Andrew Hirst: One in 10 cars will run on electricity by 2020 ... but not mine

THERE are suggestions that as many as one in 10 cars will run on electricity by 2020.

THERE are suggestions that as many as one in 10 cars will run on electricity by 2020.

That’s got to be an optimistic view. After all, when I was growing up in the 1970s weren’t we all supposed to be zipping about the skies in little family spaceships by about now – 2010. They don’t seem to have materialised. The only thing that zips about the skies above Huddersfield are Chinese lanterns which some confused skygazers still insist are UFOs.

But the strange thing about electric cars is that they’ve been around as long as … well, the car. In fact, in the early 20th Century they were very much the in-thing, apparently providing a level of comfort and ease of operation that could not be achieved by the fuel-powered cars of the time.

They even held many speed and distance records. Among the most notable of these was the breaking of the 62mph speed barrier by Camille Jenatzy on April 29, 1899, in his ‘rocket-shaped’ vehicle Jamais Contente, which reached a top speed of 65.79 mph.

In 1897 electric vehicles found their first commercial application in the United States as a fleet of electrical New York City taxis, built by the Electric Carriage and Wagon Company of Philadelphia.

Of course that all changed when the gas-guzzlers came along – and some would say Henry Ford was to blame.

Advances in internal combustion technology gave petrol-powered motors – as they do today – far greater range and quicker refuelling. Petrol stations must have been easier to set up than electricity stations. The Ford Motor Company reduced prices of petrol cars to less than half that of equivalent electric cars which led to a decline in the use of electric propulsion, effectively removing it from important markets such as the United States by the 1930s.

But today we face new challenges such as saving the environment and the fact that the natural resources used to manufacture fuel are running out.

There still seems a long way to go down this particular road with the prices of electric cars still out of most people’s range at just under £30,000 for a small electric car, although with rocketing fuel prices they may soon start to seem a more viable option. The United States has pledged $2.4bn in grants for electric cars and batteries. China has announced it will provide $15bn to initiate an electric car industry.

And, of course, you still can’t go far in them. OK to nip around London in and they appear so small you could get your mates to lift them into the most impossible parking spots.

With electric cars around so long it’s strange that the whole industry hasn’t moved forward with the same pace, power and passion as those running on petrol and diesel.

But we may just be at the start of this revolution on the road with the Nissan Leaf becoming the first modern all-electric car to be produced for the mass market from a major supplier in Japan and America last month. Now what is needed are fast-charging stations to boost your battery and there is at least one model, the Tesla Roadster, that can now do 245 miles in between charges and takes under four hours to re-power the battery.That will get you to London from Huddersfield. America seems to be surging ahead and has vowed to cover the entire country with charging stations within a couple of years. That appears a tad optimistic, even for America.

But, it seems, people are not willing to pay … yet. A survey for the Financial Times showed that 76% of Britons won’t pay more for an electric car above the price of diesel or petrol models.

And then there’s the cost of plugging the battery in and recharging it with electricity costs soaring. Still, you could always put up a wind turbine in your garden to power that.

So the electric car may eventually arrive in our lives, but it’s hard to see it becoming as widespread as anticipated in just 10 years’ time.

After all, look at the rail network. How long have we been waiting for that to match the best the rest of the world can offer such as France and Japan.

Well, in my case, a lifetime.

 
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