Bright sparks switched on to electric cars early

Adrian Loening charges his electric Nissan Leaf car. Picture: Julie Bull

Adrian Loening charges his electric Nissan Leaf car. Picture: Julie Bull

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SHOULD he suddenly feel the need for speed, Adrian Loening’s seemingly quite ordinary Nissan Leaf could leave just about any car standing at the traffic lights.

Foot to the floor from stationary to 60mph in around seven seconds – not bad for what some still reckon is not much more than a souped-up milk float.

“It’s happened once or twice, there’s some young lad in the next lane who recognises it’s an electric vehicle.

You can see them thinking ‘I’m going to leave him behind, ­Jeremy Clarkson says electric cars are ­rubbish’,” smiles Adrian. “I watch their shiny little faces in the rear view mirror as I drive off, them wondering what has just happened.”

He’s far from some crazed boy racer, but Adrian can definitely be forgiven a moment of fun.

After all, for years he was one of the loneliest motorists in the land, a rare breed who embraced the green revolution and snapped up one of the first electric cars on Scottish roads.

There was, however, also a downside to being ahead of the pack.

For he was such a rarity that ­infrastructure hadn’t quite caught up with his groundbreaking mode of transport, and finding somewhere to actually charge his vehicle while out and about was virtually impossible.

Now, however, he’s far from alone. For as fuel costs bite, electric cars become cheaper and more motorists get over their ‘range anxiety’ – the fear that their battery will suddenly ­expire if they stray too far – more motorists are switching on to the idea of ­driving without pumping emissions into the atmosphere.

The push for electric power has taken at least one car manufacturer by surprise: according to Mitsubishi’s Edinburgh dealership, its I-Mieve electric vehicle is currently completely sold out in the UK.

And soon demand could move up another gear, spurred on by transport minister Keith Brown’s ­announcement earlier this year for a £2.6million Scotland-wide network of public charging stations which will increase the number from 70 to 240, with plans to site them every 50 miles on trunk roads.

Edinburgh City Council, which has a 13-strong fleet of electric and hybrid vehicles, is looking into the ­possibility of installing a number of new electric vehicle charging ­stations, probably located at the city’s Park and Ride locations.

Meanwhile a growing band of ­hotels – such as Radisson Blu in the Royal Mile, Kings Manor Hotel in Milton Road and Dalmahoy Hotel near the airport – have seized on the benefits of offering to charge electric cars for travellers who may then also want a bed for the night, while car dealerships and even Malmaison brasserie in Leith have set up points for customers.

Better news at last for dad-of-two Adrian, who is a member of the Electric Vehicles Association Scotland and is seeing more and more people interested in joining the green team.

“There are probably at least 300 electric cars in Scotland now and quite a good number of vans and trucks,” he explains. “As the ­charging infrastructure improves, the price of vehicles comes down and more ­people see cars being charged at ­supermarkets and in public places, it all starts to trigger the idea among drivers that they might look at an electric car.”

Adrian, who lives in Ormiston, bought his first electric vehicle in 2008 having originally set out to buy an electric scooter.

He explains: “The battery was old acid technology but it still got me around and it took the kids from home to school and back every day without any problems. But finding somewhere away from home to charge it was a problem.”

Since then, however, he’s seen ­vehicles and technology advancing all the time. His Nissan Leaf has a more modern lithium battery that can be fully charged using an electric socket in his garage from empty to full, overnight, at the cost of just £1.50.

It works out, he adds proudly, at around 2p a mile – around a tenth of the cost of fuel.

“I’ve worked out that over the last couple of years, I’ve saved something like £2000 on fuel by using an ­electric car,” he happily points out.

Technology, he says, is evolving all the time, with batteries becoming more powerful – he sees a day when an electric car will be capable of ­travelling hundreds of miles between charges, much more than the 80-90 miles they currently manage.

“In terms of performance, they are already much faster than their petrol equivalent,” he adds. “A Tesla which can seat seven people can accelerate from 0-60mph in 4.2 seconds – that’s faster than most Ferraris.”

But while electric cars are finally getting into gear, they could ­eventually have hot competition from another even greener alternative: ­hydrogen fuel cell powered cars. ­Earlier this month the European Commission announced plans for a new £1.2bn raft of research into ­hydrogen power, while Toyota said it will produce a hydrogen ­powered ­vehicle capable of travelling 300 miles without charge but with a price tag of up to $100,000.

Honda and GM have banded ­together to research fuel cell technology – with talk of a Honda mass-
produced, affordable hydrogen ­fuel-cell vehicle hitting the market by 2020 while Hyundai has also ­embraced the hydrogen fuel idea.

Fuel cell cars use electricity created by a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen.

They generate no toxic exhaust gases and don’t need to source their power from the national grid, giving them even greener credentials.

Craig Ingram, sales manager at Phoenix Mitsubishi Edinburgh, the car manufacturer’s official Electric Vehicle Sales Dealership, says there is certainly growing interest among customers for making the switch to greener power.

“Mitsubishi’s electric vehicle, the 
I-Miev, is now sold out in the UK and we’re waiting for more coming from Japan,” he points out.

And while customers are often ­interested mainly in the savings they can make on running costs, the green credentials that comes with driving an electric vehicle also factor high, he adds.

“In some cases it’s down to ­company car tax which is based on emissions. The tax on these cars is ­incredibly low, so we are seeing a lot of businesses taking them.

“We’ve just supplied vehicles to Edinburgh ­College where they do a lot of short journeys, so the cars are ideal.”

He agrees that many motorists still need to be convinced that ­electric cars can match the performance and offer the same peace of mind as a ­traditional fuel-powered cousin. “People are nervous that the ­vehicles won’t do what they are supposed to do,” he nods. “But once they try the car for a while on their normal journeys, they tend to change their minds.

“Once people start to see more charging points – especially fast charging ones that take just half an hour to 40 minutes – then I’m sure the demand will really increase.”

• Find out more about the Electric Vehicle Association, www.eva-scotland.org. The Energy Saving Trust has information about electric vehicles, runs workshops and training, go to www.energysavingtrust.org.uk

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