Life is a mixed bag, and the reaction to potential emergence of electric cars is similar.
Yesterday I spent time with a small company of engineers and designers who run a company called Delta Motorsport from a small building next to the Silverstone GP circuit.
They have developed the Delta E-4 Coupe, a 4 seater electric sports car which pushes automotive technology out of the rut of endlessly refining the internal combustion engine and into a new era.
It’s an amazing achievement, where a large manufacturer would spend literally billions developing a completely new model, Delta have built 5 cars for well under a million quid. They were zipping around the track yesterday for hours on end, and no, they didn’t need to be re-charged during that time.
It was a quiet celebration of incredible skill, determination and truly ground breaking innovation. The motors driving these cars are made in Oxford by a company called Yasa Motors.
They are a revolutionary design, tiny, light and incredibly powerful. The drive from these motors is direct to the wheels, there is no need for an energy sapping gearbox. Motor, drive shaft, wheel. Simple and brilliant.
The battery control systems are built in the UK, the whole car was built by Delta from the ground up. It’s fantastic to drive, fast, smooth and has true sports car handling.
So that’s all good, what’s with the mixed bag?
Well, there is a very large swathe of the British public who, when confronted with such innovation scrabble around looking for negative reactions, gather them together in a neat pile and plop them down without another thought.
As I noticed on a recent perfectly reasonable report in the Guardian
The comments were a dirge of misery, people who had never driven an electric car gathering up all the possible negative factors they could and pouring them out. The psychology of such behavior is fascinating, a little puzzling maybe and it is something I’m trying to understand.
Very much like the comment battle that took place here after I was critical of the BBC story on ‘range anxiety,’ which, just in case you didn’t know, was a term originally coined by the General Motors PR department when they very controversially withdrew the EV1 electric car from the Californian market, crushed all the cars and introduced the Hummer.
Anyway, I stray, I just wonder what the psychology is that drives so many people to react in this way.
I’m going to try and imagine. Okay, I’m a 35 year old white male, I have a reasonable salary, I live in a small apartment in a big city and I own a car. A five-year-old diesel which I park on the street. I’m not that interested in cars, I don’t invest my personality in it, I just see it as something to get me around.
I read an article in a magazine or newspaper about a new breed of cars that are appearing, they are powered by electricity and require plugging in overnight to charge them. I know I can’t do that. Not until there is a recharge point for every parking place in the country.
But I don’t think about if that is possible or likely, I just imagine being forced by some unseen government agency to ditch my trustworthy diesel hatchback and spend a huge amount of money on a new electric car, and I have nowhere to recharge it. And the ball starts rolling, I start to build up reasons why this is no good for me. What if it runs out on a motorway? What if it runs out at 3 in the morning as I’m driving over a Welsh mountain? What if I have to replace the batteries after 500 miles because we all know what lap top batteries are like? What if they start to tax electricity? What if I run someone over because electric cars are silent? Anyway electric cars are dirtier than diesels because.. because, um, the power stations, yes, they cause pollution too, yeah, see, phew.
The list goes on and on, the anxiety takes over.
So I’ll flip it around. Let’s just say for arguments sake that in 1920 something, a man called Charles F. Kettering had been run over by a horse and didn’t invent the starter motor and the internal combustion engine didn’t catch on. (Most cars were electric powered in the early part of the 20th century.)
So now, I’m 35, live in a flat in a city, have an electric car parked over an induction charging plate set in the road. All the electricity in the country is from renewable sources and I’m not interested in cars.
Then I read an article about these new engines, petrol engines. They explode a highly flammable liquid in a cylinder which turns a crank which turns a flywheel which turns a complicated, heavy gearbox and clutch, which turns a drive shaft which turns the wheels. When I stop laughing, I read on.
The fuel I will need to make this machine operate has to be drilled out of the ground in Arabia and shipped to the UK in massive tankers. It then has to be refined in huge industrial plants that use copious amounts of electricity, it’s then shipped to a very expensive installation called a petrol station. I then have to stop, pump this dangerous liquid into the tank in my car. When the complicated engine is running, it not only makes a lot of noise, the gas that comes out of the exhaust pipe is poisonous, the engine creates huge amounts of waste heat which requires a massive, energy sapping cooling system, the fuel is very expensive and finite, it will run out. I throw my head back in hoots of laughter and put the kettle on. Ridiculous, it’ll never catch on.