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Double threat

For much of my early adult life I wanted to work in engineering; I curse a mild case of dyscalculia for holding me back. (If you don’t know what dyscalculia is, nor did I. It’s where your eyes/brain jumble up numbers rather than letters, making basic math fairly challenging.)

Every now and then, however, when I tweet a picture of a new car that’s being launched, I’m rather glad I don’t have anything to do with making things that people have opinions about.

The comments come pouring in, scathing, cruel, often very funny; the influence of Clarkson on the Great British male is measurable and not, I suppose, altogether negative.

There are many men who can destroy a new idea in automotive design or motive power with a curt tweet, a dismissive bon mot or a vinegar-tipped sneer.

However, I am much more interested and impressed with the smaller, quieter group who actually try to make something different, people who manage to ignore the jeers and taunts of the rowdy bunch of net-dwelling know-it-alls and challenge orthodoxy.

The recent launch of the Indian-built Mahindra e2o is a great example. It is the very antithesis of the Tesla, and not by mistake or simple inability to mimic, as it is in fact a very carefully thought-out proposition. It is a small, highly agile city car that uses less electricity to move and does the job it was designed to do – transport people around a city.

I’m one of very few people in the UK to have actually driven one, and it’s fine. It’s not slick and refined – you’re not going to see a US$1m-budget commercial with a slim German man with a neat beard driving one through empty city streets as women stare admiringly from the pavement – but it’s way above adequate.

Yes, there’s plenty wrong with it – it’s too expensive for a start. It costs about the same as a Renault Zoe and even with my low level of aesthetic sense when it comes to cars, it doesn’t look or feel as slick.

But I defend the Mahindra e2o because it’s another electric car in an ever-increasing line-up. Another multibillion-dollar company has launched an electric car and is really putting some muscle behind it. I predict that we will see more of these on the streets of Mumbai than the streets of Manchester, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

It seems the disruptive elements of electric vehicle development, deployment and adoption are being felt in ever-wider circles. Actual oil companies are now worried.

They understand that the demise of the oil industry, like the current demise of coal, is not going to take place because we’re running out of either. It’s because fewer of us use the product anymore.

The UK government registered more electric car sales in February 2016 than for the whole of 2014. Indeed, I am a long-time user of Ecotricity’s electric highway charge network. More and more people are using it, and in my experience this is yet to be a problem, but unless there is a constant tripling of available charge points at its sites, it might start to be a pain.

This is, as I have said repeatedly, an emerging and disruptive technology. There are going to be problems, there are going to be good electric cars and duff ones, but after years of being told ‘they’ll never catch on’ and ‘you’ll have to throw away the battery after a year’, it’s rather nice to see the hockey stick sales graph starting to emerge.

 

24 August 2016

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