Monday, April 27, 2009

Lithium: What is it like to drive an electric car in UK? TNR.v, SQM, GOOG, ESLR, RIMM, AAPL, BYD, TTM, GM, F, HUI, XAU, WLC.v, CLQ.v, CNY.v, OIL, OIH,

This expensive car experience is very important for our Next Big Thing. Celebrities are putting money already down. Technological progress now-a-days is so fast that a lot of these qualities of a very expensive car will be available to consumers of a much more modest Electric Cars which will make the Green Mobility Revolution.
What is it like to drive an electric car?
With government due to subsidise 'green' motorists, we put the Tesla Roadster and the Smart Electric Drive to the test
"Would you buy an electric car? Do you know what it’s like to live with one? The government is pretty confident that a cash incentive will be enough to persuade people to abandon the conveniences of the internal combustion engine. From 2011 motorists will be able to apply for a grant of up to £5,000 towards the cost of buying an electric car. No sooner had the government announced its latest “green” brainwave, however, than the flaws began to emerge.
Almost none of the electric vehicles on sale in the UK today would qualify for one of the grants. Models such as the Reva G-Wiz and the Aixam Mega City are officially quadricycles, not cars, and would not comply with the government’s requirement “to meet modern safety standards and have a range and top speed sufficient to give mass market appeal”.
In fact, if you wanted a car now that would satisfy the government’s requirements there is almost no choice. The Tesla sports car is one; and from next year Smart is putting its ED (electric drive) into limited production. We arranged for two readers of The Sunday Times to put the only two officially sanctioned cars through their paces and report back.
Driven by Harry Metcalfe, magazine editor
The Tesla might look like a top-notch sports car — and at £87,100 it is priced like one — but it’s not. There’s no petrol engine for a start. Instead there’s a clever electric motor driving the rear wheels through a single-speed gearbox. Sitting behind the driver is a ruddy great lithium-ion battery that’s powerful enough to allow the Tesla to cover up to 200 miles on a single charge. Now like most blokes, I’m addicted to trying the latest gadget as soon as possible so it didn’t take long before the first UK Tesla appeared in my garage.
Having now lived with one for a while I’m starting to discover everything you take for granted with a conventional car goes out of the window with a Tesla. The most obvious one is there’s no need to stop at petrol stations. I can’t say I miss the standing around on draughty forecourts, with only the fast-rising digits on the petrol pump for entertainment, climaxing with that empty wallet feeling at the checkout. About the only thing I miss is the chance to raid the confectionery counter, but then I’m probably better off without the extra calories.
I also take care when parking the Tesla to ensure there’s a plug socket handy because, rather than just charging the battery at home overnight, I’ve discovered it’s a good idea to get into the habit of “grazing”, by which I mean topping up the battery whenever you have a lengthy stop.
You gain about 10 miles in range for every hour you leave a Tesla plugged into a normal 13-amp socket, so by charging the car up while, say, visiting friends or during a business meeting you end up maximising the car’s potential range.
Get it right and it’s like having a petrol tank that never empties. Ten miles every hour is a bit slow, to be honest, but you can get a 32-amp socket fitted at home for about £200 and then the charging rate rises to 25 miles for every hour charged. All this helps reduce what’s termed “range anxiety”, which is an electric car’s biggest bugbear at the moment, leaving you free to use the Tesla to its maximum at all times.
And it’s hard not to, because from the moment the Tesla glides out of the garage, there’s a smile on my face. This is a hilarious car to drive every day; it accelerates at a ridiculous pace, capable of an eerily silent 0-60mph dash in less than 5sec.
But it’s the sheer accessibility to all this crazy performance that’s so addictive. There’s no gear changing, no screaming engine, just prod the accelerator and you’re whisked to another place very, very quickly.
I don’t miss all the commotion that goes with your typical performance car either. I really thought I would, but the utter silence of a coasting Tesla is enthralling in itself because there are so many other noises you can hear instead. In town it’s at its weirdest because you can listen to things such as the conversations of pedestrians, the creaking of lorry trailer tyres as they move away from traffic lights, or cyclists panting as they weave their way through a traffic jam, even birds chirping in trees come through loud and clear; it’s bizarre.
Get the chance to drive on rural roads and the wind noise gets in the way of what’s happening outside the Tesla but every now and then you can get startled by a cow mooing or a sheep bleating so loudly you think it’s just climbed on board.
Perhaps the best bit about driving a Tesla, though — once you’ve got over the hefty purchase price (which is somewhat lumpy, I admit) — is that the cost of driving is then unbelievably low. There’s no road tax or congestion charge and charging the battery fully from flat costs only about £6.60 (at 11p/unit). This should give you a 200-mile range (a petrol car would have to average about 130mpg to match this cost). I’m not getting close to this ideal range, as Tesla describes it, but then I don’t drive the car like a Toyota Prius — more like a Lotus, if I’m being totally honest. The result is I’m achieving only 60% of the range that Tesla thinks I should.
However, I’m not too bothered as the electricity I’m charging the Tesla with comes from a wind turbine, in effect making it free motoring. I erected a wind turbine in my garden. Did I go too far? Not when you consider that the 6kw turbine cost about £12,000 (after grants) to install.
Naturally, it only produces the full 6kw when there’s a decent blow but I still managed to produce 8,500kw/h over the past 12 months and that’s enough electricity to keep a Tesla going for an unbelievable 28,325 miles. It’s like discovering I’ve got my own private oil well at the bottom of the garden. Suddenly, the idea of being forced to drive electric-powered cars one day doesn’t seem so bad.
Harry Metcalfe edits Evo magazine
Top speed: 125mph
Range: Up to 244 miles
Charge time: 3½ hours from a specially designed high-power connector unit (or as much as 14 hours for a full recharge from a conventional mains socket)
Cost: £87,100
Driven by Dianne Nelmes, TV executive
The government thinks the future of motoring is electric. Well, for once, I’m ahead of the curve. For the past four months, I have been test-driving an all-electric Smart car.
This is just the sort of car the government is planning to encourage more motorists to buy. Mercedes-Benz, owner of the Smart brand, remains vague about when the Smart ED will hit the showrooms, however. “Small-scale production” will begin from next year, it says, but it should be in sufficient numbers to meet the government’s criteria for grant aid.
Plenty of motoring hacks have taken an electric car for a quick spin, but what are the vehicles like to live with? I’m a television executive with a busy schedule. I commute daily from Battersea, southwest London, to Ladbroke Grove, west London, with regular trips to BSkyB in Isleworth, west London.
I need a car, but don’t travel long distances, don’t drive fast and hate dealing with messy internal combustion engines, all of which make me an ideal candidate to make the switch. How would I fare with a car that needed recharging every 50-70 miles and takes several hours to “fill up”?
From the outside the Smart ED looks identical to any other Smart Fortwo — only the lack of engine noise and the cable and three-pin plug where a petrol cap should be give it away.
I’ve not pushed the car flat out but it will happily bowl along a dual carriageway at 60mph. Most of the time I drive at 30-40mph and I have no problem keeping up with London traffic. The biggest advantage is being exempt from the £8 daily congestion charge. There are even a few places in central London where electric vehicles can park for free.
There have been teething problems. The car’s heater failed almost as soon as I took delivery in January, so I froze for the first two months. The technology clearly baffled the Mercedes-Benz mechanics. When one cold Saturday a friend insisted on filling a hot water bottle for my journey home, I was definitely on the brink of ending my electric love affair.
I finally got the thing fixed, but with the heater pumping out hot air, I found myself having to keep a watchful eye on the battery gauge. I rarely do more than 40 miles a day, but anyone travelling further might find themselves anxiously looking out for somewhere to plug in. If Boris Johnson is serious about making London the electric car capital of the world, he needs to give converts like me a comprehensive network of charge points across the city.
The other big deterrent is cost. I have certainly paid a significant premium to go green. Mercedes-Benz values my electric Smart at about £24,000 and that’s reflected in the hefty lease charges of £451.85 a month. At more than £600 a year, insurance is as costly as it was on my previous car — a 3.2-litre Mercedes coupĂ©.
Finally, because like many Londoners I live in a block of flats with underground parking, I had to persuade my landlords to install a 13-amp power point so I could charge my car overnight. The bill was more than £1,000.
Dianne Nelmes is managing director of Liberty Bell Productions
Top speed: 60mph
Range: 50-70 miles, depending on usage
Charge time: Three hours for a 70% charge, or 8-10 hours for a full recharge
Cost: Lease charge for trial vehicles is about £450 a month"
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