Friday, 19 June 2015

The inconvenient truth about electric car sales

HERE’S some shocking news you probably weren’t expecting – sales of electric cars have gone through the roof!

That’s the message from the Department for Transport, which is proudly trumpeting the fact that sales of what it calls Ultra Low Emissions Vehicles are up 366 per cent from this time last year. That’s plain English for not only the likes of Nissan’s LEAF, which run on electricity alone, but plug-in hybrids like Toyota’s Prius, which lace the eco-friendly cocktail with a spot of petrol power to spice longer journeys up a bit. It’s a huge rise, which is why the Government’s just committed to chucking half a billion quid at boosting ULEV sales.

But – surprise, surprise – there’s a catch. Dig a little harder into the figures Whitehall would rather you didn’t read and it turns out it’s not quite the miracle you’d think.

Yes, sales of the sort of eco-friendly offerings that get Whitehall’s official stamp of approval – and for that, you need fewer than 75g of carbon dioxide to escape from your tailpipe, or preferably none at all – are three times what they were a year ago. In the first four months of this year, Britain took 9,046 of them to its bosom. To put that into context, the total for all vehicles – cars, vans, buses, bikes, the lot – was 872,000. In other words, even with the huge surge in popularity the eco-friendly ones the Government’s so keen to push make up barely one per cent of the total.

It’d be tempted to sign off in the same way my Maths teacher used to when I tried to pull a statistical fast one – a terse ‘must try harder’ – but that’d be skipping an even more inconvenient truth. You shouldn’t dismiss the eco-friendly offerings as sales also-rans, because they’re getting ever better.

The prototype electric MINI I remember driving five years ago – which had batteries so enormous they took up the back seat area and made the whole car feel weirdly leaden – has evolved into the brilliant BMW i3 and its i8 supercar sibling, the latter of which surely qualifies as the first truly cool plug-in hybrid. The Nissan LEAF might not be my cup of tea but you can’t fault its ability to do humdrum hatchback things on volts alone. Best of all, the pub argument credentials for my favourite electric car – the mildly wacky Renault Twizy – has been strengthened by the fact Sir Stirling Moss has recently bought one. Oh, and it’s mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive and tuned by the same people who do the Renaultsport Clio.

If you’re seriously thinking of getting a ULEV, don’t do it because it ticks the bureaucratic boxes. Do it because – once you get past the environmental flim-flam – some of them are actually really good. That’s the real shock behind the sales figures.


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