What the future holds

It occurred to me today that I really am a 20th century boy when it comes to transport. Do you know how many 21st century cars I’ve owned? It isn’t many, and one of them is the Perodua.

The answer is two. The second was a Rover 75 Connoisseur CDT Tourer I owned several years ago. I didn’t really get on with it, which surprised me.

Rover estate diesel

I’d always liked the Rover 75. Until I owned one.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a lovely place to sit at night.

Rover 75 interior is GORGEOUS

But, ultimately, the car itself left me cold. Not through any major failing, just because it felt too new. The electrics were flaky, the clutch hydraulics nightmarish and the engine a horrible, clattering diesel. It didn’t stay on the fleet long, even though (unlike the Lexus) it had heated seats that actually worked!

The Nippa represents my other foray into ‘modern’ cars, but let’s face it, it’s only a 21st Century car by fluke. It’s a cast-off Daihatsu from much earlier – the early 1990s in fact.

Not really 21st century…

The Nippa even clings on to a 20th century number plate style, whereas the Rover had the ‘new’ style, introduced in 2001. The Nippa is the last of the ‘old plate’ line. I like older plates.

Generally, I love 1980s and 1990s cars. To me, they represent peak cars. They got as good as they were ever going to be, and everything since then has been more airbags, more gadgets, more weight and precious little improvement. Yes, a Nissan Qashqai is very nice, but does it really do more than a 20-year old Nissan? No, I’m not sure it does.

But, there is a problem. Much as I love using 1980s and 1990s stuff as daily transport, the good times cannot last forever. Already, a lot of Japanese 1980s cars are facing a parts crisis, while corrosion is forever ready to rip away at survivors. It’s very hard to preserve a car AND use it as daily transport.

So, what am I going to do? I don’t like 21st century cars. Well, ok. I don’t like 21st century cars with internal combustion engines. Frankly, I don’t think the engines are good enough. Complexity has gone through the roof, but where is the improvement for the end user? It isn’t there.

Electric on the other hand, now there’s a modern car technology which interests me. For a start, the power delivery is exceptional. I won’t go on about it, because I’ve spent plenty of time singing the praises of electric power before. Suffice it to say though, I’m definitely getting closer to the time in my life when I own an electric car. Sure, it might be a bit of a leap to jump from a petrol-engined car over 20 years old into such recent technology, but that’s because to me, the cars between the two are simply not worth having.

Nissan Leaf

How long must I wait to own a LEAF? Four years since I tried this one!

It’s going to be an interesting jump, when it happens. Mind you, if I didn’t spend so much money on rubbish cars, I could probably have made the leap already. Oh well. I’m not a fan of depreciation, so I guess I’ll wait a bit longer, until electric cars are more affordable. Hopefully, there won’t be long to wait. The problem is, as the values drop, electric cars are suddenly viable for an awful lot more people, which conversely can stop the values dropping. Nissan LEAF values have definitely reached something of a plateau now. These cars were £25,000-35,000 brand new, but values have firmed up in the £5000-6000 range. Problematic! I just don’t spend that much on cars. Well, not buying just one anyway.

So, we’ll see what happens. Until then, I’m going to make the most of having a V8 soundtrack in my life because one day, it might not be possible.

Why the Lexus might be my final petrol car

The economy of the Lexus really doesn’t matter. Well, ok. I’ll qualify that. The economy of any car should not be the main focus. If I believe the hype, I’d buy some modern thing that claims to do 75mpg and surely be quids in, only I wouldn’t be, because I’d probably be paying what the Lexus effectively cost to buy every two months just to own it. It’d also probably be a diesel, and they’re horrible. Especially modern ones.


Lexus may be smooth, but it’s not Volkswagen e-Golf smooth.

I think the XM was a turning point for me. I got so fed up with the horrible diesel soundtrack that I swore I’d never own another. Which is why, a few months later, I bought an Omega turbo diesel. Yeah, ok. I don’t always get it right. That car really was the nail in the coffin for diesel on my driveway. I’ve decided that petrol engines just sound nicer, drink fuel which isn’t half so disgusting to the nose and rev in ways diesels just will not.

But, I like low-down dirty grunt, which petrols aren’t great at – unless they’ve got capacity on their side. V8s are especially good at torque, so while I didn’t really set out to swap the Bluebird for a Lexus, an LS400 has been very much on my wish list for a while now. It’s been far too long since I owned a V8 (early 2011 when I sold my last), and while economy springs to mind for a lot of people, I bet it’ll still be considerably better than my Land Rover 90 V8. That managed to barely have any power and drink fuel at an alarming 15mpg no matter how I drove it. The 120 odd miles I’ve done in the Lexus so far have proved that it is nowhere near that thirsty.

It will be if I enjoy the revs, but so far, extending the slightly-louder pedal in the Lexus has only revealed that it makes the scenery blur worryingly quickly, and suddenly you feel like you’re trying to thread a needle with a jump lead. This much bulk shouldn’t be travelling this quickly on a Welsh B road. So, it’s not difficult to just sit back and enjoy the torque, which allows you to travel decently quickly at no more than 2000rpm. That effortless torque is what I really want.

Which is why I love electric cars, because if there is anything an electric motor does really well, it’s effortless torque. Frankly, a Volkswagen e-Golf makes even a Lexus seem hard work, because as quick as the Lexus can be when it’s in the sweet spot, there’s still a lag while the gearbox works out how to get it there. Internal combustion engines have peak power and torque in one place. Well, actually, the two are often in different places, and you need several gears to try and keep them between the two if you want to get a shift on. An electric motor just accelerates, and it’s lovely. It is, as the lady from Tesla UK once told me, like the best automatic gearbox in the world. Those who’ve followed me for a while know that I’ve been utterly won over by electric for some time now, and it’s only cost that prevents me from buying an EV myself. Silly isn’t it? I can buy a £50,000 luxury car with all the bells and whistles (and 260bhp) for under a grand, but the cheapest electric cars (that you’d actually want to own) are three times that – at least.

Could this be the future of the HubNut fleet? Possibly. In about 20 years time…

But, having spent several grand on the 2CV, and a huge chunk of cash on the Bluebird more recently, it has occurred to me that it wouldn’t be that hard to save up and buy an EV, maybe next year. Well, I’m not giving up on petrol without enjoying myself first! So, a Lexus it is.

I don’t want an electric car to be green, though that is part of the appeal. I don’t want one to be cool either, because I don’t really understand the concept. Nor do I want one so I can have priority parking at Ikea – I’d rather wear chilli powder contact lenses than go to a huge shop that traps you in a one-way system.

No, the biggest reason I want an electric car is the way they drive. Modern petrol and diesel cars leave me utterly, utterly cold. Electricity excites me. For a start, there’s the ability to generate electricity every time you slow down. Once you’ve experienced this, conventional brakes feel utterly, utterly wasteful. They just make heat! Plus, there’s the efficiency gains. Internal combustion engines also mostly create heat. Less than half of the energy you put in is turned into forward motion.

But really, it’s that seamless power delivery that truly gets me. No turbo lag, no transmission-making-its-mind-up time, no waiting for the engine to hit its sweet spot – just instant, delicious torque.

I wonder how hard it is to convert a Lexus LS400?

EV News: Tesla not crash-proof, Zoe goes further

There’s actually some very interesting news in the world of modern cars at the moment, so I’ve taken some time to explore.

Let’s start with Tesla. The BBC has reported that Tesla has been cleared of any responsibility for a collision in which the driver of a Model S was killed. It does raise a serious point though, which is that, despite all the clever gizmos fitted to many modern cars (certainly not just Teslas), the driver (for now at least) remains in control, and should deal with any incidents as they arise.

Model S

Tesla – ruled only dangerous if you don’t pay attention.

It seems that in this case, a truck drove across the car, which is a scenario most cars seem unable to deal with. Many new cars (including the Qashqai I drove recently) have an in-built emergency brake system, where the car will put the brakes on to avoid a collision. Here’s the thing though. They tend to be radar-based, and have a pretty narrow field of view – they need to or they’d be trying to stop you every time a car approached on the correct side of the road. The message is pretty clear here – do not trust the technology to save you. Pay attention! What this says for the future of truly autonomous cars is that there’s still a long way to go. Which is good news! Autonomous cars sound like a truly terrible idea for those of us who like driving. People who don’t like driving should perhaps consider, er, not driving! Get a lift. Catch the train. Maybe even consider a bus. Then you can check your smartphone without crashing…

In other news, I’ve been pleased to see that Renault has launched a new version of its Zoe electric car, now with a 41kwh battery back. The original Zoe had a 22kwh battery, while the upgraded LEAF I drove last summer boasted 30kwh. Clearly, as EV sales rise, the technology is moving on. The new battery is 15kg heavier, but no larger. That’s pretty remarkable.

Renault ZOE racer

Renault Zoe is to get a greater range. By a long way!

It takes the expected range way beyond 150 miles to maybe 180 in mixed conditions. Realistically, that’s about the same as my 2CV and enough for a full three hours of National Speed Limit single-carriageway routes, or over two hours of motorway. I find this very exciting. Even better, Renault are offering the chance to buy the batteries outright. Now, if you’re buying new, then a battery lease maybe makes sense, especially if you’re leasing the car itself (as 81% of new car buyers apparently do). Second-hand, the picture is much more muddied. You can buy a second-hand Zoe for less than £5000, but it seems very difficult to get a feel for what you’ll be paying in terms of battery lease. It varies depending on annual mileage and some other things. So, £5000 to buy your new car, but then you will be faced with £49 or more a month leasing the battery. The good news is that it protects you against battery failure, as Renault will replace it if it can no longer reach a certain level (70 or 75% it seems). The bad news is that it’s a regular outgoing on a car which otherwise has free road tax and, potentially, very cheap fuel (if you charge at home on a preferable night-time rate). It shoves up your pence per mile, and doesn’t make it look like a favourable option compared to a  50mpg diesel. Or even a 40mpg petrol to be honest. Let’s break for sums.

Zoe – 6000 miles per year, £59 per month battery lease (£69 for the Zoe 40) = £708 per year, with fuel costs on top – probably £180-200, though this really depends where you charge. Total fuel cost per year, £908 let’s say.

MG3 1.5 petrol – 6000 miles per year. Fuel cost based on 40mpg at £1.20 per litre = £817.20. Mind you, you’ll also have to pay £130 vehicle tax, though you will actually be able to ‘charge’ your petrol car in Wales. It gets a bit harder with EVs. Total annual cost £947.

I should point out that none of these figures include any servicing, with the petrol car needing more – like oil, plugs and filters and things.

So, electric cars don’t necessarily deliver when it comes to sums. Nor do they necessarily deliver an environmental benefit – it does rather depend where the electricity comes from. I don’t much care. I just love the way electric vehicles drive. They just need to get a little bit more affordable but I definitely will own one. Hopefully relatively soon.


EV: Getting it wrong

This is a little additional post, following my experiences where I got a range calculation very wrong. It isn’t part of the main roadtrip, but a separate trip I undertook after a day of rest.

Firstly, I had to get to Cannock, which is 102 miles away. I’d been out the night before and as I don’t have a home charger, I’d plugged the car in when I got home at 10:45pm. When I went to leave at 9am the next morning, the car was still charging. This is the downside of a bigger battery – it takes longer to charge up! Most LEAF owners will have a fast charger at home, which should charge a LEAF up in just a few hours, depending on which charger is fitted to the car.

However, I had over 100 miles of range, so off I set. As the journey went on, I began to realise that while I could make it to my destination, I probably wouldn’t have much left ‘in the tank’ when I got there. I suspected my chums would want to have a quick ride in the car, so stopped at Telford for a quick ten-minute charge. That took the battery back up to 51%, putting in 7.2kwh of juice.

A joyful morning was spent watching awful cars fetching baffling amounts of money at a car auction before I headed off for the next leg. A friend had offered me a set of wheels and tyres for my 2CV Project, so I now headed south to Stow-On-The-Wold in the Cotswolds. Hilton Park services on the M6 was handily placed, so I headed there for a charge-up. Sadly, I utterly failed to remember how much juice I put in, but I felt it was comfortably enough to get to Stow, then to proceed to Strensham Services on the M5.

Cruising around The Cotswolds was truly joyous. I risked ruining the aerodynamics by opening the windows as I whispered along the lanes. With the tyres and wheels collected, all of which fitted in the generous boot, I headed for the M5, where I arrived with 13% battery remaining. I suspect the enormous 50mph section through the M5’s roadworks helped the range a great deal!

I’d checked the status of the chargers before I set off, but forgot that one of the Strensham chargers is offline. I spent several frustrating minutes trying to get it to work before giving up. Sadly, there was a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV at the other charger, and the display indicated it hadn’t been there long. Some EV owners get angry about these hybrids, as they don’t HAVE to charge up – the joy of still having an actual engine. I’m not like that. Electricity helps improve the economy, so it could be argued they’re just as welcome at the chargers as EVs.

After about ten minutes, the owners came back. I suspect they would have liked to keep charging, but they were kind and let me take over. I had to fend off another PHEV that had just arrived, but they were kind and understanding too.

I now had a long wait, so spent some time reading the owners’ manuals and cursing the fact that motorway tea costs £2.50. Disgraceful. I refused to partake and stuck with water. After exactly 39 minutes, I was a bit fed up. The battery was at 85% and the range was showing as 111 miles. The distance to home? 99 miles. I’ll concede that after our first long trip of 98 miles, I may have got a bit over confident. After all, that trip was with a battery at 100%…

Things get scary

It didn’t take long for me to realise that I was in a spot of bother. I think it was after about 20 miles that I realised this was going to be a struggle. You see, the route from Worcester to Wales feels like it’s almost entirely uphill! I felt ok with 15 miles between range and distance to cover, but that gap soon began to close up. I started to deploy the first stage of panic stations. No air con and letting the speed drop by 10-15mph going up hills. I limited to the top speed to 53mph (a realistic 50). For some time, range and distance remained near-identical. I’d drop into negative figures when climbing, but would get miles back coming down the other side. Not enough though.

My back muscles began to tense, and an uncomfortable feeling developed in my stomach. Ah yes. My old friend range anxiety! I desperately tried to conserve momentum, using racing lines to try and keep my speed up through bends. My economy went up, so it was having some effect. Would it be enough though? Approaching Leominster, things were getting so worrying that I refused to overtake a tractor.

The anxiety was extra bad because I’d stupidly left the 13amp charge cable at home. That meant that it was impossible for me to just find a kindly person to pinch some electricity from. My only option was to push on for home. After Kington, there’s an awfully steep climb before reaching Pen-y-Bont. I allowed the speed to drop to 30mph, despite the 60mph limit. As we came down the other side, I allowed my speed to build, pressing the throttle enough to cancel the regen, but not so much that power was used to build speed up. Regen was employed for sharp turns, but my speed was still very low. I couldn’t build up enough momentum and was soon on the power again.

The range continued to sit at a lower figure than the miles remaining as I headed toward Rhayader. I’d turned the speed limiter off at this point. I’d control the pace and keep it slow as I climbed, but if I could get up to 60mph going downhill without using power, I would, employing the subsequent regen before the inevitable bends, but only slowing down just enough to get around the bend. The aim was to avoid heavy acceleration on the exit.

As we snaked along the A470, I was starting to think this was hopeless. I had 18 miles still to go, but only 14 miles of range. My speed dropped to 40mph and I nervously kept watch on the rear-view mirror. People who overtook must have ended up thinking that these electric cars are hopelessly slow!

At Llangurig, I had 13 miles to go, but now just ten miles of range. I also had to climb over the Cambrian Mountains again. I called home and requested emergency help! Rachel dashed to the garage, grabbed the 13amp charging cable and hopped in her Perodua Nippa to come to the rescue. I pushed on. Would I actually get to find out what it feels like to run out of juice?

Even the LEAF was worried. Not that it could find any charging stations in mid-Wales!

Even the LEAF was worried. Not that it could find any charging stations in mid-Wales!

By now, I was doing 30mph as an absolute maximum, and even less when climbing. Thankfully, it was after 8pm at night, and traffic levels were very low. The range kept dropping. With 11 miles to go, the range dropped first to 8 miles, then went blank. It was refusing to tell me how far I could now go. I checked the battery level. That also was refusing to tell me how much was left. My back was no longer touching the seat because I was so tense!

However, owning a 2CV means I know a few tricks about conserving momentum. It’s about being as smooth as possible. I continued to use racing lines, and allowed speed to build when gravity could assist. I eased the car over the crest at Eisteddfa Gurig and allowed myself a smile. Now, I had a fighting chance. The road immediately began to drop steeply. Balancing the throttle, I allowed the car to get up to 60mph, before employing medium regen. I’ve no idea how much power I generated on this section of slopes, but we were still moving. Excellent.

Fuel light roulette, EV style.

Fuel light roulette, EV style.

I then reached the ‘splash road,’ or the B4343 as it is known on maps. This was another steep climb, but no traffic was approaching, and I could crawl up at 20mph. A flying Perodua came towards me – the rescue team! However, there were now just four miles to go, and once I crested the hill at Parcgwyn, I knew it was mostly downhill.

Arriving at Devil’s Bridge, I felt much calmer. If the battery level was dangerously low, the LEAF would have gone into ‘turtle’ mode, where it really cuts back on the power. I still had a small hill to climb, and the car did it easily.

But I’d done it! I managed to coax the car home. The relief was palpable. I’d managed to cover 11 miles with dire warnings of extremely low battery level, in hilly terrain.

Made it! Phew. Back home.

Made it! Phew. Back home.

In conclusion, this highlights the problem with living in rural Wales. There just aren’t any charging options. At all. Stay close to the motorway network and range anxiety just isn’t really an issue. Departing from it is still a bit of a leap of faith though, and it must be said, driving with range anxiety is no fun at all. This is exactly the opposite of joyful motoring, though it does also remind me how much fuel is used to keep speed up on hills, and to accelerate away from bends.

Just one rapid charger along the length of the A44 would have taken the stress away. A ten-minute charge would have been plenty. Then I could actually have enjoyed this great driving road, because the LEAF handles well, rides well and is actually very pleasant to drive. The infrastructure has improved hugely in the 2.5 years since I last tested a LEAF, and none of the long trips I have made this time were even remotely possible back then. This was my second 300-mile day in the LEAF, taking me to 720 miles covered in just three days of driving. It proves that electric vehicles are viable, but I have also proved that when it comes to Wales, issues do remain.

EV: Roadtrip 30kwh LEAF Pt 3

Now was the time to truly test the LEAF’s potential. We awoke in Liverpool, and now needed to get to Bradford in West Yorkshire for an appointment with what remains of my 2CV. The first plan was to escape Liverpool, which proved more difficult than expected as I was still having trouble trying to work out where the sat nav wanted us to go. We made it to Warrington and the M62 in the end though, and pulled up at Burtonwood Services for a charge.

There were two issues here. First, I was having to stop before I really wanted to. Having not found an overnight charge point, I was now stopping after less than an hour’s drive. Secondly, the charger wouldn’t work. It refused to initialise, so that was that. Fortunately, there was another charger, and that worked just fine. Twenty minutes took us back to 100 miles of range. We were only going 52 miles, but we had to climb Windy Hill on the M62. That was going to chomp through range.

Error! Gah! No electricity allowed to pass.

A successful charge. The other charger refused to play ball. I love this colour.

I wasn’t wrong either. Over four miles of climbing, we lost 20 miles of range. Granted, I was keeping my foot in. If you want to save energy and boost economy, in any vehicle, then let it lose 10mph on hills. You’ll save a ton of energy.

The torque of the electric motor certainly has advantages once you’re out on the moors though. Hillclimbing is easy! No downshifting or kickdown, just power when you need it. Best of all, you get power back going down hills too! Rather than just creating lots of waste heat, like normal brakes, the LEAF turns the motor into a generator to give a strong engine braking effect. Actually, you only get that in B mode – using the gear controller, you can select D or B. D gives far less regen when you lift off the throttle, only giving it when you press gently on the brake pedal. Press hard and the service brakes actually kick in. I prefer B mode, as you can effectively one-pedal drive.

After vising the 2CV and having a bit of a mooch on the moors, we headed for the rapid charger at Bradford. One long descent here was enough to put 2% back into the battery. I was amazed. We arrived at Welcome Break services near Bradford with only 11% battery remaining. Knowing we’d easily get to the charger, I must concede that I’d been enjoying the acceleration potential a little more! We charged for a full half an hour, which took the range back up to 111 miles.

An electric cruise around the Yorkshire moors.

An electric cruise around the Yorkshire moors.

The break gave me chance to do two things. Firstly, I called up The Electric Highway on my phone. I was planning to stop at Knutsford for juice, but that was only about 40 miles away. Could we make it further? Keele Services was shortly before we came off the M6, in Staffordshire, so I decided to head there. It was an 81 mile jaunt. Should be easy.

The second thing I did was check social media. Now, here’s a really interesting thing about electric cars. If you post stuff about them on the internet, people will take great pleasure in pointing out how rubbish they are, and how an electric car would never work for them. Well, obviously! If you’re clocking up hundreds of miles a day, then an EV is not a particularly quick way to do it. Similarly, if you’re looking for an off-roader, I wouldn’t suggest you buy a Jaguar XJ6. People get very, very insistent though, and I wondered why that is.

Bit dark inside. Beige was an option earlier in the LEAF's history!

Bit dark inside. Beige was an option earlier in the LEAF’s history!

I think it must just be because some people are very defensive of the internal combustion engine. I get that. A LEAF is fun, but it doesn’t thrill in the way something with a V8 can. There’s no soundtrack. However, I personally really like EVs and the way they drive. I love the feel of electric traction, whether that’s in a modern electric car or on a train or trolleybus. Electricity feels efficient, in a way combustion engines just don’t. Over half of the potential energy you hurl into a car is turned into heat, and nothing more. The vast majority of the energy you put into an EV propels you down the road. Sure, there are transmission losses in getting the power to the car, and questions about how environmentally friendly that electricity is in the first place, but I don’t care. I’m not here to present the LEAF as some miracle, environmental solution. I just enjoy driving them.

Anyway, after amusing myself with social media, we set off again. The weather and traffic both turned against us at this point, and having got my economy back up to 4.4 miles per kwh (it dropped to 4.3mpkwh in the hills), I soon saw it drop away again. The reason? Stop-start traffic. By switching to a live economy readout, I could see the horrible effect that repeated accelerations have on power use. Even just gently moving away up to 10 or 20mph uses a good chunk of fuel. You’re having to overcome inertia every time.

This all meant that the 111 miles of range had taken quite a battering by the time we arrived at Keele. The battery had dropped to 10% and we had 12 miles of range left – we should have had 30 left if the car’s initial prediction had come true. Some of that may have been because I used the cruise control. Turning it on immediately drops the range by a good few miles – presumably because the car will accelerate back up to speed with rather more aggression than I would myself – albeit ECO mode tones down that rate a bit. We had also run the whole way with the air con on, because the weather was appalling.

There was a slight issue though. The battery temperature was starting to rise, and another rapid charge didn’t seem very welcome. From what I’ve seen online, this seems a quirk of the 30kwh LEAF, and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of it happening. Now, don’t get too alarmed, because the level on the gauge apparently meant a temperature of 52-59 degrees C. It’s hardly about to combust. I am awaiting feedback from Nissan on this issue though, and will report back once I have it.

The LEAF has no active battery cooling/heating, so it isn’t using any of the energy to regulate the temperature as some EVs do. My main concern was that it would either start reducing power output, or perhaps charge speed. It didn’t seem to do this.

Actually, there was another issue. There were two chargers, and one was in use by another LEAF. The owner was nowhere around, so I went to the other charger. Which was showing a fault. At this point, I did something desperate. I phoned up Ecotricity via the number displayed in large numerals on the charger. The chap calmly talked me through the reset procedure. It seemed someone had pressed the emergency stop button – I have no idea why. This needs resetting manually at the machine – they cannot do it over the internet. For future reference, this does not need any intervention by Ecotricity. If it can’t reset after an emergency button press, press the button again, then twist it to the right, at which point it should pop back out. Clear the error and the charger should reset. Phew.

Someone had pressed this. Needed a manual reset.

Someone had pressed this. Needed a manual reset.

22 minutes got us back up to 78% and we could head off to visit ECAS 2CV Parts for more 2CV goodies. It must be said, we were not running to a tight schedule. If we were, then I accept this charger nonsense would not be welcome. We’d already stopped three times on this day, and as we approached Shrewsbury, we needed to stop again – fortunately arriving at the charger just as a BMW i3 was leaving. This charger was right outside a Starbucks, which we obviously ignored. We found a brew elsewhere and with that consumed, had enough juice to continue home.

We arrived home having covered 414 miles, over 300 of them in this one day. It must be said, that this really felt like progress. It was no particular hardship and I very much enjoyed the driving experience – even if the automatic wipers seemed to become rather lazy. Sure, long journeys are still not as relaxing as in a normal car – the XM had a range of over 800 miles – but, such journeys are now possible in a way they just were not only a few years ago.

It is actually more relaxing than a normal car in some ways too. Sure, you have to stop a fair bit, but driving the LEAF is so peaceful and easy, that covering distance doesn’t feel a hardship. I got told off at one point, when I really started to enjoy myself. The LEAF is actually good fun to drive quickly, and is surprisingly grippy, even in the wet. Do warn your passenger before indulging in too much lairy behaviour though. Apparently it’s even better if you do it while they are not in the car…

The elephant-in-the-room is perhaps still price. This was not a top-spec LEAF and it still has a near-£30,000 on the road price (not including £4500 government grant). That said, there are some very tempting lease deals out there for the LEAF, and those deals also have the advantage of no battery worries. I know that battery life is an issue for some people, even though real-world circumstances seem to suggest that the LEAF battery is very hardy – 150,000 miles should be easy.

The range will still cause some people anxiety too. The thing is though, the 30kwh LEAF simply removes that awful ‘am I going to make it’ knot in the stomach that some EVs deliver all too easily – with a caveat that I’ll get to next time! Yes, you still need to plan long journeys with care, but the distances between chargers mean that actual range anxiety isn’t really an issue anymore.

And here’s the thing. A Volkswagen Golf 2.0TDI Match is apparently £25,000, so that’s really not an awful lot less than a LEAF. In quality terms, the LEAF is right up there, with the added advantages that there has been no dodging around emission tests. Personally, there’s no way at all that I’d consider buying a modern diesel engine – they’re too complicated, have too much that can go wrong, expensively, and create some truly grim particulates, despite manufacturers best efforts. No, if I were in the market for a brand new car, it’s electric that I’d be considering. Any disappointment with range is made up by the fact that the LEAF is actually a really good car, and an exciting one too. I can cope with the regular recharging, because my job doesn’t often come with tight time constraints. Besides, even if I did go electric, I’m not someone who tends to have just one car!

EV Roadtrip: 30kwh LEAF Pt2

As mentioned in the previous post, we found ourselves with 98 miles to travel to the rapid charger at Chester in the 30kwh LEAF due to the intermediate one having broken. I was very concerned, after a near-failure involving a Volkswagen e-UP! last year. In that, I only just managed to make it home from the rapid charger at Oswestry.

As it happens, I needn’t have worried. There was no drama. In the LEAF, we sailed past said rapid charger with 77 miles of range still showing! I had enough juice to turnaround and drive back home if I’d fancied it. We were off to Liverpool though, so I didn’t do that.

First rapid charge, after 98 miles of driving.

First rapid charge, after 98 miles of driving.

Now, I wasn’t doing anything special to boost economy in the LEAF, though perhaps I was deploying a few small tricks. For a start, I was in ECO mode. This makes the air conditioning less power draining, decreases the throttle response and reduces the total amount of power you can access. We needed the air conditioning throughout the journey, as the conditions were horrific! Lots of rain, so lots of headlamp and wiper use too. That was fine really, as I wanted to test the car in everyday conditions.

The other trick was gentle acceleration. I’d estimate that I was getting up to 60mph about as quickly as my 2CV manages it – a 0-60mph time of 30 seconds. Acceleration batters your range, whether in an EV or a combustion-engined car. It’s why you always get better economy on a long run – it generally involves more travelling at a consistent speed.

You know when you’re driving well, as you start acquiring ‘trees’ on the dashboard. I’m not sure how they actually work, but found it quite easy to amass a veritable forest.

A veritable forest. But what does it mean?

A veritable forest. But what does it mean?

I refused to actually lower my speed so, where traffic allowed, I would do 60mph if that was the legal limit, and I increased that to 70mph on the motorway once we reached it. This was the most enjoyable aspect of this. The e-NV200 roadtrip had seen us cruising along at a miserable 50-60mph on the motorway, often freezing cold as we desperately tried to eke out every bit of range. I was being spoilt in the LEAF. Range anxiety just wasn’t an issue.

Well, that’s not entirely true. At the start of our journey, which saw us climb over the Cambrian Mountains, the range did drop down to 88 miles, when we had 88 miles left to cover. Experience has taught me not to stress in such circumstances though. By the time we reached Newtown, 30 miles away, the range was back up to the 105 miles it had been predicting before we set off. This highlights that the range is only a guide really. It can’t hope to predict how you’ll drive, nor how hilly the terrain is.

I’ll do a proper review of the LEAF later, but I was certainly enjoying driving it. When I first drove one in November 2013, it was a frustrating experience. It felt like a great car for covering distance, but I wasn’t within range of any rapid chargers at all at that time. I was stranded in mid-Wales. As cars go, it couldn’t be more simple really. There’s a go pedal, and a stop pedal and a steering wheel.

The biggest downside to the Oswestry charger being down is that we now had to go out of our way to find power. A quick trek along the M56 was necessary to access the pair of chargers at Roadchef Chester. As we arrived, one charger seemed to be getting glued back together by a chap in a French-registered van, but a second charger was free and ready to use.

Rapid charger being 'glued' back together.

Rapid charger being ‘glued’ back together.

The charging process is as follows. Press the fuel flap release, which unlocks the small panel in the nose. Flick open the cover on the main charging point (there are two, the smaller one is used for smaller chargers ie home use). Grab the DC rapid charging ‘gun’ (the charger has three cables) otherwise known as ChaDeMo (Volkswagen and some other manufacturers use CCS, for which there is a different cable). Now, press DC charging on the machine present your Ecotricy charge card (the Nissan press car came with one, but you can order one yourself. There is currently (June 2016) no charge). Wait for it to initialise, then the charging will begin.

We’d been driving for over two hours by this point, at an average of over 40mph, so we were due a break ourselves. We brought along tea and cold toast, because motorway services are generally horrible and expensive (Gloucester and Tebay excepted). That is one downside of EVs. Most of the rapid chargers are at motorway services, which are almost universally grim places in which to spend time.

After 20 minutes, the battery was up to 72%. As well as having greater range, it seems the 30kwh LEAF also charges more quickly. Sadly, I didn’t note down what the battery percentage was when we arrived, but I’d estimate it to be below 20%. We still had 24 miles of range left, having driven 98 miles (the car was wrong, Google maps called it correctly!) to get to the charger. Given the claimed 124 miles of range, that was pretty good going!

You’ll note we didn’t charge up to 100%. There are several reasons for that. Firstly, we couldn’t be bothered to wait. We had enough to get to our next destination, why waste time? Secondly, the last 20% of the battery cannot be charged as quickly as the previous 80%. As the battery fills, it’s harder to squeeze the last bit in, so it could have taken a very long time to charge. Thirdly, it’s better for the battery not to repeatedly charge it beyond 80%. On the e-NV200 roadtrip, we had no choice. We often needed 100% (or close to it) to get from one charger to the next. Now, we had the luxury of not bothering.

I disconnected, with the car now predicting 88 miles of range. We headed to Liverpool and only got slightly annoyed at the sat nav. It isn’t actually very clear to read in city conditions, and was sometimes too slow to react to our actual road position. An one point, I had to drive through a seriously flooded section. It was nice not to have an engine air intake to worry about…

We overnighted in Liverpool, leaving the car in a general car park. We could have perhaps found somewhere with a charge point, but we’d be passing a rapid charger in the morning. That would do.

Overall though, is it impressive that I managed to cover 98 miles with out recharging? Well, against a combustion-engined car, no it isn’t. However, it does make the LEAF feel a lot more valid. 98 miles was enough for a couple of hours of driving, after which we were very keen to stop anyway. Does that mean everyone should get an EV? No. It just means the limitations are perhaps less limiting now. A bigger test would be driving back home via Bradford, and covering over 300 miles in a day. That’ll be the next installment. Stay tuned!


EV Roadtrip: 30kwh Nissan LEAF Pt1

I haven’t conducted a proper EV roadtrip for a while, so I thought it was about time I had another go. My previous roadtrip, in a Nissan e-NV200 Combi, wasn’t very enjoyable at all. Can the new 30kwh LEAF do a better job?

We need to cover 98 miles to the nearest charger...

We need to cover 98 miles to the nearest charger…

Firstly, let’s talk range. Even driving gently, I struggled to get more than 60 miles out of the e-NV200 between charges. That was against a claimed range of 106 miles. To be fair, I was conducting the test in November, so heater use was denting range, but it was still pretty poor.

The LEAF should stand a better chance. It has a claimed range of 124 miles, which is probably closer in reality to the 106 claimed for the e-NV200. Anecdotal evidence certainly suggests so. The other advantages are a larger battery back (30kwh to 24kwh), better aerodynamics and heat-pump heater technology – not that we should need it, being summer. Allegedly.

I’ll certainly be testing the range pretty thoroughly, and not out of choice. We’re off to Liverpool today, and the first rapid charger along the route is broken. It seems The Electric Highway is sadly still not entirely fit for purpose. Where this charger is located, there are no less than 16 pumps for internal combustion engines. If one of those breaks, it’s hardly the end of the world.

As it happens, I now have to try and get to a rapid charger near Chester, on the M56. That’s 98 miles away, so the challenge is definitely on!

First up, here’s a bit about the test vehicle. It’s Acenta spec, which is the lowest available with the 30kwh battery – you can have a Visia with the 24kwh battery and a few less toys. The on the road price, not including any plug-in grant, is a smidge under £30,000. The paperwork doesn’t confirm whether that price includes the Magnetic Red metallic paint – my favourite colour. The spec includes a reversing camera, heat pump heating and air con, lots of electric toys, auto headlamps and wipers, keyless entry and a 3.3kw on-board charger.

That latter point is worth bearing in mind. It means that it can’t charge particularly quickly at some smaller AC chargers, such as the ones you can have installed at home. There is an optional 6.6kw charger, but that seems to be about another £1500! Some people don’t consider that worth paying, and here’s why.

There are three basic charging options. 13amp plug, fast charger and rapid charger. The spec of the on-board charger only affects the fast charger option – typically a 16amp supply, or 32 if you’ve gone for the bigger charger. The sort of charge points you’ll find that use this are at home, in some car parks and even roadside in towns.

I probably won’t use that facility at all. I’ll either be charging at home via the 13 amp plug, or using rapid chargers, which supply over 100amps at several hundred volts. That should get the LEAF’s battery up to 80% charge in around half an hour – it’ll be interesting to see how the real-life experience tallies with expectation. 80% charge should be good for 80 miles and once I’m on The Electric Highway, that should be more than enough to get to the next station and/or destinations.

I’ll be live tweeting my experiences at http://www.twitter.com/dollywobbler and will, of course, be reporting back on here once the journey is complete. There will be video too. If you’ve got any questions about the LEAF, now is the time to ask!

EV: Cleaner than you think

I’m not sure how I found myself checking the official figures for electricity generation in 2015 on a Sunday evening, but it happened. And it’s very interesting too.

e-Golf headlamps

Electric cars are greener than you think. 

You see, a very common criticism of electric cars is that the fuel still has to come from somewhere, and that often means a coal-fired power station doesn’t it? Well, according to this document, it really doesn’t! In fact, over the whole of 2015, coal accounted for just 22.6% of power generated. The really interesting bit is that renewables accounted for 24.7%. In other words, more electricity was generated from green sources than from dirty ol’ coal.

Sure, gas still accounted for 29.5% to be the overall winner, and that’s still fairly bad, but gas is at least cleaner than coal – both in terms of storage and when you burn it. Power stations can capture the carbon from combustion too, or they could if the Tories hadn’t cancelled a competition looking into such technology back in November. Oh well.

Interestingly, actual electricity generation was down too, though my joy was shortlived. Turns out we were just importing more from France and The Netherlands.

One reason for the renewables boost, apart from more wind and solar farms, is that Drax power station is gradually converting to Biomass operation. That’s good isn’t it? Tree grows, absorbs carbon, you burn it to make heat and out comes the carbon again, to get absorbed by the next generation of tree. This should be carbon neutral.

The only problem is that each burner requires 2.3 million tonnes of Biomass per year, and that’s rather a lot. Apparently, it currently comes from North America, which means carbon emissions from shipping. You also worry about the state of forests having to provide this much fuel.

Still, things are heading in the right direction. For electric cars to be really clean, they need to run on clean electricity. I know hydrogen is touted as the real future, and I agree with Riversimple that it could well be, but I also find something elegant and rather wonderful about pure electric vehicles. I admire the simplicity.

I’m still some way from owning an electric vehicle myself, but the desire has not gone away. It really will happen. I just can’t say when.

My favourite videos of 2015

Excuse the self-promotion as I guide you through my favourite videos of 2015 – my favourite HubNut videos that is. 2015 was a year in which I really stepped up video production, so here are my personal highlights. This is my Top Five.

Number 5 – Nissan e-NV200 Combi

This was the first electric car that I tested long distance, and it has to be said it wasn’t exactly stress-free! Using the Ecotricity Electric Highway, I was able to drive from home in mid-Wales to Bideford in Devon. Choosing to do this in Winter, in a vehicle with a 60-mile range was the problem. This is also a review of the e-NV200 itself. A very useful vehicle but still blighted by good old range anxiety and an inefficient heater.

Number 4 – Perodua Nippa

This one joined the fleet in March, and has proved to be an ideal little runaround. This review was filmed not long after purchase and while it’s certainly a car built cheaply, it continues to run well. Listen to the road noise though!

Number 3 – My first Vlog

Vlogging appears to be a thing – video blogging – so I thought I’d have a go. This is where I began a series of (so far) ten videos. I aired some annoyances with the regime in Saudi Arabia – exacerbated by recent developments as I write – and I also talk about electric cars and the Citroen XM.

Number 2 – Honda Insight first generation

Insight rear

Testing the Honda Insight Mk1

It seems that I love every car that I drive, and I expected the Insight to be no exception. It didn’t quite do it for me, as you can see in this video. Still an appealing car, but not quite what I’d hoped for. It is proving to be a popular video though.

Number 1 – My 2CV and me

Picking one favourite is not easy. My XM V6 video continues to amass a huge number of views, and the Citroen Ami one was an absolute hoot to put together. But, my friend Keith Hicks helped me make a rather special tribute to my 2CV. I still don’t know what the future is for this car, but I’ve had many good adventures in it and I’ve loved every minute behind the wheel.

Thanks for watching. Once the weather improves, I hope to get cracking on some more videos. 2016 promises to be very exciting. Stay tuned!


The Citroen e-Mehari – my thoughts

There’s exciting news today as Citroen might actually be building a car I like the look of – the e-Mehari. Dredging up the name of a fantastic 2CV-based model in its history is perhaps unforgivable but I must concede that this new model does hold some appeal – and does have quite a few Mehari styling cues.

Most interesting is that this will be an EV or electric vehicle. It was actually conceived by Bollore, which already builds a small EV car. PSA (the company that owns the Peugeot and Citroen brands) has merely squashed a C4-Cactus-esque snout upon it to create a new look.

Crivens! I actually like it!

Crivens! I actually like it!

It does look remarkably niche for a mainstream manufacturer and I must concede that I do wonder what PSA are up to. It has already dabbled with electric vehicles with the Berling Electricque, which didn’t really take off. It then went into a deal with Mitsubishi to sell the i-MIEV as the Peugeot iON and Citroen C-Zero.  A far better vehicle, but hideous pricing (£30,000 when launched, but now a far more realistic £11,995) and Japanese Kei-car looks seem to have kept buyers away. So you’d think that the last thing PSA would want to do is entertain another niche. Yet, with the e-Mehari, which appears to lack proper doors and a roof, that’s entirely what they’ve done. I do find this confusing. Nissan and Tesla have proved that if you want EV sales success, what people want is an actual, proper car with plenty of space. I’m not sure something that invites the use of the word ‘quirky’ is really going to do it for them.

Mind you, they’re already talking down production totals – 15 vehicles per day or 3500 per year seems vaguely possible. It’s clear it’ll never be a volume seller and PSA rightly admits as much. I can’t see a lot of profit in it though, especially at an asking price of 24,000 Euros, or £17,300 at current rates. Details seem a little sketchy, but it seems that you’ll probably have to pay another 80 Euros a month to rent the batteries, in a similar manner to Renault. This is disappointing and I’m sure it’ll harm resale values. What seems a reasonable extra cost for a brand new car becomes a millstone as that car ages.

A shame as with a 24kwh capacity, the range should be pretty good – over 100 miles should be possible on a charge. That’s similar to a Kia Soul EV or Nissan LEAF. It’ll be interesting to see if this is yet another EV failure for PSA, or whether this is the simple, frill-free EV that the market has been waiting for.