Waiting for the electric cars

We are told that electric cars will be commonplace in only a few years’ time.  Trouble is, I’ve heard this so many times before that I’m not really convinced.

When it comes to predictions about future traffic and car use, there have been plenty that have proved well clear of the mark.  If you go back far enough to early post-war Britain there were predictions that we’d all be using personal helicopters within the next ten years, a prediction that justified the then government in not spending large amounts on the country’s road infrastructure, a decision we’re still living with today.

Charging point in a local car park

But maybe things are changing this time.  In two local public car parks in Buckinghamshire, charge points made by Charge Master have just recently appeared and have been connected to the mains electricity supply.  They proudly boast two rows of pretty blue LEDs shining brightly to show they are ready for action.  Except there’s no cars to use them, yet.

These charging points have been installed under the government’s “Plugged in Places” scheme, although the DfT website only mentions London, Milton Keynes and the North East as part of this scheme, apparently forgetting they have also lobbed some money at Bucks.

After a bit if digging I found one mention about the installation of electric car charging points in local railway station car parks, and in some public car parks, so made enquiries of he local council’s engineering department.  Apparently the points have not been “commissioned” yet, and may be “later this year”.  My guess is that the simple bit, of installing the points themselves, has been done, but that the hard bit of working out the business model and implementing the payment infrastructure is yet to be done.

So where are the cars, and how good are they?  The BBC did a feature on their technology website in January where Brian Milligan attempted to drive (in stages) from London to Edinburgh in an electric Mini.  He found the range of the car lacking such that he had real difficulty reaching the next public charging point before the car ran out of juice.  He was forced to turn off all unnecessary equipment (like the heater, in January) and sit in his thermal underwear in freezing conditions, just to make it to the next charge point.  His attempt took a knocking from fans of electric cars (including Tesla, manufacturer of the high performance sports car) who pointed out the Mini was not a production car, and that real production vehicles would be far better than that.

Several car makers are now racing to get a viable car to market, but the models are still

The Nissan Leaf electric car

very expensive, and long range lacking.  At The O2 recently, Nissan had a display of their technology, and the Leaf electric car.  It’s a fine looking car, but with a price tag (even with the government incentive payment) of £25k, and a range of “a little over 100 miles” before it needs charging, I don’t think I’m likely to go electric any time soon.  Maybe when Ford brings out its electric Focus it will be time to look again.

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