Electric Cars: The future or a stepping stone?

Photo credit: Tom Raftery

Photo credit: Tom Raftery

I was undertaking my daily dawdle to campus the other day for a 9:15, when I damn nearly knocked over by a car which I hadn’t heard. “Tough morning”, I hear you sigh.

However, the motor in question was Nissan’s all-electric motor, the Leaf. It got me thinking. Electric cars; are they actually the future?

Well the first thing we must ask is what is different to a normal car? Most electric cars look fairly normal, that much is clear. The Leaf looks as plain as any ordinary hatchback and the Peugeot iOn looks like a Honda Jazz with hair gel. Indeed, all electric cars have four wheels, some doors, storage facilities, a circular device to control direction, an indicator which tells the driver how fast one is going and more. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Moreover, those who have owned cars such as the G-Whiz are forever telling us mere mortals about how electric cars are just as easy to live with as, for example, a VW Golf.

However, I’m not so sure. Let me start with the G-Whiz. Apologies for going all “Clarkson” here, but it is a truly hateful machine. Firstly, it looks like a sad dog, and frankly no one likes that. Secondly, as it doesn’t have to pass the same safety regulations as a normal car, I would be concerned for my life if someone came within 5 metres of me.

Fortunately the likes of Nissan, Peugeot and Tesla have all tried to get round this image. Nevertheless, I’m still not convinced. Nissan’s leaf costs a whopping £28,000 (minus the £5,000 government grant), and the Peugeot even more. Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV does cost five grand less than the Nissan, but the electric car still doesn’t convince.

Perhaps it’s something to do with the idea of owning one. All the cars I’ve mentioned take overnight to charge fully, something which would infuriate even the calmest of sloths. Moreover, you would be hard pressed to drive further than 100 miles on one charge. You really would have to change your lifestyle to own one of these.

These cars do deserve recognition however. Emissions-wise, they go infinitely further than the hybrids we’ve seen from Toyota, Honda and (bizarrely) Porsche over the last few years, which have developed into status symbols rather than pioneering, environmentally friendly motors.

They should be seen as the stepping stone to something better. That something I don’t know, because I’m not a damn engineer. If I was, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing about cars, I’d be building them, earning lots of money, looking suave… alas, I digress.

Honda, I think had the answer with their FCX Clarity: a car powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. If they, and other companies, can harness and perfect this technology, then we will have our answer. Until then, I’m afraid, it is petrol and the continual irritation of George Monbiot. Could be worse I suppose.

5 comments

  1. couldn’t agree more!!!!!! Battery’s still need energy to charge up so you haven’t solved any problem as more power stations would need to be built to meet the demand. Hydrogen is the way forward.

    You have a career on topgear ahead of you sam

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  2. I have to disagree. Maybe EVs aren’t for everyone, but I’ve been driving an EV for over 9 years (102,000 miles) and powering it with kWh I generate from the sunlight falling on my roof. My electric bill averages about $100 per year for both my house and car. I haven’t been to a gas station since 2002, nor has any of my money gone to support the oil companies and their ilk.

    My EVs, first a Toyota RAV4 EV and now a Nissan LEAF, have been virtually problem-free. They always work perfectly and virtually never need maintenance. I can get better than 100 miles on a charge which is plenty for all the driving I need to do. On some occasions, I need to go further, but there are charging stations all over the place here in Southern California now, so I just charge along the way. The LEAF can charge from 0-80% in 25 minutes on a Level 3 fast charger, so waiting isn’t a big deal.

    I think once you try one of these cars out, you’ll be convinced. If it’s still not for you, you should hope others buy them since, for every petrol-burner replaced with an EV, your air will be cleaner, your economy stronger and your nation safer.

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  3. Paul Scott makes some valid points. However, whilst electric cars may work in one of America’s most environmentally advanced areas, over in Britain, unless you live close to a charging point (which I highly doubt the majority of car owners do) it is just not viable at present.

    I point to an episode of Top Gear where they drove electric cars on a general journey, and they could not find a charging point in one of Britain’s most culturally aware cities.

    Until more charging points are made available (and I doubt this will occur with the current spending reductions), owning an electric car just can’t work for the majority of Brits.

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  4. Britain has many, many charging stations. DC fast charge stations at that. I, like Paul Scott, live in California. There is one DC fast charger in operation for all of California. Britain has numerous 25 minute fast chargers in operation now. Unless you own an EV, you wouldn’t need to know where the charging stations are, but take a look at one of the many EV charger maps available, I think that it would surprise you.

    Personally, I would not purchase a hydrogen vehicle after owning an electric. Convenience is the main reason, I have fuel for my EV in my house, no need for trips to special stations unless I am on an extended journey. Hydrogen is produced with electricity. Why not just use the electricity to power the car instead of using it to isolate hydrogen, then pump it into a car so that the car converts it to electricity to propel the car?

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  5. Being a car engineer you would not make a lot of money. Building cars these days is not a money making job.

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