Seven weeks in to the Great Electric Drive experience, time to take stock; Am I still as much an evangelist for electric cars? Does the experience match that of driving a fossil-fuel car? Is it really cheaper to run? Is the restricted range an issue? Do I have a case of the seven-week itch? All questions posed by many of those I’ve talked to about the car – and I’ve talked to a lot of people in the 7 weeks, I’m amazed at how many very diverse people have come up to ask about Le-c, all ages, sexes, nationalities and income groups. There is a growing awareness of the possibility of electric driving particularly here in Ireland – according to my foreign correspondents; Kevin and Kirsten in the US, Shane and Kevin in UK, and Mathieu (a visiting Frenchman who lost his proverbial electric cherry to Le-c) in France there is much less awareness, maybe because there are fewer, or perhaps less-visible, chargers or they don’t have an ESB e-cars equivalent to promote them – so good job ESB e-cars!
So, yes, I am as much an evangelist as ever, still loving the experience of driving Le-C. The driving experience is far superior to that of an internal combustion engine (ICE) car, in the seven weeks Le-c has been here I’ve used my petrol car three times for journeys beyond the scope of an electric car – for 2 round trips of 360 and 1 of 430 km. These trips gave me the chance to compare the driving experience between the two - Le-c won hands down! Conor from ESB e-cars had likened the experience of driving a petrol car after an electric to going back in time, very last-century. I wholeheartedly agree; it’s like the difference in broadband speeds between the west of Ireland and Japan. The ease of driving is like with an automatic except with infinitely better acceleration, true there’s less to do – it took left foot a wee while to get back in on the action, and left hand, recently used to idling or fiddling with the radio, was also very slow to react at first when forced back into my fossil car, both were happy, along with ears (ICE is very noisy) to go back to Le-c.
And yes, it is cheaper to run, especially if you use the public chargers which are currently free, even charging at home at full day-rate electricity is far cheaper than the cost of pouring fossil fuels into an ICE vehicle. It takes 10kWh to charge Le-c’s battery at a night-rate of 9 cent per kWh, that’s 90 cent to do 80km or €1.50 if you charge at the more expensive day-rate that translates into between 1.1 and 1.9 cents per kilometre. So yes, it’s cheaper! The savings made in fuel costs would quickly pay off a loan taken out to buy one. A word of warning here; the current €5,000 grants available towards buying an electric car as well as the free public charge points are unlikely to continue indefinitely, if the doubling in electric car sales in France between the first quarter of last year and this (mostly Renault Zoes, only 2 iMiEVs!)) is sustained through the year, the cost to the French government in grants and providing free electricity at public charge points, will reach €100m (they give a grant of €7,000 towards buying the vehicles) – a not inconsiderable sum even for such a large economy as France’s. In these straitened times such subsidies are unlikely to continue, so buy soon!
The restricted range is only an issue for me because the iMiEV I have (Le-c) though very cute, is a pre-production model and thus has a range of only 80km, fine if I only drive in and out of town, a round-trip of 12ish km, but not enough for anything beyond day-to-day. I can, just, get to Sligo (we arrived at the fast charger in Grange yesterday with a dash full of flashing warning lights and a flat line where available range should be) but have to use a fast charger to get home which is not good for the battery long-term. Had I a new iMiEV with a range of 150km then all my normal day-to-day local and occasional slightly-further-afield driving would be easily achieved without needing to fast charge to come home. I now realise the best way to approach charging is to do it at every opportunity, every time one can, plug in to top up, even if only for an hour, thus keeping range up and maintaining battery charge between the 20 and 80% recommended to prolong battery life. Taking the train or even renting a car for the fairly-rare longer trips could be a financially-viable solution and, in the case of the train, a much more pleasurable alternative.
So who might want an electric car?
Probably not the petrol heads; they who love the ‘art’ or ‘skill’ of driving, talking internal-combustion-engine jargon and discussing how many horses are involved (I don’t know if it is possible to wax lyrical about the parts of an electric motor, or the relative kWh of the batteries, though I do a fair amount of lyrical waxing about Le-c’s finer points) and the driving is easy so no major skill to learn and boast about. The electric car is probably more for those like me for whom a car is an efficient way to get from A to B and not a hobby or statement of ones financial worth. The fact it’s environmentally more sustainable is a great bonus but not really a concern for most, the running cost seems to be the real hook.
So having spent 7 weeks ‘turning heads and changing minds’ as the Leitrim Observer put it so beautifully (much to Le-c’s chagrin, ‘it’s not you they’re looking at’ she muttered), I look forward to honing my range-extension skills, having more adventures and maybe changing a few more minds, or at least opening them up! Definitely no itch here!