Why I can’t have an electric car

I want an electric car.

I’ve been watching Fully Charged by Robert Llewellyn, and it’s crystallised my desire for an electric car. I need a different car; I am thoroughly, thoroughly sick of how much mine costs to fix when it goes wrong, and I’m tired of my car not having things like a slot to plug my phone in.

So, new car. And I’d love an electric car. Because they’re cool.

Now, most of the marketing and arguments for electric cars are about the environment. “Look, they’re zero-emission! Look, petrol takes this many kilowatt-hours of electricity to produce! Save a whale! Drive electric!” And…I don’t care. The hell with the environment. I don’t care. Maybe I should, but I don’t. I want an electric car because they’re cool.

Maybe — perhaps even probably — you don’t think they’re cool. Fine, no problem, move along. Buy a Gumpert Apollo. Or a Prius. I don’t want a hybrid (don’t care about the environment, remember?).

I don’t care about almost any of the reasons that are given for electric cars being rubbish; don’t care about resale value, don’t care (all that much) about purchase cost, don’t care about running costs, and, as mentioned, don’t care about saving whales. I’m a young* technology professional with disposable income who’s interested in electric cars because they’re cool, not a bead-wearing hippie who wants to upgrade the 2CV to a Prius to impress the other people in the commune. I want one. And I can’t have one. Why?

Range. An electric car will do a hundred miles. That’s not enough.

Yes, yes, the average length of a journey in the UK is 8 miles or whatever. Yes, most of my drives are about 5 miles. Yes, an electric car is perfect for these. I agree, entirely.

But I live 60 miles from my daughter, who I pick up once a fortnight, and 120 miles from my parents, who I see once every six weeks. There is no electric car on the market which will reliably do 120 miles when driven normally. They’ll do 80, or 100. Or they’ll do 120 if driven really, really carefully, and even then it’s doubtful. This kills the idea stone cold dead, and it’s not gonna change in the next few years as far as I can tell.

Sidebar 1: when I say “no electric car on the market”…there are no electric cars on the market, right now. Leaving aside pure city cars like the G-Wiz, which do about 40 miles and are not designed for any sort of long journey, you can’t actually buy an electric car right now. The Nissan Leaf isn’t out until March 2011. The BMW Mini-E is only in a private trial in the south-east. The Mitsubishi i-MiEV isn’t out until January 2011. I can’t actually buy an electric car, even if I wanted to.

Sidebar 2: there is an electric car which has the range that I need. The Tesla Roadster. That’ll do 245 miles on a charge, and even if Tesla are completely full of crap about that spec it’s still way, way more than I need. We’ll ignore that it’s left-hand-drive, we’ll ignore that you can’t buy a UK one as far as I can tell, and settle on the problem: I can’t have a Tesla because they cost ninety grand. Yes, I said above that I don’t care about cost, but I care a bit. I don’t have 90k. I’m not John Carmack. No Tesla for me. End of sidebar.

Maybe in the future a “fast charge” will take 10 minutes rather than 30, and there’ll be a fast-charge station somewhere in between my house and my parents’. Maybe in the future the Better Place people will convince car manufacturers to co-operate and build switchable batteries and then put battery swap stations on every road. Maybe there’ll be some huge leap forward in technology and we’ll get five times the life out of a battery (this’ll be good for my laptop, too, I have to say). But right now I just can’t see how I can get an electric car. The average length of a journey is irrelevant. If you need to ever, ever drive over the range of your electric car then your electric car’s useless, right now. Five years from now I hope it’ll all be different. But it looks to me like I need to get some different car and then the next time I change, get an electric.

If you think I’m wrong, I’d love to hear why. Speak up.

More in the discussion (powered by webmentions)

  • Jo Shields responded at twitter.com @sil well, what's changed is the proliferation of charge points. It's still not quite enough - but it IS vastly improved