David Simpson 16th May 2018 5 Min Read
My perception of electric vehicles has changed greatly over the years. From quirky to cool. It has been a transformational journey.
In the early noughties, a quirky battery-powered vehicle – officially speaking, a quadricycle – launched onto UK streets. Made by Indian car company Reva. The car was toy-like small, had a battery that needed to be recharged every 48 miles, and a top speed of 50mph. The G-Whiz wasn’t the only electric vehicle on the road at the time. Alongside milk floats and golf carts, the Smart Fortwo EV was another micro vehicle sparking interest by running on electric.
Environmentally conscious celebrities such as Jonathan Ross and Robbie Williams may have been proud owners of the G-Whiz and electric Smart car in the early days but wider consumer uptake was poor. Limitations in speed and range as well as passenger capacity and, arguably, style, kept them out of the mainstream. Data revealed by cleangreencars.co.uk shows that 156 electric cars were sold in the UK from January to October 2008.
Ten years on sales of fully electric and plug-in hybrid cars are at record levels with over 46,522 vehicles sold in 2017. Government and industry campaign Go Ultra Low predicts the number of electric cars on our roads will climb substantially in 2018. “There are already more than 130,000 electric vehicles on UK roads, a figure that could pass 190,000 this year as new models come to market and consumers reap the cost-saving benefits of electric driving,” comments Poppy Welch, head of Go Ultra Low.
Take a look around our streets and note how the guise of the electric car has changed. From funny-looking city run-around to a stylish sports car and sleek saloon. High-end car maker Tesla has been leading the charge on that changing perception. Billionaire Elon Musk, who founded Tesla in 2003, set out to offer a serious challenge to the internal combustion engine and build a brand around electric. The arrival of the Tesla Roadster – a battery-powered sports car with a range of 200 miles. In 2008 signified a step-change in the design and engineering of electric vehicles. The one-time limited storage capacity of the electric car’s battery has now been ameliorated. Marry that improvement to head-turning looks. Auto-manufacturers are now producing cars for a tech-savvy, design-conscious market with a rising degree of environmental awareness. Over the last decade, manufacturers have been taking their electric vehicle visions off the drawing board and onto the road. Consumers are getting ever-more exciting instalments of impressive electric technologies.
As Nissan proved with the launch of its 100 miles per charge Leaf, fuel-efficient, clean-energy vehicles are not only the preserve of the rich and famous. Nissan’s £30,000 family car launched in the UK in 2011 as the country’s first mass-produced electric car. The Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Citroen C-Zero, sporting similar prices, were hot on its heels. A combination of better battery capacity at a lower cost and more widely available charging stations continues to bring the electric car within reach of more consumers. Many of today’s electric vehicles have similar pricing to their petrol counterparts as well as comparably smooth driving characteristics. They include the e-Golf from Volkswagen which can go 186 miles between charges. The Renault Zoe, which easily goes 160 miles on a fully charged battery. BMW’s i3, one of the lightest and efficient battery cars on sale in the UK. Boasts both incredibly responsive steering and acceleration and a top speed of 93 mph.
The rising profile of EVs at crucial auto events such as the Geneva Motor Show is helping the mainstream to get on board. Electric is how to make cars relevant to the 21st century from an environmental perspective. With increased pressure from regulatory bodies to cut air pollution, tax breaks are appearing across all automotive segments, helping manufacturers to stay competitive. Research by Bloomberg New Energy Finance last year points to further reductions ahead too “Tumbling battery prices mean that EVs will have lower lifetime costs, and will be cheaper to buy, than internal combustion engine (ICE) cars in most countries by 2025-29,” says the report.
Meanwhile, luxury EVs are building their own brands of exclusivity. Allure with a careful mix of timeless design aesthetic and technological innovation. Amid bold claims of a battery that takes just nine minutes to charge and a range of 400 miles. Acclaimed car designer Henrik Fisker unveiled long-range Tesla rival, the EMotion, last year. And, the new version of the Tesla Roadster – due for launch in 2020. With a price tag of $200,000 – has been described by company founder Elon Musk as ‘a hardcore smackdown to gasoline cars’. The car will have a top speed of 250 mph and do 630 miles between charges.
Formula One racing has always provided the cutting edge technological developments that road cars benefit from further down the line. It is interesting, then, to note seismic shifts on the racetrack as well on the street. Tesla and Fisker fan Leonardo di Caprio has taken his belief in electric up a notch with his involvement in the Formula E electric motor racing championship. Racing stalwarts including Audi, Mercedes and Porsche are throwing their weight behind Formula E too, signalling their race cars are going where their road cars want to be: electric.
A hands-on design engineer, David is responsible for driving the latest design, engineering and software developments. His experience ranges from hi-fi product design to the programme management of complex financial service software. When he’s not talking about firmware updates, tooling or road maps you’ll see him running in Hampstead Heath or ferrying his kids to school on his electric bicycle.