Driving Down Electric Avenue at EcoVelocity

last Sunday I went to EcoVelocity again, this is the event’s second year in existence. It moved to ExCel and coincided with Grand Designs. (I think that Grand Designs was a terrible spectacle of tat, but that’s another blog at another time). This did mean that visitors to one were able to go to the other so it must have drawn a reasonable crowd to the show. I went there to check up on the progress of electric vehicles (EV’s) in the Uk market and to test drive one on a public road for the first time. I am no motoring journalist, nor am I a petrolhead, but I wanted to see whether an EV can appeal to a fairly infrequent and somewhat unwilling motorist. After all, who wants to drive around London, no matter what kind of car they own?

I test drove the Nissan Leaf. This is one of the few full EV’s available in the UK currently. It has a range of around 100miles on a full charge, and it has two charging connectors, one overnight and one for a high-powered boost. The second type is likely to be used a filling stations to give an 80% battery charge in around 20mins. Recent news said that most of the EV manufacturers have agreed a specification for the charging technology they will use to prevent a standards clash to worry motorists who buy an EV.

The car itself looks a bit futuristic, but not very, it is a four door saloon, perfectly roomy with space for two adults in the back. Apart from the diffrent engine under the bonnet it is a pretty straightforward car inside.  The dashboard has lots of lovely gadgets with LED’s that illuminate to show battery charge, distance left in the battery under current driving conditions, and how well the battery can be recharged. This last one is a significant issue for EV manufacturers as batteries lose their ability to be recharged after being recharged many times. The LEAF has an indicator to keep you up to date with the condition of your battery. Some manufacturers have taken the step of leasing the battery to the client and then replacing it every few years as its charging capacity diminishes. Nissan have chosen not to as it may not be the most cost effective approach. Its a bit of a ‘wait-and-see’.

When it comes to driving the car, everything gets a bit different. When the ignition button is pressed and the brake lifted, the car inches forward, the accelerator works just as it ought to and the ride is very smooth. What is uncanny is the almost total lack of noise. We are talking as we go , my co-pilot is explaining the car features in detail as we drive, and I can just about hear the other traffic. But of the engine, there is no sound. Only when we accelerate up to 40 does a whine become perceptible. There is no engine rumble, nor are there any jerks or spurts of speed due to my usual poor gear shifting, accelerator or braking. The drive is extraordinarily smooth.  My left foot is unnecessary, as there is no clutching to be done, so it sits idly in the footwell, twitching occasionally when we slow down or speed up. The engine recharges the battery when it slows down so there is less need to brake, the car perceptibly slows when the accelerator is lifted. There are two modes for this, a high performance mode that recharges less and a lower performance mode that recharges more.

Reversing was very easy, the Leaf is equipped with a rearview screen that shows you what is behind the car, but also shows the tracking of the car using the current wheel positions, so you can tell where you are going to end up as well as where you are going. I can think of a few people who will find that really handy, but I am not going to say who they are.

To calm nerves of those who worry about running out of charge, the satnav has a recharging station finder built into it. It tells you where they all are, and what type of chargers are available, and even what they will cost to use.  A nifty addition that will make many drivers lives easier until charging stations become the normal thing to see rather than a rarity. There are two being added to London’s streets every day, I was assured. The TFl website tells me that there will be 1300 charging points in London in 2013, which is more than the number of petrol stations.

When you think about it, it is a lot easier to add an EV charging station than a filling station, there is no need for a garage shop, underground tanks or air pumps, just a pole on the pavement beside a short stay parking zone, and the job is done.

Would I buy one? Yes. Do I need one?, not just yet. So I will wait a while. But it seems almost a certainty that my next vehicle is going to be an EV.

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