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Why it’s time to stop expecting electric cars to do everything

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting at the wheel of a brand-new special edition of the iconic Land Rover Defender, built in limited numbers to celebrate the brand's sixty-five years of production. I took it on the motorway, drove it across a few fields, and even waded through a river.

For off-roading, go-anywhere capabilities, it couldn't be beaten. As a city car though, it kind of sucked: it had rubbish visibility due to no rear side windows, a massive turning circle, and a rumbling, agricultural turbo diesel engine.

Had I written a review slating its in-town prowess I'd never work as an automotive journalist again. After all, who heard of a car that did everything perfectly? I haven't.

Yet we seem perfectly happy letting journalists try crazy trips in electric vehicles that are obviously doomed to failure.

A Doomed Trip?

Take Simon Calder's recent trip through the New Forest in an rented electric car. Written up in his Independent travel column, Calder travelled from the Hampshire village of Hythe to the Dragon nuclear reactor in Winfrith Heath, Dorset.

One of New Forest Environmental's Renault Twizy, like the one used by Simon Caulder

By my reckoning, that's a distance of about 55 miles if you stop off at Beaulieu Motor Museum on the way -- something Calder did. Instead of taking a motorway-capable car like the Nissan LEAF, Vauxhall Ampera, or Renault Zoe, Calder hired a Renault Twizy for his trip.

I'm not kidding. A Renault Twizy. The slowest electric vehicle produced by a mainstream automaker. The Renault Twizy-a low power electric quadricycle-not a car

It might look great for publicity shots in a glossy broadsheet, but it's hardly the thing you'd drive cross-country in. After all, it only has a real-world range of 40 miles. And that's with some gentle driving.

Then again, it was designed as a city vehicle for young people, not a cross-country vehicle for middle-aged journalists and their significant others.

...With a Predictable Outcome

As you might expect, despite charging en-route, Calder found himself running out of power before reaching his destination.

After he and his wife were rescued by a local taxi firm, Calder "revelled in the luxury" of his taxi driver's Citro?n Xsara Picasso, which he said could "achieve 50mph in less than a week."

But perhaps before running out of charge, Calder had already made his mind up -- that the Twizy wasn't up to the task. In his article, Calder bemoans the difficulty his wife had getting into the Twizy's rear seat and its stiff suspension and "flimsy superstructure."

The Other Type Of Green?

Perhaps Calder's trip was meant to highlight the confusion that some drivers feel about certain electric cars. After all, we've come to expect every car we buy to be capable of everything we ask of it. A car like the Twizy -- with a 52 mph top speed and limited range -- is something of a curiosity.

Ignorance however, is no excuse. The Twizy just isn't designed to do the kind of trip Calder was attempting.

The Twizy is a city car, simple and plain.

A better EV for the job? The 2013 Nissan LEAF

Don't get me wrong, the Twizy is a great car. I own one, and use it on an almost daily basis as my errand-running car while my wife takes the Nissan LEAF on her daily 80 mile commute. On Mondays, I even take my Twizy on a 33-mile excursion into the rural wilds of Gloucestershire. But even I would have baulked at Calder's plan.

Plenty of Alternatives

Renault Twizy on the open roadPerhaps the most confusing element of Calder's trip however, is the fact that he chose to take a city EV with limited range and performance when there are many other better-suited cars to the 55-mile trip, including the Twizy's three siblings: the Fluence Z.E., Kangoo Z.E., and newly-launched Zoe.

The excuse here, seems to be that in order to be independent in his article, Calder needed to hire an electric car for his trip. The only company he could find in the area to rent an electric car from was New Forest Environmental, which has a fleet of Twizys it leases out to enable those visiting the New Forest to explore in an ecological way.

Outside of the New Forest however, Calder had other options for EV rental -- including Europcar and Hertz on-demand in London. That might be 80 plus miles from Calder's starting point, but both Europcar's Nissan LEAF and Hertz's Mitsubishi i-MiEV would be better suited to a cross-country trip.

More of The Same Then?

Ultimately, Calder isn't directly dismissive of the Renault Twizy, but leads the reader to believe that the car is poorly built, underpowered, and like EVs which went before, no good.

It seems then that the institutionalized suspicion of electric cars continues apace, even if they're asked to do things that electric cars really aren't suited to.

Which reminds me: did I ever tell you about how rubbish my old East German MZ Motorcycle was? Try as I might, I just couldn't get my Ikea flat-pack furniture in the back...

A clearly overloaded motorbike-we don't recommend bikes for moving house!

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Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield

Filed under: Electric cars, Renault, Weekly Column

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