Tim Holden - electric cars, the verdict
The car industry faces many challenges, not least what to do when oil is no longer a viable fuel. For ages car manufacturers have been battling with one another by improving the car as we know it.
Fundamentally the car itself hasn't actually changed very much. That is not to say it hasn't improved considerably. But these enhancements have been as a result of improving the car's features: improved styling, handling, safety, engine efficiency, and ever increasing amounts of technological wizardry.
But as oil becomes harder and more expensive to get to the pump, car manufacturers have had to rethink how the car works. We are at a point now, when another new technology has arrived in the marketplace to face the ultimate challenge; will people buy it? The electric car.
The electric car actually launched in circa 1830, but it is not until now that it arrives in mass production form. By the end of 2012 there will be a choice of ten different fully electric cars from various manufacturers. These cars are a totally different proposition for all concerned.
As with a few other things in life, you will always remember the first time you drove electric!
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My 'modest' expectations were easily surpassed. First off, there's no noise! Secondly, no gearbox! Just point and steer, the battery and motor will do the rest. Surprisingly, the acceleration is fast, and owing to no gear changes, it just keeps accelerating uninterrupted to a respectable top speed. Wow! This is better than an ordinary combustion powered car. Of course, with the exception of one tiny detail: Once the battery is flat, you need to make other arrangements. The 100 mile'ish range is a limitation that returns us to the era of horse and cart; Norwich to Manchester and back in an electric car would be a 4 day round trip.
So, let's be clear; they aren't for everyone.
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However if like me you drive the same journey each day then the case for electric is more compelling: My 22 mile daily commute can easily be achieved with the air con on full, radio turned up etc. Personally, I won't miss the whole petrol station experience, especially the bill. I won't have to remember to buy road tax. I certainly won't miss the company car BIK tax.
It gets better: the government will give you a �5,000 grant to buy the car and allow you to offset 100pc of the cost against corporation tax. You will never need to replace the oil & filter, clutch, exhaust or spark plugs – They don't have them! Maintenance therefore is minimal. Eco warrior status is optional, the cars look normal. Only the sharp eyed will notice the absence of an exhaust pipe.
My verdict: Electric cars work best for either a two car family, who have a conventional car for longer journeys. Or a business that operates locally. The product is great but has one huge drawback. However, when judged in the context of how you actually use your car, people who enjoy driving, or people who enjoy saving money, or people enjoy saving the planet will all, I believe, be as pleasantly surprised as I was.