The new fully electric MINI has landed. How soon you’ll get the opportunity to drive one, however, is up for debate. Somehow I don’t think test driving a shiny new hatchback could be considered “essential” right now.
Even if you are so inclined, it may take a while for the automotive industry to get back into gear (MINI stalled production at all UK, European and South African plants earlier in the year due to Coronavirus).
But that doesn’t mean we can’t look forward to the prospect. After all, the electric MINI could be the car that changes our way of life. As Jason Barlow of GQ Magazine succinctly explains:
It’s a Mini that just happens to be electrically powered and, as such, could be the car that propels us ever faster towards the electric tipping point we keep reading about.
Now that’s something to get excited about.
I’m a big supporter of the so-called “electric revolution”, but find myself approaching the idea of joining the club with caution. A new car is a big outlay, and whilst being an early adopter always appeals to me – especially where technology is concerned – I also know that the best is yet to come.
Why buy a car that can do 150 miles with one charge, when the next model might surpass 300? Or spend over the odds for the privilege of being one of the first? Prices are sure to be driven down as more and more manufacturers enter the marketplace with increasingly smart, technologically advanced offerings.
Put it this way: if you had the choice between the original iPhone and an iPhone 11, which would you pick? Of course, it’s a no brainer – the iPhone 11 is far superior in every respect. That said, more than a decade passed between the two releases. If you could have an original iPhone now, or wait another ten years for the 11, you’ll no doubt pick the former. It’s available (almost) immediately and it meets its primary function – a means of communication - with some exciting extras thrown in for good measure. But instead of smartphones we’re talking cars, and instead of cameras, music players and apps, we’re talking eco-friendly credentials…
After all, there’s one added extra for converting from a fuel-guzzler to an electric model that reviewers don’t shout about enough – the clear conscience.
Would I feel better for having “done my bit” by switching to zero-emissions motoring at the earliest possible opportunity, or does it make sense – logically / financially / situationally – to wait a year or two for any initial hiccups to be ironed out?
Let’s start with my situation. I have a wife and two young children, I work from home for most of the week - irrespective of the current lockdown measures - so don’t need a vehicle for commuting, and I love caravanning. Based on that criteria, the electric MINI would be immediately ruled out – or any MINI in the range, for that matter – although I’m sure it would make a lovely little runner for trips into town and the like. It would certainly be a joy to park in comparison to some of the “family friendly” alternatives that feel more like tanks than cars!
Which leads me to question, is there an electric car available that is large enough for a family of four (and all the baggage that comes with it) AND is capable of towing a caravan? Is it tow much, too soon?
A February 2020 article from Car magazine sheds a little more light on where the industry is at right now:
The benefits of electric cars are obvious; they’re quiet, clean, relaxing to drive and inexpensive to run… That’s not to say that an electric car would suit everyone; the realities of charging and range are two factors that need to be considered, for example.
Think about the length of journeys you tend to do, for starters; are they shorter than the range of an EV? Will you have opportunities to charge up at work, or en route, or at home? If so, and you see an EV fitting neatly into your life, click here for a list of the best electric cars.
Like any type of new technology, EVs are improving rapidly – but you shouldn’t necessarily wait to buy one; the current crop benefit from quick charging times and good efficiency, which in conjunction with an ever-expanding charging infrastructure means range is less of a concern than it used to be.
So far, so good – more meticulous planning would be required when mapping out longer journeys, but that wouldn’t be enough of a factor to put me off. Logistics are part and parcel of planning a holiday, and I live for small details!
Now, a question of costs…
According to research conducted by Global X, a fund management company, battery prices dropped by 50 per cent between 2015 – 2018. Despite the reduction in price – and the news that the government is planning on tackling the high costs of charging stations – an electric vehicle will still set you back considerably more than a conventional counterpart.
An article by Liverpool Victoria (LV.com) explains further:
The newest model of the Nissan LEAF, the best-selling electric car in the UK, costs significantly more than the petrol Ford Fiesta, which is the most popular car in the UK of any fuel type. The Nissan LEAF starts from £27,995, while the Ford Fiesta starts from £15,670.
Even though the difference is slightly offset by grants – the government gives grants up to £3,500 towards the cost of electric cars and up to £8,000 for vans – the initial cost of an electric car puts off many buyers.
So, we’re not talking peanuts here. The £12,325 difference between an entry level Nissan LEAF and a Ford Fiesta is enough to buy a new VW, Fiat or Toyota runaround outright.
If you were to buy a new petrol or diesel car, however, how long could you expect to legally run it for? As things stand, there are twenty years to go before you’d need to fully convert to electric, although plans and proposals are changing all the time. According to The Times, the current Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, has said that the government’s target to ensure all new cars are zero-emission models by 2040 may be shifted to 2035 under new plans.
Pressure is certainly piling on those in power, and each country’s green credentials – and their plans to combat climate change collaboratively – will surely be high on the agenda again in due course.
The BBC detailed how the ban on petrol and diesel vehicles will work – and why restrictions are required – in a fascinating article from February 2020:
Poor air quality is the "biggest environmental risk to public health in the UK" - thought to be linked to about 40,000 premature deaths a year - the government says. While air pollution has been mostly falling, in many cities nitrogen oxides - which form part of the discharge from car exhausts - regularly breach safe levels.
Diesel vehicles produce the overwhelming majority of nitrogen oxide gases coming from roadside sources.
The government was ordered by the courts to produce a new plan to tackle illegal levels of harmful pollutant nitrogen dioxide, a form of the nitrogen oxide pollutants emitted by vehicles.
Unsurprisingly it is our neighbours in the Nordics who are leading the way. An infographic from Statista illustrates the countries with the highest share of plug-in electric vehicles in new passenger car sales in 2018 (including plug-in hybrids). Norway is streets ahead with 49.14%, followed by Iceland (19.14%) and Sweden (8.01%). Finland is in fifth position with 4.74%, behind the Netherlands on 6.69%, with the UK filling 10th place. I’d like to say it looks like the voting results from Eurovision, but the UK would never be that high!
A key reason for Norway’s success in this field is their government’s commitment to zero emissions, having set an ambitious goal for all new cars to have zero emissions by 2025. Whether that is feasible remains to be seen, but the fact that they were almost half the way there in 2018 deserves commendation.
But just as the UK lags behind, so – sadly - do I.
According to Carbuyer, the first waves of electric vehicles just aren’t built for towing caravans:
There are a few reasons why. Firstly, the battery pack fitted in an electric car is very heavy. As an example, while a 1.2-litre petrol Renault Clio supermini can weigh as little as 977kg, the all-electric Renault ZOE supermini weighs 1,468kg, with the battery pack coming in at 305kg alone. With this much weight on board, there’s less capacity to deal with the extra weight of a trailer, which could put too much strain on components like the brakes.
A second reason often cited by manufacturers is that towing could damage the electric powertrain itself. While the instant torque and impressive power of electric motor can be ideal for accelerating with a trailer, the main issue comes when slowing down. Unlike a conventional internal combustion engine, electric motors can instantly switch to become generators as you come off the accelerator pedal, converting kinetic energy into extra charge for the batteries and slowing the vehicle down. Towing a heavy trailer down a steep hill will provide lots more kinetic energy than normal, which could overwhelm the electrical system.
Lastly, many manufacturers don’t put electric models through the homologation process for towing, because the extra effort of towing a trailer can dramatically reduce the maximum driving range. As most EV manufacturers are already struggling to combat the stigma of ‘range anxiety’, the possibility that towing could leave drivers stranded is a big risk.
That said, there is ONE electric car on the market today that’s approved for towing – the Tesla Model X SUV, and another on the horizon – the Tesla CyberTruck.
You may well recognise the CyberTruck from its less-than-ideal launch event in November 2019 – you know, the one where the supposedly impenetrable, bulletproof windows shattered… On the plus side, it’s not set to be released for a few years yet (plenty of time to iron out any minor kinks!) and it looks strikingly similar to a DeLorean... Not sure how my wife would feel about doing 88mph with a caravan on the back, mind. Or the police for that matter… I can but dream.