With sales of new electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles doubling last year, the AA and Chargemaster, the UK's leading provider of charging infrastructure, have joined forces to help drivers make the most of the EV revolution.
We'll be providing advice, support and access to a UK-wide network of chargers.
To help bust a few of those myths, I'm going to be living with a number of different EVs over the next few months – using them for work and pleasure – and blogging here about my experiences.
With my initials, EVK, you could say I'm the right man for the job – Edmund
Read my latest blogs
Charging Attitudes: What will make drivers switch to electric cars?
Living with a 40kWh Leaf
The future of mobility
Driving an EV to Europe? Pick a card, any card
Two years with a Leaf
Do you have WiFi?
Turning over a new Leaf
Driving to Ibiza?
Learning to drive
To plug in or not to plug in?
Can a plug-in be sporty?
Talk to EV Gurus
Tesla Model X
Easy EV run to mark a significant milestone
Do first impressions really matter ?
Are 'Friends' Electric?
The long and winding road
On the road
When's an EV not an EV?
On the road
Back to petrol
Stuck in the middle with you
How does it feel?
Life in the fast lane
Tesla Model S
Charge of the light brigade
What will make drivers switch to electric cars?
Eighteen years ago, I picked up the keys to my first EV (electric vehicle) from Mayor Ken Livingstone in Trafalgar Square. I was part of pilot scheme to trail this pioneering car for 6 months.
But, the first electric vehicles were around more than one hundred years ago, and an electric vehicle held the land-speed record until about 1900. Then the internal combustion engine kicked in and petrol and diesel have been the dominant source of road vehicle power every since.
Now it is widely predicted that the tide is turning as the UK government has indicated that practically all new cars should be zero emissions by 2040.
The car I picked up almost 20 years ago was quite different from the electric cars of today. It was a Ford Th!nk City Car, body made of polyurethane with a top speed of 56mph and a range of about 37 miles. Back then charging was a bit of a problem as there were next to no public charging points. Somehow, I managed to persuade a private car park off Pall Mall to put in a charge point which was actually a 13 amp plug socket, but it worked.
A cable out of the window
I did though have a problem at home as I lived in a first floor flat in Islington. Running an extension cable out of the flat, down the wall and across the pavement wasn’t ideal. The range of 37 miles was also testing as one night I discovered that didn’t take account of the windscreen wipers, so I ran out of power in Radlett on my way to St Albans in the rain. Had to call the AA.
So almost two decades on how have things changed?
Well despite rhetoric and challenging climate chance targets, practical measures are needed before mainstream motorists will be convinced to buy electric vehicles.
At the AA we run a motoring panel with pollsters Populus and get responses from approximately 20,000 drivers every month. We use this data to inform our thinking on trends such as the take-up of EVs. According to our latest polls the biggest barriers to choosing an EV are price, range and the availability of charging points.
When asked ‘what would it take for you to choose a battery electric vehicle?’ our members say:
- 35% – EVs cost the same (or less) than petrol/diesel
- 33% – Real world range > 250 miles on a single charge
- 27% – A lot more charging points where I park
- 25% – Hundreds of rapid chargers along strategic roads
- 16% – More choice of cars
- 15% – Penalties for driving petrol/diesel become too high
Men are significantly more likely to be concerned about range while women are more likely to be concerned about charging points where they park.
We have also recently tested support for possible regulatory ideas that could be implemented to try to encourage the take-up of plug-in vehicles – both Battery Electric and Plug-in Hybrid.
The most popular possible measures were:
- 68% support charge points installed as standard in all new homes with their own off-street parking
- 65% support charge points installed as standard for all new homes with allocated parking nearby
- 59% support home chargers defaulting to off-peak charging, but 75% say driver must be able to override to charge immediately
Regulatory ideas that our members were least likely to agree with were:
- Only 14% agree that Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) should be allowed to use bus lanes, and
- Only 16% agree that Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) should be allowed to use bus lanes.
The real problem is that half of drivers find the whole subject of charging rather confusing due to the number of different types, speeds, payment methods and connectors. It’s no surprise that more than three-quarters (77%) support the idea that there should be a uniform method of accessing public charging points.
The majority of EVs in the future will do their main charging overnight at home. Three quarters of AA members park their cars overnight off the road and on their own land (58% on the driveway, 16% in the garage) where, potentially, they could be charged. But that means one quarter of mainly city dwellers would not have access to their own charging point and hence we need more on street and off-street solutions perhaps utilising office or supermarket carparks not used at night.
Green number plates
The Government recently floated the idea of EVs having green number plates so that the public becomes more aware of the increase in EVs. Views are divided on this with around a third (37%) supporting the idea of green number plates, a third having no view, and a fifth (22%) being opposed to it. The cynic may argue that it would make it easier for local authorities to target non-green number plates with hiked parking or congestion charges. If it does then we can soon expect to see a black market in green plates.
It is easy to say that all new cars should be electric by 2030 or 2035 or any arbitrary date but the reality is that the legitimate concerns of drivers regarding cost and supply of vehicles, range and ease of charging need to be addressed.
The right car at the right price
The big game changer for a large majority (84%) of drivers will be when the car manufacturers can offer the right car at the right price. On average EV models are at least £10k more expensive than equivalent petrol or diesel models, even with the current Government EV grant of £3,500.
Throughout history we have seen certain iconic cars break the mould from the Model T Ford through to the Morris Minor, Mini or Beetle. Once we can buy an EV that is affordable, stylish, fun, economical to insure and run, with a decent range of at least 250 miles, then it will be that game-changer.
The electric revolution over the next eighteen years will have to be on a massive scale relative to the comparative slow progress over the last eighteen years if the Government’s target is to be met.
Trying to achieve this by taxing or charging conventionally fuelled vehicles off the road wouldn’t be acceptable without affordable alternatives. If car buyers are going to buy EVs in significant numbers, then we’re going to need that game changer soon.
Watch this space.
(this article originally appeared in the New Statesman)
Edmund (18 June 2019)
Living with a 40kWh Leaf
Having enjoyed two generally carefree years with their 30kWh Nissan Leaf, the Crowder family took delivery in October 2018 of the new version, which has a larger, 40kWh battery offering greater range between charges and a host of technological innovations.
The new Nissan Leaf looks better than the original and feels more solid – the doors have a less ‘metallic’ sound when shutting and there is less hard plastic in the cabin.
It’s more comfortable with an easily adjustable driving position (although the steering wheel only has up and down adjustment), has stacks of head and leg room front and back and a capacious boot. Refinements include heated seats and steering wheel as well as an excellent Bose sound system.
The dashboard and instrumentation are, if anything, fussier than the original with lots of buttons as well as the fairly small (i-Pad size) touch screen transported from the previous model, although controls are fairly self-explanatory. Familiar are the golf-ball ‘gear’ lever and main control functions. Gone is the foot-operated parking brake and CD player and the slightly annoying ‘jingle’ that played every time the car was switched on. New are the Pro-Pilot function, the ‘E’ pedal, apple car-play and better i-phone connectivity and far better systems management.
Press the start button and the screens come to life – no bleeps or jingles. Electronic brake off, select direction of travel and touch the throttle – the car moves in complete silence, although there is a pedestrian warning sound which can’t be heard inside the cabin.
Regenerative braking and one-pedal operation
Take your foot off the throttle and the car immediately starts to slow thanks to the regenerative effect of the motors putting energy back in the battery. This is more pronounced if you select ‘B’ mode while if you select ‘E-pedal’ the car will rapidly come to a halt if you take your foot off the throttle. It’s easy to get used to one-pedal operation, rarely needing to use the brake pedal even in city congestion.
The easy to use Pro-Pilot function offers semi-autonomous driving on the motorway, keeping the car in lane as well as a safe distance from the vehicle in front. But take your hands off the steering wheel and the dash soon lights up in red, warning you to take hold again – it’s very clearly ‘driver assistance’ rather than ‘automation’. Other refinements include automatic main beam dipping (the led lights are excellent) and windscreen wiper operation.
It’s not exactly a hot hatch, but the acceleration is extremely smart and with full torque to the motor from the word go, leaves most cars behind when the traffic lights go green. 0-60 is around eight seconds, and the top speed just short of 100mph. It’s surprisingly composed along twisty and uneven roads – certainly more so than its predecessor.
The 40Kwh Leaf has a Type 2 (rather than Type 1 of the old model) socket along with a CHaDeMo 50kW fast charge socket, under a panel at the front of the bonnet. The Type 2 socket means the car can be charged on tethered white-label Tesla destination chargers. The car automatically locks a connector in place (unlike the previous model) and it has to be released with the press of a button on the dash or the key fob.
We charge the car on a Chargemaster 7kW charger timed to use off-peak electricity which is more than adequate for an overnight charge. The 50kW rapid chargers will put in around an 80% charge in just over half an hour.
One criticism levelled at the new Leaf has been that, after successive fast charges, the battery may become too warm (it uses passive battery cooling) and the charging rate reduced to protect it. But so far this has not been an issue for us even on a couple of long runs with successive fast charges.
The range of the car is much improved. While the NEDC claim is a wholly-unrealistic 235 miles, we have found it to offer a practical 145-170 miles – but somewhat less if you hammer it on the motorway.
It’s not cheap to buy, but is extremely cheap to run, with zero VED and there are still free-vend chargers around.
Charging apps and RFID cards
Talking about chargers, you may need a selection of charger operator RFID cards in the car and Apps for the different UK networks – and even more if you venture into Europe. We find that most of our charging needs are met by Polar (covering Chargemaster, Charge Your Car and some regional networks such as Source West); Ecotricity for motorway chargers; GeniePoint and Pod Point. The sooner all chargers accept contactless debit cards, the better.
The Spectator Podcast: The future of mobility
If you look back in automotive history there were cars like the Model-T Ford, the Morris Minor and Mini that came along, that were iconic, that were affordable, that were stylish and good to drive. We're still not quite there with electric vehicles. If someone could crack that market with a car that everyone wants, then, with costs coming down and if Government keep their hands in their pockets and Treasury don't get too greedy, that could be the game changer.
I recently discussed these and other issues around the future of mobility with the Spectator's editor Fraser Nelson for a podcast about the challenges facing low carbon transport. We were joined by Chris Stark, chief executive of the Climate Change Committee, and Sinead Lynch, Shell’s UK Country Chair.
Listen to the Specatator Podcast: What does the future of low carbon motoring look like?
Edmund (28 November 2018)
Driving an EV to Europe? Pick a card, any card
New Motion, Smoov, Stromleden, Sodetrel, KiWhi, ESB, Lemnet, Polyfazer … names that perhaps suggest dodgy nightclubs, unless you have ever ventured beyond the UK in an electric car.
Add to that Plug Surfing, Chargemap, Enel.E, X-Recharge and dozens of others and you’ll quickly come to realise that the EV charging infrastructure in Europe is even more frangmented than the UK, although fortunately, there are aggregators that offer cards and/or apps that work on several charging networks.
Most owners of plug-in cars are pretty tuned in to the need for an app or RFID card/key fob to both start the charge and debit your account which is likely to be linked to your bank account. It you are a Tesla driver then you will be aware of the pan-European network of super- and destination-chargers but there will be times when you need to top up the battery from a public charger.
Of course, most EV owners would like it to be as easy to take a charge as it is to fill up the tank of a conventional motor, and some chargers do enable you to touch in and out with a contactless credit or debit card, but most aren’t as straightforward as that.
I bet there’s many an EV owner who has at some time found themselves at a charger in the UK for which they don’t have the right app or card – and then go through the hassle of setting up an account and possibly pre-loading it with cash before being able to plug in.
Translating that to another country in an unfamiliar language would be an entirely different ball game, so a little homework in advance of your European EV adventure really is important.
Naturally providers have an interest in encouraging drivers to use their chargers and to recover their costs, so require you to use their own app or card. Often these networks are either local or if they cover a large geographic area, sporadic. So as a result, there are possibly hundreds of charging networks across mainland Europe.
Fortunately aggregators such as New Motion, Plug Surfing and Chargemap have been set up to work across several networks and more than one country, so that just a couple of cards or apps will give access to tens of thousands of chargers.
It is becoming ever easier to drive an EV in Europe, not least because the number of chargers is rising extremely quickly; and most will be linked to one of the main networks.
If you are visiting more than one country though, you’ll need more than one app or RFID card. Our guide to charging in Europe will point you in the right direction.
We’d be interested to hear about your own experiences of driving through Europe in an EV too. Drop an email to [email protected].
Crossing the channel in an EV might be regarded as a brave decision now but it won’t be long before it becomes the norm – especially as the practical range of even modest EVs becomes ever greater.
Edmund (28 November 2018)
Two years with a leaf: what have we learnt?
In 2016 my colleague Ian Crowder bought his first Electric car, for his wife, a Nissan Leaf.
Now, two years and 16,000 miles later, he reflects on the ownership experience.
We've used the Leaf mainly for local trips and Hilary’s work as a midwife, for which it's ideal, but have ventured on longer trips too including from home in Cheltenham to AA HQ in Basingstoke (about 78 miles); to family in Lancashire (165 miles) and London (100 miles).
It's a treat to get into a nice warm car on a chilly morning, warmed from the mains rather than the battery, and one of the first features mentioned in the brochure is that you can control car functions like this from your phone through the Nissan App. Well, maybe we’re Luddites, but we've never managed it and, after a lot of effort trying to turn the climate control on remotely on a cold day we simply gave up and set the timer in the car instead which works fine.
Nissan claims a range of ‘up to 155 miles’ (NEDC) – but then, NEDC is largely now dismissed as a measure even on diesel and petrol vehicles. We've found the 'real-world' range is around 120 miles at most, while if you're driving on the motorway at 70mph the range falls to around 80 miles. In extremely cold weather (minus 10 deg C) you can knock 10-20 miles off that range. This didn't really matter to us, but anyone thinking they could use one for regular inter-city travel may be disappointed.
For longer journeys there is a growing number of fast (50kWh) chargers which can provide an 80% charge in half an hour - we've never had trouble finding or using them. As with all EVs, the most efficient charging cycle for battery longevity is between 10% and 90% charged and indeed, the charging rate falls off rapidly above 80%. Stick within this range and the practical range of the car is a bit less – but 90-100 miles is the most we would normally do in a day so again that hasn't been an issue.
Something else that could be an issue for some is that successive fast charges may overheat the battery to the point where it won’t accept a charge at all until it has cooled. That’s thanks to passive air cooling of the battery rather than active temperature management used on most other EVs. The new 40kW Leaf uses the same passive air cooling. To protect the battery from overheating after successive fast charges on a long motorway journey the charge rate will be automatically slowed even when plugged into a fast charger. This could restrict practicality for very long journeys relying on a series of fast charges. A future version of the Leaf with a 60kW battery is expected to use active battery cooling.
Up and down
Driving style, number of passengers, use of climate control and type of terrain can all affect range but then, these things affect fuel consumption in conventional cars too. Indeed, living in the Cotswolds there are a lot of steep hills and as the car climbs (which it does very capably), the miles drop off the range alarmingly quickly. But in ‘B’ regenerative braking mode downhill, a good proportion of that loss is restored.
Performance is exactly as Nissan describe and because the full torque is delivered the second you floor the throttle, it will leave most others behind at the traffic lights - very satisfying because it’s done with the merest hint of a whine from the motors. The advertised 0-62 (100km/h) is a respectable 11.5 seconds with a top speed of around 90mph. It’s nippy and good fun.
We've found the Leaf comfortable and spacious with plenty of room for grandchild seats and lots of boot space. The Bose sound system is superb and there is little external noise to disturb the quality. The dashboard could be described as a bit fussy (certainly compared with say, a Tesla) with lots of buttons, the function of some not being obvious – but the infosystem tells you everything you could possibly want to know about your energy efficiency.
We've were so pleased that we ordered, and have now taken delivery, of a new 40kW Leaf. It's a better looking car, safer and more capable, featuring the much-vaunted ‘pro-pilot’ intelligent cruise control and ‘e-pedal’ systems.
There are plenty of 30kW Nissan Leafs on the used car market and they hold their value well, as mentioned in a recent Financial Times feature on EVs.
Finding charge points
They're not a long distance driving solution but perfect where most of the car’s use will be local or urban, although longer trips are certainly easily achievable with a little planning using apps such as Zap-Map or Plugshare (which also covers Europe). For instance, if you’re going on a shopping trip you don’t necessarily need a fast charger if you are leaving the car for a couple of hours or so.
If you're thinking of buying an electric vehicle for the first time, it's important to carefully explore road tests - online and on YouTube - to ensure that the car is suitable for your needs.
It's also a conversation piece – plug in to an on-street charger and people come up out of curiosity to ask about it.
You can then indulge in some EVangelism!
Edmund (9 November 2018)
Do you have WiFi?
Over the last few years the things customers ask for at hotels has changed.
Is breakfast included? Is there free parking? Do you have WiFi?
The next development and indeed question on the horizon will be: “Do you have electric car charging points?”
The Government has deemed that virtually all new cars should be zero emissions by 2040 so the race is on to increase the number of charging points including those at destinations like hotels.
As part of the strategic partnership between the AA and Chargemaster, all 4,000 or so AA rated hotels and B&Bs are being offered the opportunity to have electric vehicle charging points installed at no cost and integrated into the UK’s largest public network.
The first hotel to benefit from the offer was the four-star Sandford Springs Hotel and Golf Club in Kingsclere, Hampshire, which now has a Chargemaster 50kW rapid charger on the POLAR network for guests and EV drivers.
I recently officially ‘opened’ the charging point at Sandford Springs, which is sister hotel to Dale Hill in Wadhurst and The Oxfordshire in Thame. When I say ‘opened’ I guess I mean I was photographed plugging-in. No Champagne bottles were smashed in the process.
Chargemaster will work with any AA-inspected establishments interested in taking up the offer to determine the best charging points for their location. Rapid chargers are perfect for hotels along high-traffic routes to encourage visitors to stop for a charge on a longer journey, while destination chargers are more suitable for guests charging overnight.
Chargemaster’s research shows that 90% of EV drivers will seek out destinations that have charging points over those that don’t, meaning that having a charging point provides an additional draw for hotels as the EV market continues to develop.
Alongside our automotive heritage, the AA has been involved in the hospitality industry since 1908. We know that when EV drivers are looking for hotels, they will actively seek out those with charging points. We have witnessed enormous changes in both the automotive and hotel sectors over the last 110 years, and we are delighted that our AA recognised hospitality businesses can benefit from this tremendous offer.
Any AA hotels or B&B can find details of the offer here.
The charge of the light brigade continues.
Edmund (10 August 2018)
Turning over a new Leaf
Our head of PR Ian Crowder, is looking to replace his family’s two-year-old Nissan Leaf with the new version. He tried it at the EVEC in Milton Keynes:
The AA’s PR and marketing teams organised their quarterly meeting at the Electric Vehicle Experience Centre in Milton Keynes the other day. Afterwards I took the opportunity to try out a couple of the EVs on the Centre’s fleet. The Centre – an initiative of Chargemaster along with the forward-thinking Milton Keynes Council and Go Ultra Low – is designed to encourage the uptake of electric vehicles by providing information and the opportunity to test drive a range of EVs and plug-in hybrid cars.
As previously mentioned in this blog my wife Hilary drives a 30kWh Nissan Leaf which has proved to be an enjoyable and reliable family run-around. In fact I used the car to travel from home in Cheltenham to Milton Keynes, plugging in to one of the city’s 200 charging points. The car is coming to the end of its two-year lease and I was keen to try the new 40kWh Leaf which is winning praise from all quarters for its style, performance and high spec.
The new car was everything that the media hype surrounding its launch promised and offers a much more engaging driving experience. Its acceleration is startlingly good (0-60 in 7.9 seconds); it is of course extremely quiet and has a more refined interior with less hard plastic than the model it replaces, although there are still an awful lot of buttons on the dash while the touch screen seems somewhat small compared with other EVs. One nowadays quirky feature is a conventional analogue speedometer which is evidently there by consumer demand. The new Leaf is certainly much better-looking than its predecessor, too. The greatest innovation on the 40kWh Leaf, though, is the one-pedal operation which works when you switch to E-pedal mode. And it is very easy to drive without ever touching the brake pedal, even in busy stop-start traffic. Take your foot off the throttle and the car smoothly slows to a complete stop using a combination of regenerative and friction braking.
Other innovations include ‘E-pilot’ active cruise control with lane-keeping assist and intelligent emergency braking. This isn’t a new concept of course but a welcome addition to the car’s features, absent from the earlier Leaf.
The car has deservedly won What Car? Car of the Year as well as a five-star Euro NCAP rating.
Lewis, the enthusiastic and knowledgeable EVEC guru who took me out, explained that his job is to sell the concept of EVs – not the cars themselves. In fact he had a retail rather than car sales background and It transpires that his own car is an EV – a Renault Zoe – but admitted his favourite on the fleet was the new Leaf.
It was only a 20-minute drive but the new Leaf, while retaining some familiar features, is big advance on its now somewhat dated predecessor and, of course, has a greater range although the claimed 168 miles WLTP combined cycle is probably optimistic. We have found living with an EV to be a joy – but the new Leaf takes that enjoyment to a new level.
Now if you’ll excuse me, we need to pop round to our local Nissan dealer…
Edmund (11 June 2018)
Driving to Ibiza?
We only have the SEAT Ibiza FR 1.0 litre 115PS so that my son can learn to drive a manual car but seeing it sitting there, I was tempted to take it for a spin.
Most of my recent cars have been Electric, hybrid or sports cars so driving the Ibiza was a different experience. It certainly looks stylish with its sharp bodywork creases and triangular LED lights.
The 8-inch touchscreen on this FR-spec model is impressive and, even for me, was intuitive to use.
There are some controls on the steering wheel too, so you don’t have to fiddle with the screen while driving.
Overall the dashboard looks smart and works well but I would perhaps prefer a slightly more prominent speedometer as it’s very easy to inadvertently creep up to the speed limit.
I liked the eco features – it tells you what gear you’re in and when to change gear and it even told me off with an eco-tip when I had the clutch in whilst braking.
Size doesn’t matter
This was my first experience of driving a car with a small, turbo-charged, direct injection petrol engine. With its 113bhp this 1.0 litre three-cylinder engine’s nothing like the old 1.0 litre cars I had years ago which were all under-powered. It sounds great and drives even better.
At low speeds, you hear the engine when accelerating but at cruising speeds on the motorway, it’s almost entirely inaudible and smooth.
Impressive safety features
All Ibizas come with electronic stability control to help you regain control if the car skids. There are six airbags too.
More impressive is the range of active safety features including adaptive cruise control and front assist to warn you if you are at risk of hitting a vehicle in front. If you don’t react it has autonomous emergency braking (AEB) that can automatically apply the brakes. This is what helps give it the top five-star score from Euro NCAP.
I really enjoyed driving it both on country roads and the motorway. It is amazing how small cars have improved so much in terms of performance, comfort and indeed safety in the last twenty years.
They are also much more sophisticated – I was impressed that the side mirrors turn in when you hold down the key fob to lock, which reduces the risk of damage in tight car park spaces.
My verdict? Fantastic
It’s not an EV but the economy seems great. It is difficult to judge exactly with a learner driving mainly on slow, local roads but it certainly seems to be getting more than 57 mpg.
I’d be more than happy to drive this SEAT Ibiza every day but I guess I better get back to my EVs for this blog.
Edmund (30 April 2018)
You know that feeling you get in your stomach before an exam or perhaps a major presentation – those slight butterflies and almost queasy feeling?
Well, I thought I’d felt the last of those when I finished my degree, many years ago, but they came back last week.
My 17-year-old son’s AA driving instructor, Mark, was off on holiday, and, now we have the SEAT Ibiza, I decided it was time to take him out for some practice.
My first solo outing with Finbar brought back memories of my father taking me out on Enstone runway in a beige Hillman Avenger. But with no disused runway close by, we had to venture out onto the real streets, with me trying hard to remember the tips for keeping calm that I’d picked up from Mark when I joined them for part of one of a recent lesson.
A stream of questions
It was that first outing that bought back the butterflies as a constant stream of questions rushed to my head. What if he doesn’t stop at the junction? What if he hits that parked car? Will the hand-brake stop him rolling back?
As it happened those were all false fears. I later asked Finbar if he’d been nervous driving me. His response was along the lines of “Not at all because I felt quite confident having already had those lessons with Mark.”
I was impressed with Finbar’s driving but it still took twenty minutes or so for my nervous stomach to settle down. His positioning on the road was pretty good – if a little wide on a couple of corners – and he struggled slightly on a couple of hill starts until he remembered Mark’s advice about judging the biting point by watching the bonnet and then pulling away. Why hadn’t I explained it like that? Probably because I’m not a skilled Approved Driving Instructor (ADI).
On another practice drive we picked up two of my son’s six-foot football teammates. They were both very comfortable in the back, along with their kit bags, and were impressed by Finbar’s driving – particularly his roundabout technique. They were also impressed by the Ibiza’s ‘Beats’ speakers and audio-branded sound system.
Despite steady improvement in his driving I do look forward to the return of Finbar’s professional instructor. Makes me realise what a great job good instructors do.
Edmund (23 April 2018)
Learning to drive but what car?
This particularly blog isn’t actually about an Electric Vehicle but for good reason.
My eldest son, Finbar, has reached 17 and is learning to drive with the AA Driving School. He will need to practice outside of the lessons, but both of our family cars are automatic.
In my twenties and thirties automatics had a reputation for being boring to drive and I swore I’d never have one. But times have changed and my automatic plug-in hybrid with paddle shift is fun to drive and ideal in the constant stop-start congestion of the M25.
Either way neither of our cars is suitable for Finbar to learn in, but just for a laugh I got an insurance quote for him to drive my Panamera. It came back at £9,999. I think not and not very funny.
It’s still worth learning in a manual
The irony is that he would quite like to drive an electric car when he passes his test and we do have a Chargemaster charging point at home.
All EVs are automatic of course but we both figure it’s still worth learning to drive in a stick shift. Automatics will become more and more commonplace as we all go electric but if he needed to hire a car in Spain for example, he’s likely to be offered a manual for a few years yet.
Safety’s most important
So what car to buy? Nostalgically I thought back to my 1969 Mini traveller estate which I bought for £45 and the 1972 Citroen Dyane 4 which I paid quite a bit more for. But knowing what I now know about Euro NCAP crash testing as well as about young drivers’ propensity for crashing, I don’t think either of those older cars, or anything like them, would be suitable.
So for me, safety is definitely the number one consideration.
Size and rear leg-room
Most of the crash tests look at frontal and side impact – the most common types of crash – but I always consider the possibility and security of rear impact too. When I see pictures of vehicles rear-ended on smart motorways with inadequate lay-bys I always wonder what would have happened if it was a small car with a compact rear end.
I love the design of the Fiat 500 for example and drove one in the MPG Challenge a few years ago but it is too small at the back to my mind.
Another important consideration for us is rear leg room as it’s likely that Finbar will often have 6 foot footballers as passengers.
There are still lots of great cars we can choose from like the fantastic Ford Fiesta (a tad small in the back), the brilliant Focus and the ubiquitous VW Polo, which my wife learnt to drive in.
We settle on a SEAT Ibiza
Looking at the latest Euro NCAP research, the Polo and the new SEAT Ibiza are neck-and-neck with 5 star ratings and impressive adult and child occupant scores. But I managed to get lower insurance quotations on the SEAT and talking to my industry and motoring journalist friends they all recommend the SEAT – stylish, safe and I guess a bit Spanish.
Now we need to do a deal.
Edmund (16 April 2018)
Bad timing or what? The day I took delivery of a BMW i8 plug-in hybrid supercar for a week was the beginning of the ‘Beast from the East’ snow storms.
So, the poor supercar sat on my driveway unused for four days and covered in snow, while I was busy appearing on TV and radio talking about record breakdown volumes and how to drive safely in the snow.
But boy, it does look like a fine car – even under the snow, and I couldn’t wait to drive it.
The i8’s rear-wheel drive when running purely on petrol, front-wheel drive in electric mode and when the foot goes down it can go into all-wheel drive. I tried to convince myself that for local journeys in electric mode I would be fine in the ice and snow, but knowing that it’s a £100,000 supercar meant I couldn’t risk it.
Quite a few people I spoke to were under the impression that the i8 is a pure EV rather than a hybrid, and were asking about its range. The zero emissions, pure electric range is about 20 miles, depending on temperatures and how you drive it, which many people seem to think is inadequate. It isn’t. I got into the habit of plugging into my Chargemaster charge point every time I got home. That meant that all those short journeys – to the shops, to football, to the school, and generally being the parent taxi – could be in electric mode.
So what’s it like?
I think it looks absolutely fantastic, especially in black. I had assumed it was a two-seater but it does have two 911 size seats in the back. OK for a very short journey with little people but not much more. It has impressive gull-wing doors that seemed to work even when I was parked fairly close to the next car.
What may surprise is that Its engine is ‘only’ a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol shared with the Mini, however, it is tuned to produce 228bhp. Another 129bhp comes from the i8’s electric motors and their combined force means that 0-62mph in 4.4 seconds is possible.
The driving position, sat nav and especially the head-up display showing both your speed and directions are just great. I do feel more cars should display your speed on a head-up display as it saves looking down so frequently.
There are little touches such as the charging socket on the car lighting up when you open it which is very useful in a poorly lit area at night. The boot is pretty small but probably not for a supercar.
Compared to pure EVs such as the Tesla reviewed below, the sound's awesome. However, I did get a bit confused when I read in the handbook that a fake engine noise can be piped into the cabin through the speakers. Despite this, flooring it on a straight road with the windows open creates a great sound as the engine runs through the gears – something you’ll never get in a pure EV as they don’t have gears.
Power from the petrol engine is transferred to the rear-wheels using a six-speed auto and the front handles the electric motor using a two-stage automatic box. You can control the six-speed either by leaving it in auto mode or via the shift paddles on the steering wheel.
The official combined fuel economy figure is 134.5 mpg while the US EPA rated it at 91 mpg overall, and 34mpg on petrol alone i.e. after the battery’s drained. I didn’t have the time to verify these figures but the overall mpg certainly seemed very reasonable for the journeys I made and the miles I drove.
All in all, I really loved this car much more than I thought I would. It brought a smile to my face particularly on attractive rural roads. Even my mother, who is in her late eighties, managed to get in and out and loved the ride too.
Anything that is good for my mum is good for me.I want one.
This is one EV I could certainly live with.
Edmund (14 March 2018)
To plug in or not to plug in?
But that's not actually what I've been seeing. In fact, I have to race the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEVs in the morning to get the prime Chargemaster charging points outside AA Towers in Basingstoke, and I'm constantly lobbied by other Hybrid drivers for more charging points.
Some also argue that if your fuel's paid for by your employer why would you bother to plug in? Well there are a few arguments to counter that:
- Often by plugging-in you can get preferential parking outside buildings rather than having to squeeze into narrow parking spaces.
- Plugging in gives you more range and longer before you have to fill up with conventional fuel again.
- Plugging in saves your company money and potentially helps to reduce exhaust pipe emissions.
- Plugging in means you've got zero emissions capability when you most need it in towns and cities where air quality is such an important issue
Personally I always plug in when the opportunity arises. It takes about 60 seconds when I get home.
The one part I sometimes forget, in my rush to unplug and get on the road, is to close the charge point cap on the side of the car. I was waiting at some lights last week when a kind driver behind came up and knocked on my side window: "Sorry mate, but you've left your petrol cap open.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was a charging cap rather than a petrol cap.
One thing I do still need to master is setting the car to charge at home at night when electricity tariffs are cheaper. Perhaps I'll give myself a refresher course this weekend.
So my message is that if you are lucky enough to have a PHEV, then please charge it.
Edmund (15 February 2018)
It really is quite odd pulling away from stationary in a Porsche which is almost silent.
At first it doesn’t quite feel right particularly when you're used to driving a 911 Carrera S with a noisy exhaust. Indeed, one has to be extra vigilant pulling out of driveways where the hedges hide pedestrians who certainly wouldn’t hear you coming.
It takes a bit of time to get used to the car and the difference between electric and petrol power. But boy, when you do get used to it. Wow!
This Panamera manages to combine comfort, speed, power and efficiency.
More updates to follow.
Edmund (21 August 2017)
Can a plug-in be sporty
Despite the speed of the Tesla or design of the i3 there's still that lingering question for the traditional petrolhead of whether a plug-in can still be sporty? Traditionally early-adopters are slightly nerdy people who will try anything – think G whizz.
Well after testing my latest car I think plug-ins can definitely be sporty. The Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid I tested is a classy car that also plugs in.
Without being too much of an anorak it's worth looking at some of the stats.
The plug-in system of the Panamera S E-Hybrid adds a 94bhp electric motor to the conventional 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine producing an official combined fuel consumption figure of 91.9mpg.
I've not tested it long enough to get the true figure and it wouldn’t be anything like that but I do expect it to be much better than rival executive sports cars.
Official CO2 emissions are just 71g/km which means that this 2016 model (registered before VED was overhauled from April 2017) pays no VED nor London congestion charge.
The Zero emissions, electric-only range is about 22 miles and charging time (from a domestic socket) is about four hours. So if, like me, you can charge at home, this brings great benefits particularly for those shorter, local journeys.
Edmund (18 August 2017)
Talk to EV Gurus
If you're not sure whether an EV would be right for you then I would strongly recommend a trip to the Milton Keynes Electric Vehicle Experience Centre.
It's based in the main shopping centre and gives you the chance to talk to a team of highly-trained electric vehicle experts (‘EV Gurus’) without any sales pressure.
These guys are experts, not car salesman.
- the benefits of electric vehicle ownership
- the available vehicle choices
- how to charge an EV, and
- the savings in running costs that can be achieved
They'll also offer a brief test drive in one of the electric vehicles parked a few steps away from the EVEC.
The EVEC has a fleet of over 50 electric vehicles available for short test drives or longer term ‘try before you buy’ hire experiences.
The EVEC is operated by Chargemaster and is supported by six car manufacturers; Milton Keynes Council; the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV), OVO Energy and the AA Trust.
Get down there!
Edmund (23 July 2017)
At the last AA Trust meeting we had a bit of a brainwave – as a way of encouraging more people to try EVs, and to get the best out of them, we decided to develop a course or experience called 'Drive Electric'.
We did some research using our Driver Poll which showed that a third of drivers (32%) would be interested in such a course, so we quickly got together a group with experts from DriveTech, AA Driving School and Chargemaster and developed the concept.
We're piloting the course in the Milton Keynes area with a view to rolling it out nationally, and actually announced the new 'Drive Electric' experience at the launch of the Electric Vehicle Experience Centre (EVEC) in Milton Keynes on 20 July 2017.
We want to help drivers understand this exciting new technology at the EV Experience Centre but also want to help them get the most out of their electric cars.
Drive Electric sessions, conducted by AA instructors, can either be carried out in the driver’s own electric car, or in one of the EV Experience Centre’s test drive fleet. The EV Experience and Drive Electric experiences will really put Milton Keynes on the map as the most go-to EV City in the World.
Drive Electric covers things like:
- Checking how to connect and disconnect to a charge point; introduction to controls, energy consumption displays, charge rate and range; eco features including ‘B’ and ‘Eco’ modes and remote climate control
- On the road driving techniques; early release of accelerator, using regenerative braking; how to most economical use of available energy; feedback from multi-function display
- Overcoming range anxiety; finding suitable charge points and how to use them; long journey planning; different types of charging point
- Safe driving including compliance of rules of the road and hints at reducing energy consumption
If you're interested in the course, which is free-of-charge, you'll need to contact the Milton Keynes Electric Vehicle Experience Centre to make a booking.
Edmund (22 July 2017)
I got pretty worried when driving my teenage daughter to her ice-skating competition in the Model X.
Suddenly a big red square appeared on the dashboard in front of me “ATTENT!ON”.
It's not a warning light I had seen before but I do know that if you get a red warning light you should pull over safely and stop as soon as possible.
So I said to my daughter that we better stop because this red light warning has come up on the dash.
“oh come on dad, that’s just the album from my Spotify account.” Doh I did feel old.
She laughed and then hummed: “ Oh-oh, ooh. You've been runnin' round, runnin' round, runnin' round throwin' that dirt all on my name.”
Of course I knew it was Charlie Puth.
Edmund (30 June 2017)
Driving a Model X is a bit like owning a dog. Everyone stops to look at it and complete strangers stop to talk to you. Others just smile.
- Passing a cafe in a rundown part of London, a father demonstrates to his ten year old twin daughters that the doors do a 'back to the future', and smiles. I crawl past in the traffic.
- Groups of urban professionals outside the London pubs I pass all seem to smile, point or wave.
- A passenger in the outside lane in a MINI gives me the thumbs up.
- A Tesla Model S driver glides past me in the car park and pretends not to look.
At AA HQ in Basingstoke I couldn't get away from the Chargemaster charging point as everyone wanted a look, from the receptionist to the technical director.
Some love the shape and the grill-less front, but others hate it.
It's the future, Edmund. I am told on numerous occasions. Reminds me of my favourite film The Graduate:
Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?
Well this is the future and I am thoroughly enjoying it so far.
Edmund (28 June 2017)
Tesla Model X
First thing you notice about the Tesla Model X is its size. It's quite deceptive, looking small in some colours and massive in others, but either way, the good people at Chargemaster warned me that it is wide and might not fit in the garage.
Actually, the only thing that fits in my garage these days is teenagers, as it's long been converted to their gaming room. The Model X did fit on the drive though and was easily plugged into the Chargemaster post hidden behind the hedge. I've even learnt to programme the charging for after midnight when tariffs are lower.
It still feels weird not having to go to a petrol station though. I miss the smell.
My first journey wasn't actually very enjoyable. It took me a while to get comfortable despite - or because of - the numerous lumber seat controls. I also had to move the steering wheel several times. Eventually though I was very comfortable as should drivers of all shapes and sizes be, given the numerous driver settings available.
Even once I'd got comfortable there was something else bugging me as I drove down the motorway. The ride floated and bounced a bit, reminding me of Cadillacs I had driven up and down the 405 in LA. It even made me feel a little sea sick, though this was quickly fixed once I'd found the ride settings and changed from 'comfortable' to 'normal'. Now the ride's a bit firmer and much more comfortable.
The dashboard display includes Lane Control lines which I've found really useful, particularly on the narrow lanes through the M3 roadworks. You can easily see if you're too close to the edge.
I was also reassured to find that the indicated 250 mile range is realistic, so I haven't suffered any range anxiety. Yet.
Edmund (27 June 2017)
Easy EV run to mark a significant milestone
Our head of PR Ian Crowder has taken to the road again in his wife's Nissan LEAF, this time to mark an important milestone in the development of electric cars in the UK. Here's his account of a triumphant day organised by Chargemaster.
It seemed appropriate somehow that a 'silent run' on 19 June, to mark the 100,000th UK registration of a plug-in electric vehicle (EV), should start almost exactly on Greenwich Meridian, against the historic backdrop of the Queen's House at Greenwich.
Perhaps symbolically linking the driving past with the driving future, the latest EV and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) models silently slipped into London's Sunday morning traffic on a 100km (about 62 miles) journey to Milton Keynes.
Why Milton Keynes? This is a city that is leading the UK in embracing electric vehicles. It boasts around 200 charging points, including 60 rapid chargers, as well as free parking throughout the city for EVs. And, on 22 July, it will see the opening of the UK's first multi-brand electric vehicle experience centre.
David Martell, CEO of Chargemaster, the UK's leading vehicle charger provider, which organised the event, flagged off the silent convoy after pointing out the significance of the occasion – noting that demand for EVs is climbing rapidly as is the charging infrastructure. Latest projections suggest there will be 1m EVs on Britain's roads by 2020, as battery range increases and vehicle prices fall.
A run of 62 miles through north London and the M1 is hardly challenging, and well within the range capacity of current EV models.
But the lack of challenge was made up by the run's symbolism. It placed a marker in the sand of EV technology and its wider acceptance to an increasingly less-sceptical car-buying public, looking for affordable and practical options to petrol or diesel. Electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles are practical, enjoyable to drive and extremely economical.
It was an easy journey but, just in case, the AA Patrol of the Year, John Snowling was the tail-ender to sweep up any misfortunes – there were none, although the reassurance of his immaculate bright-yellow van, 999AA, was welcome.
We're looking forward to enjoying a 250km (155-mile) run when the quarter-millionth registration takes place. That's likely to come around much more quickly than many might imagine.
You can find a short video of the event on YouTube.
Edmund (20 June 2017)
Do first impressions really count?
Our head of PR, Ian Crowder, recently bought his first electric car, but only after contrasting experiences in a couple of dealers in his home town of Cheltenham. Here's how he got on, in his own words.
We'd been considering for some time buying an electric car to replace my wife Hilary's ageing Mini One that rarely does more than 30 miles a day and had narrowed our choice down to either the Nissan Leaf or the BMW i3.
With its 30kw battery the extended range version of the Nissan offered up to a claimed 155 miles range and BMW were about to increase the range of the i3 to something similar.
The Nissan dealer in Cheltenham had a rather utilitarian feel. We could see see two Leafs on display but there appeared to be only one sales person and he was showing a family a Qashqai.
Then Frank appeared.
'We'd like to see a Leaf and perhaps have a test drive,' I say.
'Oh, well, OK!' he says, looking slightly surprised. 'I'd better take some details. Sit down! Would you like a coffee?
At Frank's rather battered desk, instant coffee in a plastic cup was produced along with a form that had been photocopied so many times it was grey and difficult to read but that didn't stop him starting to fill it in with a chewed ball point.
Name, address. 'Got a car to trade in? Why go electric? What else are you looking at? Oh. The i3. Well the Leaf is much better, much higher spec if you go for the Tekna. We sell lots of them. Sold one last week as a matter of fact.'
Frank makes some questionable claims about the car with a confidence that belies what turns out is to be his fortnight's experience in the job – having previously been a water-ski instructor in Dubai.
The test drive was actually a triumph. The car is very well equipped, comfortable, sophisticated if slightly dated now, spacious, responsive, and dealt with a 1-in-4 Cotswold hill with considerable lack of fuss.
'If you go down lots of hills you could generate more electricity than you use!' said our enthusiastic water-ski instructor. Could this be the first perpetual motion car, then?
We left impressed and armed with a straightforward 8-page brochure about the Leaf.
The BMW experience
At the local BMW dealer we received a warm welcome from a well-cut member of the team who apologetically said that they have no i3's there, electric vehicles are handled from the Gloucester showroom - would we like to go over?
He made a call, furnished us with some classy literature that explained how the i3 can fit in to our busy lifestyle and sent us off to Gloucester with instructions to 'ask for Helen'.
We may have only come 15 miles but the immaculate showroom could have been in another country. Germany for instance. A receptionist greeted us; 'Ah Helen, is she expecting you? Then I'll take you over.'
Helen, who was extremely knowledgeable about electric cars, smiled and offered a cup of coffee. This was the real deal, served in a cup and saucer. Shortbread, too.
She printed a form from her laptop pre-populated with all our details – after all, we bought the Mini from the group. She filled in the form with similar details that Frank asked for at Nissan, but using a smart BMW-monogrammed pen. Pointedly she didn't ask if we were looking at anything else.
Where the Nissan looks and feels like an ordinary car that happens to be electric, the i3 is something else. It's clearly in the BWM family but is far from conventional. Carbon fibre construction allows the rear doors to be hinged at the rear so that, with both doors open, there's no door pillar.
The interior is funky and vision is good all-round but the airy cabin is more coffee-shop than car with IKEA-birch on the dash. The forward and reverse controls are on a stalk, rather than a kind of golf-ball where a gear lever should be, as on the Leaf.
The i3 feels very different to the Leaf to drive. It accelerates more quickly but has a harder ride – you could really feel the road – and the steering was ultra-sensitive but it was fun.
Like the Leaf, put your foot to the floor and with no evident effort you're catapulted to 70mph – with little more than wind noise. The regenerative braking on the i3 was also much more harsh than on the Leaf.
With only four seats there's less room in the back of the i3. It was a struggle to get into the back seat with a child seat too and there's only a tiny boot that you would struggle to put a pushchair in.
Back at the showroom we went through the usual BMW menu system to 'build' our car. Spec'd to the same level of equipment as the Leaf the £-signs started to ker-ching and i3 finished up £10,000 more than the Leaf.
We left wishing we could have a go in the i8…
Time to choose
Our main considerations were range (both cars tick that box); space (much more in the Leaf), practicality and price.
On most counts the Leaf won, and so, despite the contrasting dealer experiences, we settled on a 30kW Leaf Tekna.
Back at the dealer to sign the deal we found that our water-ski instructor Frank had left.
Asking for the sales manager we were told 'Oh, he's in the toilet, could be a while, ha ha ha!' What happened to Frank? 'Dunno. He was hopeless. Told customers lies.' Hmmm.
It certainly wasn't the dealership that sold the car. The car really sold itself.
We signed up to a 0% lease arrangement. The government knocked off the £4,500 OLEV discount and the £500 discount for the Chargemaster 7kw charger – although it was supplied by Nissan for free (which, by the way, wouldn't have happened with the BMW).
The home charger was installed before we picked up the car and we subscribed to the POLAR network. We also moved to Ecotricity for our home energy supply – it's a local firm that uses only wind, hydro or solar energy – what's more, electric car users can have access to its electric super highway 50kw 'electricity pumps', free for the first year. These are impressive – whacking in more than 80% charge in less than half an hour.
And there is a £50 cashback for electric car-using customers.
You can set the timer so that is 'fills up' with off-peak electricity costing only about £2.20 to 'fill up' from empty and it's very easy to do.
Our electricity bill is certainly higher – but then, we never buy petrol and there's no car tax.
Nannie's quietly car
For Hilary's purposes, the Leaf's perfect and our grandson Barney – who is coming up to three, calls it 'Nannie's quietly car'.
The car is, frankly, very easy to live with. The dash comes alive with lots of information about the charge level, temperature of the battery, average energy consumption, potential range based on recent driving (we've not seen it higher than 136 miles yet) and more.
On the road, it's extremely responsive and in 'B' (braking) mode, the regenerative braking is positive as soon as you lift your foot from the throttle - it's pretty easy to drive through urban streets with very little application of the brake.
The silence though. That takes some getting used to – especially as my own car is a – um – diesel.
We're often asked by passers-by, curious when we plug it in somewhere, what the car is like – because pure electric cars are still something of a novelty.
Hilary joked 'I'm the only Leaf in the village!' But now we've noticed that there's another one, round the corner.
Edmund (9 June 2017)
Are 'Friends' Electric?
“Are 'Friends' Electric?” was an enigmatic song from Gary Numan and Tubeway Army back in 1979.
I always thought it was “our friends electric” and more recently it made me think about our friends electric at Chargemaster who we're working with to provide more charging points.
With all the headlines demonising diesel cars surely now is the time to really push for cleaner, greener, electric vehicles?
Rather than hiking parking charges or ultra-low emission zone charges for diesels, local authorities need to be out there supporting more charging points and encouraging those that can to change their vehicles.
We feel that a scrappage scheme providing extra financial incentives to encourage those with older diesels to scrap them might help. This should be in addition to the current grants for those purchasing EVs. Such a scheme could pay for itself as the Government would gain extra VAT from the sale of new replacement cars.
The government has just announced:
- £109 million of government investment into cutting-edge automotive research and development (R&D) projects
- Seven low carbon vehicle projects set to receive a share of £62 million funding, safeguarding 2,370 jobs
- First winners of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV2) competition set to receive £31 million
It's good to see the government and industry working together to promote greener, cleaner, more technologically advanced vehicles. The AA supports the “Plan for Britain” and believes that such pilots can help to develop safer, smarter, cleaner cars. Technological advances on the road towards driverless cars should bring benefits in terms of enhancing the economy and the environment, as well as, making cars safer and more sustainable.
The time is right to support technological change and promote the transition to electric, hybrid and connected vehicles, but as Gary Numan also sang:
You know I hate to ask
But are 'friends' electric?
Only mine's broke down
And now I've no-one to love.
Well, Gary, if you have broken down just call the AA because we know about 'Cars'.
Edmund (12 April 2017)
The long and winding road
I was in Snowdonia over the weekend and the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV coped brilliantly with the different roads, terrains and indeed weather conditions we encountered on our cross-country trip.
My only real gripe is that the electric power was gone after the first 30 miles on the motorway and the petrol tank is pretty small. At current prices it only takes about £35 to fill it up which may feel good for the wallet but it does mean stopping more often at the pumps on a long trip.
But on the road everything worked fine. The radio and sat nav take a little time to master but do actually perform well when you know what you are doing. I did read the manual or at least a few pages of it.
Cruising on the motorway is very comfortable and you can use regenerative braking when approaching the numerous variable speed limit sections on the M1 and M6. The Outlander isn't a small car but it was pretty agile on the small Welsh country roads, although the only frustration came when stuck for a considerable distance behind two slower cars towing boats. It was a relief when they turned off to fill up.
Heading home the four-and-a-half-hour journey went by in a comfortable flash. I did have stiff legs the following day but that had more to do with the fact I'd run up a mountain over the weekend rather than with any criticism of the driving position or seat.
Million-dollar question. Would I buy one? I think if I did more local mileage to really benefit from the electric range I would certainly consider it. But as a comfortable, efficient, cost-effective PHEV it really does the business.
Edmund (3 December 2016)
One of the oft quoted myths is that no company car users of the PHEV Outlander every plug it in if they get 'free' company petrol. The tale goes that company car drivers choose the PHEV for the tax benefits but then can't be bothered to plug it in.
I certainly didn't find this to be the case as every time I got to our offices in Basingstoke there were two PHEVs plugged in and often another waiting. I also experienced this at other Chargemaster charging points.
The Outlander PHEV's ultra-low emissions of only 42g/km CO2 means that company car drivers benefit from a relatively low taxable Benefit in Kind (BIK). Only 7% of list price in 2016/17 and though this is set to rise to 13% in 2018/19 it's still well below the 25% of list price that's taxable for a car with the average CO2 emissions of 120g/km.
Of course, the other benefit of buying a new Outlander PHEV is that it comes with the free installation of a Chargemaster charging point at home, which can be used on just about any EV, and six month's free access to the Polar charging network.
Edmund (1 December 2016)
On the Road
As with the EVs I've been driving I had to be extra careful pulling out of the driveway as the PHEV Outlander is pretty quiet. Once on the road it feels quite normal.
I did find myself constantly looking at the dial to see how much electricity I was using even though, with ¾ of a tank of petrol, there was no need for range anxiety.
When I got down to zero electric power on the motorway I challenged myself to try to regenerate some. On a few occasions I got back to one mile of electric range, but that was soon used up again.
You can check the efficiency of your driving at any time while the electric and petrol range is right there in front of you. You can even see the history of your recent journeys using the Mitsubishi Multi Communications System (MMCS).
On the sub-zero days the heated seats really worked a treat and the cabin warmed up much faster than most cars. If I'd got clever with the app I could have warmed the car up before I got into it. Perhaps next time.
I quickly got into the habit of plugging in as soon as I got home so that I'd always have at least 20 miles of electric range next time I needed the car.
Edmund (30 November 2016)
The automatic gear stick is slightly odd at first as it's not the normal Park, Drive, Reverse. There is a P above the main control plus a traditional handbrake but I did feel the need to check that I was in park before letting my foot off the brake.
One great feature of the controls is that you can choose how and when the battery is used. If you're on the motorway but want to save your EV power for the trip into town at the end of your journey, you can. The Outlander PHEV has a host of simple to use features. Activate power saving, eco mode and regenerative braking at the touch of a button.
I did however have to consult the manual or, rather, my 14-year-old for advice on how to use the sat nav.
I didn't particularly like the voice but guess you can probably change that. I'm getting fussy now.
Edmund (29 November 2016)
When's an EV not an EV?
Ok so a Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) isn't a pure EV but I thought I'd stretch the blog a little.
Recent statistics show a surge in plug-in car sales in the UK, with close to 60,000 now on the road. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV accounts for nearly a third of these so it's well worth a drive.
This SUV has twin electric motors and a highly efficient 2.0 litre petrol engine.
The car knows which to choose to match your driving which helps the fuel efficiency.
It's claimed the vehicle is capable of up to 32 miles in pure EV mode although after a full charge my car showed a maximum of only 22 miles. It can though regenerate some power on the move. This car could cover most average commutes solely on electricity, reducing costs and CO2. It's a good looking car and incredibly quick to plug in to the Chargemaster charging unit which is currently provided free of charge when you buy a new Outlander PHEV.
Edmund (27 November 2016)
I'm very fond of the Focus Electric but for the types of trips I do it's not practical as my main car.
With two cars in a household the Focus Electric seems to me to be an ideal second car. Economical and safe, it can seat five, has a decent boot and is good to drive. So for shopping trips, the school run, and ferrying kids about it's great – all week without ever filling up at the pumps.
The Focus electric may not be ideal for me as a main car but it may well suit you. According to the government's national travel survey, 55% of all car trips are shorter than 5 miles and the average journey by car, either as driver or passenger, is less than 9 miles.
Edmund (19 September 2016)
On Monday night I needed to be in Milton Keynes, a drive of about 30 miles each way. I didn't feel that I'd got enough experience of driving the car on motorways to be able to trust the range of 70 miles shown on the dashboard, but I was willing to give it a go.
My 15-year-old son however voiced caution. "Dad, it's a school night and I don't want to break down on that section of the M1 without the hard-shoulder." Yes, he had been indoctrinated with my concerns over the lack of hard shoulder so I heeded his wise counsel and we took the hybrid – my wife's car – so we could use some electric power but with petrol to back us up.
Edmund (14 September 2016)
On Saturday the roads were very wet and I managed to spin the front wheels a couple of times when pulling away in the Focus Electric. You quickly learn to be a little gentler on the pedal.
I did notice that despite doing several short trips of 2 or 3 miles each way, the indicated range on the dashboard hardly moved at all. Those butterflies on the dashboard must be giving me more range.
My first real test took me on a section of the M25 so called 'Smart' motorway (no hard shoulder if you run out of charge) followed by a meander through north London to find an Astroturf football pitch near the North Circular.
I struggled a bit with the Sat Nav as I didn't have a kid with me this time and was too impatient to read the instructions. On the move the Focus coped extremely well with the mix of roads. It was solid on the motorway and indeed got to to 70mph without me really noticing.
It also coped well in busy urban traffic and was nippy enough to change lanes quickly whenever required.
There's little road noise in the cabin and I really enjoyed driving the Focus. I did get slightly anxious about remaining range on the way back when I saw a sign saying 'M1 closed' but need not have worried as the closure was beyond my junction and I got back home with 20 miles to spare.
Edmund (12 September 2016)
On the road
The keyless entry works well on the Focus. I was then looking to see where you put the key but it has a start button so the key stays in my pocket. My son quickly worked out the radio, so with seat belts on, we were away. Backing out of the drive you have to be extra careful that there are no pedestrians around as the car is so silent.
On the road it's nippy yet has the solid feel of a bigger car, probably due to the weight of the battery. Even though the Focus doesn't look a big car from the outside, it's a bit of a Tardis inside. Head and leg room are good and the kids thought it was decent ride in the back too.
Initially I was slightly distracted by a couple of butterflies on the dashboard as I wasn't quite sure what they were. Then I got a third which apparently is pretty good and shows I was driving sensibly.
Charging is simple, using my home Chargemaster charging point, and it took only seconds to grab the lead from the boot and plug in.
When the car was fully charged, the indicated range did move up to the mid-70s.
Edmund (12 September 2016)
OK, so you may be thinking why is EV King only testing the top of the range EVs?
Today I took delivery of a Ford Focus Electric, and it's interesting how you instinctively look for different things on an EV when you use it for the first time. Or maybe not?
When I rent a car I always check first if it's petrol or diesel. With the Focus the first thing I checked was where the charging point was and does it have a cable. I'd backed onto the driveway but the charging point is at the front, so I should have come in forwards.
I guess the second thing I look for or indeed ask is 'what's the range? That wasn't so easily answered on this car. The dashboard showed me I had 53 miles and it looked like the charge was full. I couldn't find a manual, but on line, I found reference to a range of 76 miles and another to 100 miles.
Not knowing for certain the range does lead to some anxiety as one is unsure whether the dashboard indication of 53 miles is correct or could it be 76 miles, or 100? Either way it made me doubtful that it was safe to try to drive the 60 miles in congested traffic to AA HQ in Basingstoke. Probably not.
On the plus side I was delighted to read that it comes with £0 vehicle excise duty and has a 5-star Euro NCAP safety rating.
Edmund (12 September 2016)
Back to petrol
The worst thing about getting back into a petrol car for the first time in two weeks was filling up at the pumps. It somehow felt wrong paying £60 to fill up when I knew there were viable, cheaper alternative ways to run a car.
I also had to adapt my driving style. In the Tesla I prided myself on never braking on some trips as the regenerative braking was so effective. This morning I pulled my foot off the accelerator and expected to slow down but had to brake as the queue of cars ahead got closer.
The thing I did love about getting back into the petrol car was the throaty roar of the engine, particularly with the roof down when I pulled away.
I didn't find the EV particularly quiet on the motorway, mainly because of tyre noise, and in some ways I actually like the sound of the petrol engine going through the gears on the motorway.
But with the Chargemaster post at home gently blinking at me through the bushes I know I'll have to find another EV to charge up soon.
Edmund (29 August 2016)
The day before the Model S went back, I set about giving my own charging etiquette a charge-up.
I drove to South Mimms Services, where the A1 crosses the M25. Perhaps not your usual destination for a Sunday afternoon drive, but I had an ulterior motive as South Mimms is the nearest location to home with one of Tesla's own network of fast chargers.
I quickly found the regular charging points but was struggling to find the fast chargers until a 12-year-old boy outside Starbucks clocked me as a lost Tesla driver, flagged me down and helpfully pointed me in the right direction.
I was a little surprised to see ten Tesla charging points, although two were under wraps.
There were three other Teslas 'filling up' so still plenty of room for me and it was all very easy.
Reverse into the space until your tyre hits a small hump which tells you that you're lined up. Plug in you're in business. No cards, locks or delays.
If you're lucky enough to own a Tesla Model S you get this free charging for life.
I wandered off for a coffee, returning 30 minutes later to find the car's estimated range was back up to 260 miles.
It really couldn't have been easier or cheaper, and saved my home electricity too. I did start to wonder what happens when everyone drives a Tesla though?
Edmund (26 August 2016)
As a relative novice I'm still not really up to speed with EV "charging etiquette".
Arriving early one morning at AA towers in Basingstoke I was slightly miffed to see that, like a German putting a towel on a sun lounger, a plug-in hybrid had already nabbed the charging point.
As it was a plug-in hybrid, I have to admit thinking that mine, a full EV, should have preference. I was annoyed to see it still there after lunch.
I needn't have been annoyed though, as the AA has a way of dealing with the issue. Everyone who wants to charge gets a card from reception and leaves their number so they can be asked to move after 3 or 4 hours. I also learnt that there are actually two Chargemaster charging points there!
After charging, I embarked on my longest journey yet, interested to see if range anxiety would be an issue.
I drove the 60 miles from Basingstoke to Devizes on a combination of motorway and relatively fast single carriageway roads with plenty of hills. When I left I had a range of 260 miles and arrived with 190 miles left so was pretty close to the estimate.
It was a beautiful drive and the Tesla performed as well on the winding, hilly rural roads as it does on main roads.
After Devizes it was a 100-mile drive home, but still found myself studying closely how the estimated 190-mile range was counting down. I found myself doing calculations in my head regarding how many extra miles I'd covered. As darkness began to fall the dashboard changed with brighter displays and I noticed how the charging points in the local area – I was near Reading services by now – were flashed up on the sat nav.
I wasn't really suffering from range anxiety but tracking my mileage and range remaining did encourage me to drive more efficiently, keeping the dial in the green and avoiding braking whenever possible.
I needn't have worried as I still had 73 miles to spare by the time I got home, but it did make me think what if the range had been only 100 miles to start with?
Edmund (23 August 2016)
Stuck in the middle with you
I've now got used to using my home Chargemaster unit. The only issue, and it's a minor one, is that I sometimes get scratched because the socket's pretty much hidden behind a hedge.
It's pretty quick to grab the lead from the boot, release the charging point cover on the car – by pressing a button on the screen – and plug the lead into both car and charge point. Turn the key on the charger and you're in action.
If you want cheaper charging, you can set the timer on the car so that charging starts at 1am when electricity tends to be cheaper. This became routine but what happened when I tried using a public charging point for the first time?
I was recently invited to a top secret 'Chatham house plus' policy event at the Royal Automobile Club country club at Epsom. The invitation helpfully said there were charging points.
When I got there the carpark was full but that wasn't a problem for me as the two charging places were still free. I reversed in, next to a Rolls Royce (not an EV), and was pleased to see a Chargemaster charging point as I know how to use these. At least I thought I did.
There was a lead plugged-in already, so I just plugged the other end into the Tesla and it started charging. Wow this is easy. No cards, no additional leads etc.
I've mentioned before how the Tesla turns heads and, later in the day, Professor Phil Blythe, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department for Transport and Director of the Transport Operations Research Group at Newcastle University, asked to see the car. It was fully-charged by this time so I pressed the button to unlock the charge point and asked Phil to unplug the lead. He couldn't. We tried several times.
There was no switch on the charging point, no card access, nothing, but we couldn't get the plug out of the charging point or the car. I was stuck.
At this point it started to get embarrassing as other members of the seminar were coming outside and were attracted to the car – amongst them, some of the best qualified EV experts in the country.
There was the Director of OLEV, a top Technical Director, the Director of International Vehicle Standards at the Department for Transport (a mechanical engineer with over 30 years' experience), the Director, Energy, Technology & International at the Department for Transport, the Treasury's transport expert and many more.
The plug still wouldn't come out. But the groups advice wasn't too helpful:
"Just put your foot down Edmund and go for it."
The professor then put his mind to it.
"The plug won't disconnect because the car still thinks there's a charge going through it, even though the car is fully charged. There's no switch on the charger but electric current is still present. So we need to stop any power to the charger."
Some unnamed hero spotted a large mains switch further along the wall towards the Clubhouse. It could have knocked-out all the lights in the Clubhouse and set alarms off, but not waiting to find out, he bravely flicked the mains off. Like magic, the charging plug was now easily disengaged from my car and there was no alarm and no uptight porters. Phew!
It had taken the combined efforts of the top automotive brains in Britain but we managed it. As a reward I gave a few of them a lift to the station.
Edmund (15 August 2016)
How does it feel?
Living with an EV you do have to get used to a few quirks. I still find it odd just getting into the Tesla, engaging D (Drive) on the small lever and pulling away. There's no need for a key – to get in or start the 'engine' – it's silent, and there's no parking brake to disengage.
Pulling out of the driveway you do have to be extra cautious of pedestrians. They won't hear you coming as the car's almost silent.
My main gripe is with the A-pillars which are quite thick. This affects vision and really does mean having to think once, think twice, think bikes. (I must put some AA #thinkbike stickers on the car).
The rear window isn't the easiest to see out of although you are well supported by rear view cameras and parking beepers. Call me a luddite but I still prefer to reverse using the rear window and mirrors.
A colleague did point out that although the dashboard looks great it sounded a bit hollow when tapped, but hey, we're splitting hairs. This is one super car that I could easily live with… or could I?
Edmund (12 August 2016)
Life in the fast lane
Even without engaging 'ludicrous mode', the Tesla Model S is clearly a performance car and there are plenty of YouTube clips showing just how fast it is. Don't try this on the highway.
Accelerating to 60mph in under 3 seconds it beats many super cars.
My first proper drive tested the car in more challenging conditions. Coming back with my son from MK Dons football training the heavens opened when we were on the M1. Torrential rain, spray, wind and low visibility lead to several crashes. The Tesla coped brilliantly and safely. Super-fast automatic wipers kicked in and the weight of the car with batteries low down in the chassis had a real stabilising effect in the rain and strong winds.
From 'filling up' at home using my Chargemaster post, the round trip to MK Dons the car seemed to use up the miles that it said it would – the indicated remaining range dropped by the distance I'd covered. So no exaggerated range boasts here. The model I had seemed to have a top range of 291 miles which is more than adequate.
Edmund (10 August 2016)
Tesla Model S
There's no doubt that the Model S is a desirable car. A neighbour who works in the police force commented on how great it looks and the kids took their time to check it out when I was parked up by a local school.
Chargemaster's CEO, David Martel, had parked his own Tesla Model S next to an immaculate Aston Martin at the AA Chargemaster partnership launch and this prompted me to ask him honestly which car he'd really prefer. With no hesitation, David pointed to the Tesla saying that he'd owned all sorts of cars from Ferraris to Fiats but this was the car for him.
Before getting too carried away we do have to make it clear that we're talking top end EVs here, as the Tesla S model range runs from £53,000–£92,000.
But it's worth remembering that you can save thousands of pounds on petrol, vehicle excise duty, parking and congestion charges if you're lucky enough to own one. I feel a spread sheet coming on help me justify getting one…
There are many little things about the car that extol class like the way the door handles pop out of the body as you approach and the 17-inch touch screen that allows control of everything from the sunroof to timed charging at night.
The interior is spacious too. My kids concluded there are three decent, comfortable seats in the back. Must try it out.
Edmund (8 August 2016)
My first modern EV experience was to come courtesy of our charging partners, Chargemaster, and it just happened to be one of the best on the market. My own interest in Tesla was sparked off some years ago when I heard that they were working with Lotus to develop an electric roadster.
I grew up living next-door-but-one to Colin Chapman in Norfolk, and have been interested in the Lotus story since the age of 5. As kids, we'd hang out with his son and daughters, and I was even flown to my first Grand Prix by Colin Chapman himself.
Anyway, this sparked an interest although I noted later that Tesla were keen to point out that their great roadster was not a converted Lotus Elise.
When Tesla's Model S was launched it became one of the few cars I was truly excited at seeing at motor shows and indeed, one of the few I really wanted to drive.
I did manage to get a brief test drive from the White City Westfield showroom a couple of years ago but being my first drive, and in dense London traffic, I didn't really get to experience all the car could offer!
Now Chargemaster have loaned me one for a couple of weeks…
Edmund (4 August 2016)
Charge of the light brigade
I remember being at the What Car? Awards, some eight years ago, and bumping into David Martell who I'd known and worked with during his inspirational time at TrafficMaster. I asked him then what he was up to and he mentioned working on a start-up electric car charging company.
Today Chargemaster has a network of some 4000 charging points and is looking to add another 500 this year.
We're now working with Chargemaster to promote the take-up of EVs and to encourage AA accredited hotels to put in charging points for their customers to use.
Sometimes AA members ask if we'll be able to help if they break down in an electric car. Well, the answer's yes. All of our patrols are trained in how to work safely on electric and plug-in hybrid cars and, indeed, we already provide the breakdown service for big EV brands such as Tesla, Ford, Vauxhall and Volkswagen.Reliable?
Generally, our figures show that electric cars are pretty reliable. On the one hand, EVs have fewer moving parts to go wrong – no gears, oil etc. – but on the other, the most common types of breakdown can occur on any car. We still get many EV call-outs for damaged tyres, punctures, lost keys and sometimes battery problems. Servicing costs also seem to be cheaper as again there really is less to service.
Enough background. I think the time's right for me to get out there and test some cars.
Edmund (2 August 2016)
To really live with an EV I needed a charging point at home
Generally, our cars spend ten times longer at home than on the road so it's the obvious place to charge an EV, if you can.
When I first used an EV (a TH!NK fifteen years ago) I lived in a first floor flat in the city and had to resort to running an extension lead out of the window to the pavement below. Not ideal.
Luckily I now have a driveway, and we estimate from our AA-Populus surveys that around three quarters of AA members should be able to charge an EV at home.Installation
When Chargemaster's technician, Thom, arrived to check out my home electrics I was slightly worried. The charge point couldn't go in the garage as that's long been converted into the kids' TV room and I didn't want a Las Vegas style flashing beacon outside the front door.
I didn't need to worry though as Thom assured me the charging unit could go on the front wall of the house, hidden behind a bush. The installation was incredibly neat and professional and what's more I got a government grant for two thirds of the cost.
So for around £300, the cost of 6 tanks of petrol, I was up and running.
With some new EVs you can even get the cost of a home charging point included in the price.
Once the charging point is installed you can sign up to 6 months free use of Chargemaster's public network of charging points.
The charging network helps to give reassurance but in reality most people could probably do most of their charging at home.
Right I am charged up and ready go.
Edmund (25 July 2016)
Recalling my first EV experience
Electric cars aren't new. I had my first some 15 years ago.
It was a Th!nk City Car and I was handed the keys by Ken Livingston, the then Mayor of London, in Trafalgar Square. I was part of a fifteen company trial and had the car for six months.
The launch was intended to generate press publicity of course, but fateful events elsewhere on 9/11 in 2001 understandably meant that didn't happen.
The TH!NK City was made of polyethylene – the same plastic used for bottles and plastic bags – so I didn't have to worry about scratches. I had an underground parking place near the Mall where I could plug it in to charge using a standard 13amp plug.
It was quite fun tootling around London and taking advantage of free parking although I did have to put a big sign in the windscreen to remind over-zealous parking attendants that it was exempt.The long way home
One Friday evening, fed up with over-crowded trains, I decided to drive the 26 miles home. With hindsight I guess this was quite risky as the range was only about 36 miles on a full charge.
What I didn't know was that a colleague had earlier given an MP a spin round Westminster in the car. So I set out believing that I was on a full charge. I hadn't reckoned on having to use the windscreen wipers or lights that night either!
I avoided the motorway as the car could only reach about 50mph and took the back roads, but six miles from home, with the charge dial on zero, I free wheeled into a residential cul-de-sac. I did think about knocking on a door and asking if they had an extension lead but didn't really want to wait all night for a charge.
I called for roadside assistance. "Battery problem, Mr King? No problem." Well, it was a bit of a problem as the car had to be recovered to my home.
I borrowed a new EV last weekend and wow how things have changed.
The old Th!nk had a range of 36 miles (on a good day), a top speed of 50 (downhill), took what felt like minutes rather than seconds to accelerate from a standing start to 50mph, and looked like a pod.
The new model (of which more later) has a range of over 220 miles (on any day), a top speed of 100 plus, does 0–60mph in just over 3 seconds and looks amazing. So is the world ready for proper EVs?
Edmund (22 July 2016)