Electric Car

Last week I drove an electric car.  Not a concept or prototype, but a family saloon which is going to be produced in Sunderland.  The Nissan Leaf is fully electric: it's not a hybrid.

And it's a very good car.  I've driven an electric car before - the Tesla Roadster - and I remembered the surging acceleration and the eerie silence (there's no engine noise).

The Tesla was an expensive, up-market two seater sports car.  The Leaf competes with well equipped five door family saloons, retailing at around £25,000 - though only thanks to the Government's subsidy of £5,000 for electric cars.

The Leaf has no carbon emissions - though it matters, of course, how that electricity was generated.  Every mile driven costs about a quarter as much as the cost in an equivalent petrol saloon.  It has a top speed of over 90mph.  And you just plug it in.

And there's the rub.  The Leaf's range between charges is just over 100 miles, depending on how it's driven and whether or not you have the air conditioning on.  To be fair, that's further than eight out of ten of us drive every day.   In fact, 95 per cent of car trips in this country are less than 25 miles.

So for urban or even surburban dwellers, the Leaf is a real prospect.  We're all used to the idea of plugging in our mobile phones overnight.  Why not our car?

But for many of us in rural areas, the limited range of electric cars is still a fundamental barrier.  I can easily cover more than 100 miles on a busy constituency day.  I usually don't have time to wait for 40 minutes at a charging point.  And anyway, there aren't yet enough of them.

When I pointed out to my Nissan demonstrator that there was only one charging point in my constituency - Storrington - he said he thought that there was another in Aldershot.  I explained that that would be a long way to push a car.

Actually there are now charging points in many of our local towns - Burgess Hill, Worthing, Horsham.  But we need more.

I was impressed by the Leaf.  And as batteries improve and more charging points are put in, I think there could be a breakthrough in electric powered cars.  We can't go on burning fossil fuels forever.  The future may well be electric.

Christopher N Howarth