My new electric car: the UK is just not ready…

Wayne’s experience with a new all electric car

I read this this week “Boris Johnson is expected to accelerate the shift to electric vehicles this autumn with the announcement, one of a string of new clean energy policies to help trigger a green economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.”  

Here’s my personal ‘move to electric cars’ story to accompany it.

In 2003, I was among the lucky few people in the public eye to be loaned the brand new Toyota Prius for a two-week test drive. I loved it, it really felt like a major step forward for sustainable personal transportation (yes Jeremy Clarkson constantly derided it, but he’s a d*ck). This was the first Toyota Prius in the UK and when the press trials were over, I offered to buy it. To my surprise Toyota agreed to sell it to me. For the next seventeen years and the next 280,000 miles we kept saying that our next car would be all electric rather than a hybrid.

When Tesla announced in 2106 that it was releasing the world’s first affordable long range car, I duly put down my $1000 deposit and started to prepare to say goodbye to our Prius that whilst still going strong technically was looking rather tatty inside and out (the bodywork strips and interiors are all held together with grey duct tape). Three years on with little communication and no apologies we cancelled our Tesla and transferred our deposit over to a lovely looking new, all electric prototype – the Honda E.

In 2020 a very nicely designed, beautiful little Honda E arrived, complete with space age stuff like no wing mirrors (replaced by internal cameras) and self-parking.

My first drive was from the South Coast to Newbury for an urban design meeting. There were only 8 charging points listed in Newbury but I thought that would be OK. I went to the Parkway multi story car park to find 3 of the 4 marked Out of Order and the fourth being used. Off I went to find some on street ones that were listed only to find that they were resident only. My last chance was the Kennet Centre car park where I arrived at 5pm (by this time 45 minutes late for my meeting). There was one free but I found you had to be a member and have a swipe card to use the two charging points. I drove back to The Parkway car park and had to ask the car washing person if I could plug into his normal socket. Down to 25% capacity and with the dashboard computer saying it would take 13.5  hours to charge to full (as opposed to 3 hours on a proper charger), I had no choice but to leave it on this slow charge and leg it to my meeting.

Two hours later I came back, the charge had limped up to 30%, enough to get me almost a third of the way home. The one remaining charger in the car park was now free so I thought I would put it on charge for a couple of hours and go and get some dinner. It was an “Eat out to Help Out” evening so there was absolutely nowhere to eat, so I sat in a hotel lobby caught up on some emails and then at 8.30pm went back to the car to find that the charger had lasted 10 minutes and joined the rest of them: “Out of Order”.

I looked online and worked out that I could reach Winchester and with two major service stations on the way would surely find a charging station. I was wrong… both service stations on the A34 between Newbury and Winchester didn’t have electric charging.

It gets pretty nerve wracking seeing charge go down when you don’t know when you can get your next fix! You have to drive at very low speeds to conserve energy. I finally found an Esso garage in Winchester with just 5 miles left on the battery, sat in the car for 90 mins hooked up to the charger (and paid £14, similar to the cost of petrol!) and then calculated I had enough charge to get home.

Halfway back, the A27 was closed and there was a detour through country lanes. I realised that the only way I was going to make it back was to drive at no more than 30 miles an hour. I got back at midnight – over four hours later than I would have done if I had been in my Prius and a lot less calm.

Basically now we use the car ONLY when we know that we are staying somewhere for at least half a day and there is access to a plug. You get used to that but it certainly doesn’t suit the majority of car drivers and it’s hard to see a big uplift in demand for electric cars until the charging infrastructure is radically upgraded and expanded.

Seventeen years after buying my Prius, it feels that we are much more than a decade away from the country switching to electric cars. It’s going to take quite some acceleration.