Monday, July 11, 2011

Will electric cars ever take over our roads?

The debate continues whilst the technology gets better.....and now the Mini is giving it a good shot:

Leo Hickman test drives the Mini E.
Leo Hickman test drives the Mini E. Photograph: Martin Godwin
On 6 July last year, the US Patents and Trademark Office in Virginia received an application from General Motors to trademark the term "range anxiety". With just a few months to go before GM was set to launch its much-anticipated Chevy Volt – a plug-in hybrid, which would go on to earn the title of "most fuel-efficient compact car in the US" – the company's marketing team was on the offensive. It knew that prospective buyers would need to be convinced early on that the Volt would not have a limited range, as has proved the case with standard electric cars. "It's something we call 'range anxiety' – and it's real," explained Joel Ewanick, GM's head of marketing, when quizzed about the trademark application by car gossip website "We're going to position this as a car first and electric second . . . People do not want to be stranded on the way home from work."

"Range anxiety" is very much on my own mind as I traverse the M40 between London and Oxford at 70mph in a prototype all-electric Mini E lent to me for the morning by BMW, the company currently conducting the world's most comprehensive trial aimed at gathering data on what it will take to convince people to ditch the internal combustion engine and go electric. (Yes, the same BMW that sells around 1.5m internal combustion engines globally each year.) As I look down at the gauge showing me that the car has less than 50% charge left, I have to keep reminding myself that the engineer who showed me round the car at Mini's Mayfair showroom said the car's 100-mile range at full charge would "easily" get me the 55 miles to BMW's Cowley plant just outside Oxford – with or without the air-con on full blast.

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