BOOK OF THE FUTURE

Coming Soon: Electric Cars You Might Actually Want to Own

It may surprise you to know that most petrolheads love the idea of electric cars. At least I believe the real ones do. Sure we will miss the raw sound and contained fury of the combustion engine, but real car lovers are excited by the prospect of great electric cars: perfect weight distribution, huge torque, and rapid, unremitting acceleration.

Sadly the reality is some way from this dream. As well as being ugly, electric cars today are utterly impractical, requiring long charging times for very short (circa 100 mile) ranges. No petrolhead lusts after a Nissan Leaf.

The Gorgeous Tesla Model S

The Gorgeous Tesla Model S

They might however, desire a Tesla Model S.The exception to the electric car rule for some years now has been the Tesla Roadster. The Lotus Elise-based two-seater had supercar performance and looks to match. Sadly it didn’t have much in the way of space for passengers or the weekly shop and came in at a tidy £87,000. Not exactly a practical option for most.

This summer though, Tesla brings the Model S to the UK. It’s still expensive, starting at an expected £40,000+ for the base model, but this sleek Aston-esque saloon is a genuine alternative to some of the more upmarket family car options. If you were considering a high-spec BMW, Mercedes, or even Maserati (you lucky thing) then the Tesla is worth a look. With a 300 mile range it is a lot more practical – it would actually get you from Manchester to Reading and back (my usual business round trip) with a bit of a top up during the day – something no other electric car on the market today could achieve.

This is just the start though: advances in battery technology particularly will see electric cars fall rapidly in price and increase dramatically in performance over the next 20 years. Take this week’s announcement from BAE for example. The company has managed to integrate battery chemistry into a carbon fibre-type material, enabling the actual structure of a vehicle to be turned into a giant battery. It’s some way off commercialisation with the requisite level of output but it shows the direction in which things are moving.

Of course we we still have to generate the electricity in the first place, and if one study this week is to be believed, this process generates more pollution than burning petrol inside a car engine. Researchers in China looked at particulate emissions (rather than CO2) and compared the output from a variety of different vehicles and their power sources, concluding in headline-grabbing fashion that electric cars were more polluting than their petrol counterparts.

This is, of course, not remotely true unless the vast majority of your power happens to come from coal, and you have very low standards for emissions control – as is the case in China. In just about any western country where the power is generated from cleaner sources, and the emissions are filtered, the math looks very, very different – not that you’d know that if you read the Daily Mail story on the subject.

In summary then, electric cars are coming and they will (eventually) be both, cool and practical, appealing and green – whatever the Daily Mail might say. You just need deep pockets if you want one in 2012.