Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Peugeot iOn

In the early part of the last century, electric cars were all the rage. Seriously, look into the history books and you'll see that electric cars were once as popular as the petrol powered models, but unfortunately the problem of range got in the way, and once it became feasible to travel hundreds of mile in a day on petrol compared to tens of miles on electric, the concept was put on the back burner for a while.

But everyone knew they would be back. The thing is, electric cars make more sense. There is no need for a gearbox, the motors can be mounted close to the wheels and leave much more space for what the car carries - the passengers. Milkmen everywhere know as well about the quietude of the electric motor. And, thanks to Toyota, many people (including myself) enjoy the near silence of the electric motor, only to have it interrupted fairly quickly by the noisy spluttering of a petrol engine coming to life.

So recently, with the bearded eco nutters being shown to be more and more likely to be right, there has been a push to shift away from nasty fossil fuels and towards clean electric produced by nasty fossil fuels, which incidentally have lower tax rates than filling up your tank directly with the fossil fuels and burning it from there.

So we have had a couple of generations of eco cars, and they're no longer the preserve of beardies. Normal people have them, and normal people everywhere are waking up to the fact that we can't continue to burn fossil fuels. So fortunately, electric cars are starting to make more sense in terms of range and power.

The formula for a successful car is to make a car that is conservative enough that the driver doesn't look like Mr. Spock when he is driving (like the first Insight did), but with enough of an edge that people know this person is concerned about the environment. Think Prius.

So this Peugeot is based on the iMiev, which is a car and not a Russian MP3 player. It looks a bit like the 107, but there is definitely enough of an edge that people would think it's not petrol. The big question, would you buy it with a petrol engine? No, of course you wouldn't. So why would you buy it when the range is 90 miles? GM got it right with the Ampera - conventional, but edgy. They got it hideously wrong with the same car but for the American market, the Chevy Volt - not enough of an edge. They got it right with the EV1 though, but the tech wasn't there.

If car makers want to sell electric cars, they should dress them up as conventional cars. Some get it and will do well, others don't. The ultimate question is whether the electric cars offer enough of an incentive to switch. At present, I doubt it, but we're getting there.

This car won't change the world. Don't expect miracles.

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