Thursday
Sep252014

But it's all so complicated!

I posted this picture on Twitter the other day which caused a bit of a flutter.

It’s a still taken by someone during the shoot of a new series of Top Gear.

I was impressed that the old men in jeans are even attempting to use an electric car, so the initial view of this picture is great.

Big Jezza’s seen the light…… sort of.

For a start the BMW i8, the car in the picture, is amazing, fast and made of the future. It also has a petrol engine and a fairly limited electric only range.

It’s a plug in hybrid £100,000 supercar and that’s fine and dandy.

I think it’s fantastic and much better than an old school massive engine in two-seater supercar.

However there’s a couple of things in the picture that give the impression that all is not 100% hunky dory in the brave new Top Gear change of mindset regarding electric cars.

The first is the position the car is parked in.

The charge port on the i8 is on the passenger side, there are two parking spaces for electric cars at this location, if he’d parked in the other one the cable running from the charger wouldn’t have to be stretched over the bonnet to look all awkward and ungainly.

If he had reversed in, as you would in a Tesla Model S, the same lack of cable stretch would apply.

You would only park in this position to ‘make a point’ that it’s a bit silly to plug a car in.

Sure, some people stop with their filler cap on the far side from the petrol/diesel pump, we’ve all done it, a couple of times.

Any normal human being who is just using the car would gather that instantly and move the car to the other bay, then the cable would just reach with no problem.

But this is Jezza, I suppose he has to make it look awkward.

The second and far more important point is the charger he’s using belongs to Ecotricity and it’s specifically designed as a rapid charger.

It can charge my Leaf from close to empty to 80% in under 30 minutes.

But the Leaf is designed to take this fast charge, the BMW i8 is not.

The battery in my Leaf has a capacity of 24-kilowatt hours, the battery in the BMW i8 has a capacity of 7.2 kilowatt hours.

If you plug the i8 into a 32-amp domestic charge socket it will take about 3 hours to fill.

If you don’t ever charge the battery the car still works, regenerative braking and indeed the amazing 3-cylinder petrol engine can charge the battery so if you’re not stopping somewhere for more than a couple of hours it’s not really worth clogging up a rapid charger.

It will take a charge from the Ecotricity system but only at the same rate you’d get from a 32 amp charger at home.

Not that an inconsequential thing like a fact should get in the way of good telly, so stretch that cable, moan about how complicated it is to understand and make sure another couple of million people don’t understand how electric cars and plug in hybrids work.

Job done, the fossil fuel companies can sit back and relax as further development and understanding has been held back for another few years.

After all, that’s his job isn’t it?

Thursday
Sep182014

The BMW i8

Last week at the Low Carbon Vehicle event at Millbrook proving grounds I finally got to have a drive of the BMW i8. I'd seen it before, I've seen one 'in the wild' on a London street but I hadn't driven it up until that point.
Yes, the engine sound is entirely manufactured, it's 'fake' if you like, but so what? 
This car is designed and built as a supercar which, from where I'm sitting, is an utterly ridiculous notion.
Surely supercars are for people who have so much money they may as well buy one.
However, and I'm trying to take the long view here, as with all technology, the first iterations are expensive and for the very wealthy.
But the innovation and technological developments embodied in a car like this (unlike the notion of the offensive 'trickle down effect' regarding obscene wealth in the 1%) actually do trickle down to more mundane and sensible forms of transport.
As you can see in the video, being in this very fast car is great fun, there's no denying that. Of course I'd love one, that's the whole point of them.


Just to give some weight to the argument in favour of this car, your average supercar will do ten, maybe twelve miles to the gallon. When the cars are stationary in busy city traffic the engines are pumping out comical levels of noxious gas and CO2, when they're not even moving. Oh, but they sound great.
Yeah, thanks, I'll live without the noise if my eyes aren't stinging.
The BMW i8 has all the panache, verve and show-off potential of a supercar but can run on electricity in cities, can get over 100 miles to the gallon and go around a track like there's a legitimate need to get to the other end very fast. 

Wednesday
Aug062014

To Edinburgh Again...

In January this year I drove a Nissan Leaf from London to Edinburgh.

This was partly in response to an attempt by BBC reporter Brian Milligan to undertake the same journey 3 years previously and partly because we knew we could do it.

It took Mr Milligan something like 4 days and many hours of waiting to charge the prototype electric car he was driving,

It took us 11 hours, with never more than a 20 minute wait to charge the car.

I’m not going to claim it was a walk in the park, it was January, cold, wet and dark for most of the journey and it was also quite boring.

Driving long distances is boring and bad for you, I try and do it as little as possible.

Which is why, writing this in a motorway service area after a long drive while I wait for the extraordinary electric car I've been loaned to charge is a little bit bonkers.

Today I am driving from the South of England, my home in Gloucestershire, to Edinburgh, a distance of 341 miles.

However this time I only need to stop a couple of times. less than an hour to bring the batteries back to full before commencing the second leg of the journey.

A few people have already commented on the appalling parking on display in the picture, it was a little bit tight and the Tesla is a huge beast, okay, I am rubbish at parking.

The range of the Tesla Model S, on a UK motorway, at motorway speed is well over 250 miles on a charge so it really takes driving an electric car into another dimension.

In the Nissan Leaf in January we stopped 7 times on our trip to Edinburgh.

We never got close to being empty and we only charged for 20 minutes but that’s still 7 stops.

Just to explain a little. The battery pack in the Nissan Leaf is 24 kiloWatt hours. In the Tesla Model s, it's 85 kiloWatt hours, so even with my crude grasp of maths, I can understand why it goes further.

So today I have overstopped, but that is not because of the car's range.

Let’s forget the range and the rapid chargers and the battery for a moment and think about my bladder.

Too much information?

Sorry, but my bladder has a range of about 95 - 120 miles, I will be stopping a little more often than the car needs to for my own personal reasons.

So why, after I stated publicly last time I did this trip that in future I'd get the train, am I driving all this way again?

The reason I’m going to Edinburgh is to deliver a talk I’ve been doing for the past few years. It's called:

‘Electric Cars are Rubbish. Aren’t They?’

Hopefully it’s an informative and entertaining talk, I certainly enjoy doing it.

I’m doing the talk at the Assembly Rooms in George Street, Edinburgh, it's part of a season of talks given by very prominent scientists and academics.... and me.

All day tomorrow the right hand drive Tesla Model S will be on display for a day outside the vehue.

But here’s a romantic little bit of history that has nothing to do with electric cars or the future of the energy matrix.

I’m presenting this talk in the very same theatre I first saw my wife performing in 27 years ago. She was then an acrobat and performer in Circus Oz.

I was smitten.

Just in case you are wondering if we are on this trip together in a romantic re-hash of our early love... um... no. She's at home, working on her masters degree and walking the dogs.

27 years later. Hey ho. 

Saturday
Mar292014

"Everyone is Talking About the Sound"

I am gently becoming increasingly excited about the upcoming FIA Formula e racing season.

I attended the London Launch last year and saw the first car which is featured in the video below.

As Formula e boss Alejandro Agag says in the video, 'everyone is talking about the sound, now we've heard it, we love it.'

Having driven a few high performance electric cars, I have to say the lack of deafening, rattling, banging, smokey old engines is a bit of a plus in my book but then I'm very biased.

I don't think the races are going to be slow, the Spark-Renault SRT-01E is a 270 brake horse power racing car.

The cars are made up of components from many motorsport companies, the power train is from McLaren, Italian firm Dallara built the monocoque chasis, Williams Advanced Engineering (part of the Williams F1 Team) supply the batteries.

 

The season looks like this

2014

13th September. Beijing China

18th October. Putrajaya Malaysia

15th November. Rio de Janeiro Brazil

13th December. Punta Del Este Uraguay

2015

10th January. Buenos Aires  Argentina

14th February. Los Angeles USA

14th March. Miami USA

9th May. Monte Carlo Monaco 

30th May. Berlin Germany

27th June. London 

All these races take place on the streets, not on a track, the final in London will take place slap bang in the middle of town.

Teams include Drayson Racing, Mahindra Racing, Virgin Racing and of course the one that got in the news a bit recently, Venturi Grand Prix who were founded by among others, some actor bloke called Leonardo DiCaprio.


 

Thursday
Mar272014

The Toyota TS040 Hybrid.

 

I’m thrilled to bits to see Toyota doing this.

The TS040 hybrid is the car that will take the team into the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship.

The 473 brake horse power of all-wheel drive hybrid boost is in addition to the 3.7-litre V8 petrol engine, taking maximum power 986 brake horse power.

That sounds like rather a lot so it’s clearly not a sensible city or commuter car but the technological development that Toyota are using in this monster will always filter down to their road cars.

It’s fascinating what’s happening in motor racing, I’ve heard a lot of hardcore Formula 1 fans moaning about the lack of noise but big changes are obviously taking place across the racing spectrum, and of course there's Formula E soon.

All teams entering the World Endurance Championship this year are required to use 25 per cent less fuel than in 2013, which is an enormous technological as well as driving style challenge.

If you’re a race fan, this is the 2014 World Endurance Championship season

20 Apr             Six Hours of Silverstone (GB)

3 May              Six Hours of Spa-Francorchamps (Bel)

14 Jun             Le Mans 24 Hours (Fra)

20 Sep             Six Hours of Circuit of the Americas (USA)

12 Oct              Six Hours of Fuji (Jpn)

2 Nov              Six Hours of Shanghai (Chi)

15 Nov            Six Hours of Bahrain

30 Nov           Six Hours of Sao Paulo (Bra)