Electric cars in the countryside


It is fair to say that electric car sales are not what their creators had hoped for. Renault in particular threw its full weight behind these so-called zero-emissions cars (the claim of course is a nonsense – they all have emissions generated at power stations. It’s like saying you’re broke because your money’s in the bank), and so far the gamble has not paid off.

There has been much trumpeting about sales having doubled in 2012 which overlooks two points: first, most of the increase comes from the addition of hybrid plug-in models like the Vauxhall Ampera which are perfectly happy to run on petrol; secondly, even if you include the hybrids, electric and plug-in sales still account for just 0.1 per cent of the car market.

The exception is the Renault Twizy. An exception because Renault says it’s actually selling in line with expectations and, more particularly, because it’s not actually a car but a licensed quadricycle.

But I think I’ve found a whole new use for the car. Clearly intended as an urban runabout, the fine theory of this allegedly emissions free and certainly congestion charge free runabout that can park near enough anywhere is stymied by the fact that the charging infrastructure required to make it make sense simply doesn’t exist. It is therefore being bought by small numbers of extremely wealthy individuals with off-street parking. In a normal terraced street who’d be stupid enough to drag a cable across a pavement even if you could find a space outside your own house or presumably basement or ground floor flat?

But here in the country, everyone has off-street parking. I’ve had a Twizy here for the best part of a week and have so far felt no need to drive anything else. True, I’ve not been called away on any long trips and yes, the family does need alternative transport so it would rarely make sense as an only car, but as an alternative to the usual second car – a dilapidated old nail that costs a fortune to struggle through its MOT every year – it makes great sense out here. You can bomb down the lanes at speeds you’d not think about in a conventional car because it’s barely any wider than a large motorbike, be guaranteed a parking space on any high street and, significantly, never have to go to a fuel station to fill it up. My nearest petrol pump is a 14 mile round trip away.

I think I’ve already inadvertently sold two, one to a retired gentleman who works as a volunteer in a local shop and a second to his mate. They were not bothered at all by its lack of heater or weather protection – though you’ll only get a little wet in driving rain – and loved the idea of next to nothing running costs, its ease of use and the fact it makes almost no noise at all.

None of this means that electric cars in general or even Twizys in particular are going to be either the transport of the future nor even the next must-have fashion accessory. In cool temperatures I reckon the Twizy has a practical range of 40 miles if you’re not on its 50mph speed limiter all the time. If it’s dark and you’re using the unexpectedly excellent headlights, you can take 10 miles off that. The car (if I can call it that) remains too narrowly defined to enjoy the wide-ranging appeal its makers would like and until the breakthrough in battery technology arrives, nothing is going to change that.

The only point I do seek to make is that having lived with one for a few days in an environment for which it was never intended I think there is a small but significant potential for sales in the country that remains entirely untapped. And with electric car sales being what they are at present, that has to be good news.

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