I bought a Toyota Prius back in 2003 when hybrids were still an experiment, and it’s been a great car (it’s still in the family and has done 200,000 as is still going strong).
A couple of weeks ago I took delivery of a fully electric Renault Zoe on trial, to support a campaign called Go Ultra Low. Its aim is quite simply to encourage people to think about whether an ultra low emission vehicle could benefit their lifestyle.
I was happy to find out.
We spend part of the week in London and part in West Sussex. When in London we don’t use a car, and have shied away from buying a fully electric car for our house in West Sussex because of the distances we drive from there to visit family or ferry our youngest son to sports matches. The early fully electric cars had a too limited mileage between charges and were limited in size / boot space to make it work for us.
The Zoe, though, has the proportions of a standard car and we can get about 80 miles between charge, which just about does the job for what we need. You can get the range between charges up to around 100 miles if you drive carefully (the on-board computer helps you see how careful you are being) and an “eco” button which limits you to a max speed of 60 mph helps you to edge the range up further. The challenge of increasing the range by developing good habits, like driving slower and accelerating more mildly, is satisfying and definitely encourages this driver to be safer and more considerate.
Driving a whole journey in a silent car, then coming home and simply attaching the special charging unit from the wall next to our front door and hearing the charge “kick in” does all feel rather modern, and you certainly know that you are doing your bit for the environment; low emissions and energy consumption.
My gut feeling is that if “ultra low “ is going to cross over to the mass market then the cars must fit in with modern cars and not stand out as being too different. The Zoe gets this just about right. The dashboard is nice and minimal, the on-board computer does what you want it do (filming behind the car as you reverse, syncing easily with your phone, helping you to conserve battery power etc). There are nice little streamlining touches to minimise air flow such as the concealed door handles and the overall styling allows it to blend in.
The thing that does feel like “the future” here and now, for someone who thrift is a lifestyle, is the cost of a full charge: £3 to do 80 to 100 miles. Now that is exciting and saves a fair amount of cash. Add to that 4 years of servicing for less than £300, and no road tax to pay (and no Congestion Charge if they are used in London) and it does feel rather good.
Naturally, you have to plan ahead as to where charge points are and wait 30 minutes or so to be “boosted”. Roll on the day when every fuel station has rapid charge points! The days of rapid charge points at every service station are not a million miles off: according to www.goultralow.com it’s within the next year or so. So, the future is here and it feels like I am part of it!