Monday, 12 September 2011 9:26 AM
The automotive industry is making the transition to a world without oil already - this was very evident at EcoVelocity with plenty of hybrids and electric cars on show over the weekend at Battersea Power Station. As intoxicating as the roar of a V8 petrol engine is, the reality is that the oil is going to run out and governments around the world are looking for ways to reduce CO2 emissions.
EcoVelocity gave us a good idea of not only the car showrooms of the future but the showrooms that we have right now. When it comes to small, fully electric cars, there isn’t a whole lot that separates the Mitsubishi MiEV from the Citroen C-Zero from the Peugeot ion apart from a more comfortable back seat in the latter car. Both have similar exterior styling and feel much the same to drive so price or brand loyalty would probably be the main factors in choosing between these boxy little EVs.
The MiEV, as a point of difference has a B and C mode on the gearshifter along with the usual P, R, N and D. B is braking mode where energy is regenerated when you brake or ease off the accelerator - this is a sensible mode in stop-start traffic but feels jerky if you cruise along in this mode. C is the comfort mode which offers a smooth sensation and would make a long motorway drive less onerous (as long as you have enough charge for the long drive, but more on that later...).
A better looking electric car is the Nissan Leaf, proving that electric cars don’t need to stand out with odd boxy design and can just blend in with the other cars on the road. It’s comfortable, it plays a little tune as you start it up, it has an excellent reversing camera and instead of a gearshifter, it has a curious dial that lights up blue and jiggles into Drive or Reverse.
For a more substantial EV, it is hard to beat the Vauxhall Ampera - it has been launched with much fanfare by General Motors here and in the US and already won a few green car awards. It’s more luxurious than the small hatches and is comfortable and roomy.
Car manufacturers have often cited companies and local authorities as potential buyers of electric vehicles - an eco-friendly way to stock up fleets where mileage is short. I took the Renault Kangoo EV and the kooky Mia electric mini-van for a spin around the EcoVelocity track. Both were easy to drive although the Mia takes some getting used to. The driving position is in the centre, there is a separate switch to engage reverse and the two backseats offer loads of legroom with the passengers able to stretch their legs out on either side of the driver.
As with any electric car, the issue of range anxiety crops up. As yet, charging up and electric car is not as swift as filling a tank of petrol but a high-speed charge is becoming a standard feature with an 80% charge taking around 30 minutes. Infrastructure needs to catch up too - Boris Johnson has plans for 1,300 charging points for London but that’s not much use if you want to charge up your EV in Glasgow.
A solution offered by EDF is home charging stations which can be installed at a cost of £799 to external or internal walls. This is a neat solution that beats having to run an extension cord out the kitchen window. There is an installation partnership for buyers of the Citroen C-Zero and Peugeot ion with EDF currently being trialled. Customers who have the home charging station installed at home will also get a 20% discount on their evening and weekend electricity usage.
In the meantime, hybrids are proving to be an effective halfway measure between petrol and diesel engines and fully electric cars. The Toyota Prius has become a ubiquitous sight on British roads and the Japanese automaker is expanding the hybrid option to other models. I drove the hybrid Auris and it was very comfortable as well as being a practical hatchback for when the Yaris is just too small. I also drove the excellent Volkswagen Touareg hybrid - it’s a lovely ride and will probably prove popular at many a middle-class school gate.
The hydrogen fuel cell car is another option not to be ruled out - at EcoVelocity, Hyundai was driving people around the track in a prototype of the ix35 FCEV. It is powered by a 134bhp electric motor that gets charged up from hydrogen fuel cells. Hydrogen is pumped into the car via a filler cap and into a tank under the boot and the only emissions are composed of water vapour - it’s another sign that the Korean automaker has improved mightily and the higher stance, crossover style should appeal to eco-friendly families. Hyundai plans to put it into production in 2015.
While petrolheads may mourn the end of oil-burning engines and manual transmission purists will bemoan the end of the clutch pedal, we will all have to accept that we are now in a new era of motoring that’s cleaner and greener. The technology is moving at a rapid pace and like any new technology, the designs will become sharper, the prices will fall and one day, charging the electric car or filling up on hydrogen won’t be seen as “alternative”.
Mia electric mini-van
By Georgia Lewis
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