?) has a top speed of 50mph and 17 horse power. Personally, I’d rather do my bit for conservation and have 17 horses for my family to ride around on than risk running out of charge half way to Sainsburys…

…because that’s what I still don’t understand. How do you recharge cars? Phones are bad enough, programmed always to run out half way through a vital conversation or after hanging on for 17 minutes waiting to speak to a Vodafone operator to discuss why your monthly payments are twice the size of the Greek national debt.

I’ve never seen any massive sockets at the side of the road. Are they cleverly camouflaged to blend into the pavement or hidden up trees or in waste bins or stuck on the side of petrol station walls?

Luckily The Guardian rectified my ignorance, thanks to an interview with Erik Fairbairn, chief executive of Pod Point, Britain’s fastest growing supplier of charging points, in which he announced with great excitement, “a delivery of up to 10,000 Pod Points for homes and 2,500 parking-meter style street charging units around the country this year.”

That’s an interesting business plan, considering that only 534 people have registered for the electric car grant.

Erik’s enthusiasm won’t be dimmed, though. He’s also developed an iPhone application to show people how to find their nearest recharging unit – fine as long as your phone hasn’t run out of charge too – and a booking service to make sure that all the electric cars don’t whizz up to the same plug at the same time.

Given the lack of uptake it seems strange that all the car companies have felt compelled to launch an electric model, the latest being the Nissan ‘Leaf’. The cynic in me would suggest it’s to tick the ‘ we care about the environment box’ in the corporate brochure – before revealing their next Chelsea Tractor with an engine guaranteed to melt the polar ice cap with every school run.

And, bizarrely, the Nissan ‘Leaf’ is being made in Sunderland. Great for British industry, but, as plug power is not good in cold temperatures, perhaps a factory in sunny Newquay may have been more practical.

Clearly, it would be wrong to totally cut-off any idea of electric cars in the future. Even the most hardened Clarkson lover (of which. if the tabloids are correct, there are many) must admit that pollution from cars can’t continue unchecked.

A ‘hybrid’ vehicle, powered by both conventional fuel and electric motors – seems an excellent compromise. Fill up with petrol for long cold journeys; plug in for a slow whizz on a summers day. This would alleviate our consciences but also mean we wouldn’t have to start the school run at 5am with a pocket full of spare batteries.

Alternatively, the Government could embark on a major advertising campaign to promote two of the most superbly designed transport alternatives: legs. Universally owned from birth, with no initial cost or storage issues, and guaranteed to start even on the coldest morning, fuelled only with three pints of strong black coffee and a bowl of Ready Brek.

That’s what I call a powerful step in the right direction…

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