Matters of moment, February 1985

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

A Midge Too Far?

It is no secret that Sir Clive Sinclair has been planning to try to revolutionise motoring with electric vehicles; indeed, a recent advertisement placed by Sinclair Vehicles Ltd states “by the early 1990s, Sinclair will have on the roads a range of fast, quiet, astonishingly economical family vehicles”. SVL’s first effort, the C5, has already been launched and if Sinclair’s version of initial sales response is to be believed, it is quite possible that the company will achieve its target of selling over 100,000 vehicles during 1985.

Why is Motor Sport concerned about the launch of a 15 mph “electrically-assisted pedal tricycle”? The answer is simple: as motorists we could be in the position of sharing our already congested road system with up to a quarter of a million C5s by the end of next year. This figure is in addition to existing, and future, bicycles and mopeds for it is clear that the C5 aims to create an entirely new market. The prospect of vast numbers of tiny, slow, vulnerable machines on the roads does not excite us.

The C5 itself is a very clever design, although it does not break new ground in technology. Driving one on an indoor track and on private roads around Alexandra Palace, we found it comfortable and stable with good brakes, handling and steering. Under those conditions it was fun to drive. In many ways it seems to be safer than the average bicycle; the polypropylene bodyshell gives some user-protection and, should a C5 hit a pedestrian, the shell presents a fairly large area of soft, flexible, material to soften the impact. We liked the way the C5 comes only in white with good lighting and reflective strips as standard. We would not, however, have even considered taking one on public roads without wing mirrors, a horn or a large reflector on a mast standing proud of the user’s head, and these are optional extras, not required by law, over and above the base price of £399.

We feel this little machine would be wonderful for getting around motor racing paddocks, factories, holiday camps, even large hospitals, but the thought of huge numbers on the public highway appals us. SVL claims that the user’s eyeline is the same as that of a driver of a Mini. We’ll go further, it’s higher than that of a Caterham Seven, but Caterham Sevens are not driven by uninsured 14-years-olds or those who cannot pass a driving test. The Caterham Seven also is intrinsically safe because of its outstanding handling, brakes and acceleration and the driver also has to have a horn, mirrors and insurance.

At the launch, a colleague on another magazine startled a cabbie by driving silently up alongside and starting a conversation. He was below the level of the taxi’s side window. Motor Sport’s Deputy Editor, who is 5 ft 9 in, was able to drive beneath the parked trailer of an articulated lorry with a good six inches to spare. No further comment is needed.

Many of the criticisms levelled against the C5 also apply to bicycles. A 14-year-old can ride a bicycle without insurance, mirrors, helmet etc and we re-emphasise that SVL has taken every possible step to make the C5 safe and we think that, in some respects, it is safer than a bicycle. We also feel that some points of criticism levelled against the C5 have been unfair. The four things which concern us are the C5’s size, it speed, the projected numbers using the roads and the attitude of those using them.

At the launch, Sir Clive Sinclair said that users must regard the C5 as a bicycle not a car. On television that night, Stirling Moss made the same point. Most cyclists above the age of 14 ride sensibly for they are aware of their vulnerability. On the whole, it is the motorist who is insensitive to the cyclist, not the other way round.

The C5 is officially a pedal tricycle, not a car. To be precise, it is an “electrically-assisted pedal tricycle”. It is odd, then, that in the brochure, in the advertisement which has appeared in the national press and in the first edition of the official magazine “C5 Driver” (“driver”, note, not “rider” or “user”) there is not a single illustration of anyone using the pedals. In a majority of illustrations, the pedals are invisible and in most of the remaining illustrations they are the reference to is “If you ever do run out of power, the C5’s pedals get you home.” SVL has designed a vehicle to meet a change in the law and then seems to have ignored the legal definition in its marketing.

In “C5 Driver”, the machine is described as “the perfect alternative to the second car”. In the advertisement we see the C5 described as an “electric vehicle for personal transport”. We may have missed it, but could not find the phrase “electrically-assisted pedal tricycle” in the advertisement, the brochure or magazine. The phrase does, however, appear twice in the press pack, in relation to the 1983 regulations which allow the C5 to be driven on the roads by those of 14 years and upwards without a licence, insurance, helmet etc. We have no reason to suppose that the press pack is widely distributed.

Although the company is careful only to describe the C5 in terms such as “electric vehicle” (not, note, “electrically-assisted“) and “practical personal transport — powered by electricity”, the selling pitch seems to be designed to make the buyer associate it with cars rather than cycles. Yet, to be safe on the roads, the user most think of himself as having the vulnerability of a cyclist and not the relative protection of a motorist.

We believe that SVL should, without delay, shift the emphasis of the way in which it is presenting its electrically-assisted pedal tricycle, and call it that in its advertisements. SVL should not encourage members of the “C5 Teensters”, a users’ club for 14/19-years-olds, to think of themselves as “drivers”.

We note, without comment, that for reasons of industrial security, no pre-launch C5 had been driven on public roads in day time. We most allow ourselves the obervation, however, that the first user to try to circumnavigate Hyde Park Corner in the rush hour could be a 14-year-old without a driving licence, helmet or insurance. The fact that a 14-year-old may use one on the roads without licence, tax, insurance or marketing material.

We hope never to encounter a C5 on the public highway but, given the tone of the marketing material and the excellence of the marketing package, we fear it is a vain hope. The thought of perhaps 100,000 C5s by the end of the year horrifies us. The level of thought which has gone into designing, producing the marketing the product is of a very high order, but we feel it is talent used misguidedly.

In short, we hope the Sinclair C5 fails to achieve its maker’s hopes, except as a fun or convenience vehicle away from our already congested roads. If Sinclair Vehicles, in the future, makes the breakthrough to produce a practical, fast, pollution-free city car, Motor Sport will be the first to applaud. As it is, we say “thanks, but no thanks”.

Related articles

Related products