Static Charge

2010 Nissan Leaf

Government’s lukewarm support for electric vehicles has the potential to slow buyer adoption and innovation

If you can believe the hype surrounding the current and forthcoming crop of electric vehicles, it’s cars like Nissan’s Leaf that will help save us from our transportation woes.

Certainly, terrific efforts have been made to promote the benefits of electric cars. Whether you subscribe to the notion that they really are ‘zero emissions’ is a topic worthy of a separate discussion. Until large-scale power generation moves away from non-renewable sources there’s still the (dirty) elephant in the room that is the coal, oil or gas-fired power station.

How far you can drive on a charge is an issue that’s generated far more interest from both consumers and the media. This so-called ‘range anxiety’ is a genuine issue for anyone serious about embracing the technology. Let’s face it, if you can only travel a short distance in your futuristic new car without constantly staring at the power meter, ditching your diesel hatchback is hardly progress.

For many, this is the limiting factor. It’s not all bad, however, as there are number of schemes around the country engaged in installing charging points in public places – shopping centres, car parks, kerbside – to allay fears and boost demand for the vehicles. Obviously this all costs money, but if it means that you can extend your range without worrying it’s got to be a good thing.

Sadly our esteemed leaders don’t share this view. The recent announcement that a nationwide charging network won’t be pursued has no doubt dealt a blow to the proponents of electric vehicles. And the official view? Home charging points are the best option, apparently. Which means you’ll need a ‘proper’ car for long journeys or to empty your wallet into the coffers of our less than perfect train companies.

So it’s good luck if your daily commute is around 25 miles one-way. Factor in traffic, motorway speeds or cold weather (guaranteed to dent a battery’s performance) because you can forget the optimistic manufacturer guidelines – and you’re going to be feeling anxious on your trip home.

Of course, your employer might have a charging point in the car park. Don’t expect it to get much or any money from central government, though. And don’t assume no one else will park in that coveted space either. Need to make a long distance journey to see a client? You’ll be borrowing the company’s pool diesel car, which makes a mockery of the situation.

Despite all the government’s hot air – shame you can’t bottle that – on the subject, it’s decided not to go the extra mile and support a potentially worthwhile form of personal transportation. According to those in Westminster we’re supposed to charge cars at home and cross our fingers during the day. When the alternative – 70mpg diesels – is cheaper to buy, more versatile, relies on an existing refueling infrastructure and can be the sole car on your drive, why should I pay more for something that struggles to hit 100 miles per charge and won’t do a 200 mile round trip in an afternoon?

I’m no cheerleader for electric cars as, to date, the products lack the versatility and value for money of the conventional alternatives, but they do show potential. Yet when presented with an opportunity to support a viable technology that could help solve some of our transport issues, our lawmakers show a predictable lack of vision.

Genuine demand will only exist if a well-funded and comprehensive infrastructure is in place. Until then, electric cars are likely to remain a novelty in the eyes of consumers.

By Iain Dooley

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