Changing vrooms

A new government programme that aims to put British drivers behind the wheel of high-performance electric vehicles aims to change assumptions about environmentally friendly cars.

The EEMS Accelerate project will put 21 electric sports cars on the road for 12 months with support from the Technology Strategy Board. The programme is one of eight new low-carbon vehicle projects sharing £25m to assess electric vehicles as a credible alternative to their hydrocarbon-powered cousins.

A group of drivers will be asked to use the cars as they would a normal vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine. The project collaborators will monitor information such as car travel distance and battery life using onboard data logging devices. Some of the information will be sent wirelessly in real time using GPRS. The drivers will also be interviewed to gauge their comfort level with the cars.

Nick Carpenter, technical director of automotive engineering consultancy Delta Motorsport, one of the project collaborators, said getting these vehicles into the hands of motorists will help change misconceptions about electric vehicle technology.

‘There are a lot of assumptions about electric vehicle technology,’ he said. ‘A couple of them are more accurate than others. The initial one is that the range of an electric vehicle is poor and so the performance is also poor.’

Carpenter added that electric vehicles are often perceived as slow and unsafe. Many of these misconceptions, he said, can be blamed on electric vehicles currently on the market that qualify as a quadricycle and do not need to meet normal NCAP standards.

‘Most of those assumptions are absolutely correct based on vehicles that are out there and you can go and buy at the moment,’ added Carpenter. ‘But there is another generation of vehicles coming through that challenge those assumptions.’

Lightning Car Company, another project collaborator, hopes to challenge those assumptions with the Lightning GT vehicle. The company will offer two cars to the EEMS Accelerate project.

‘With the Lightning, you can go 0 to 60mph in less than five seconds,’ said Arthur Wolstenholme, technical director of Lightning Car Company. ‘What we try to do with the Lightning is show that you can have what looks like an ordinary internal combustion engine car from the outside and that it can match the performance, or sometimes excel the performance, of an internal combustion engine car.’

Wolstenholme admits that driving an electric vehicle could psychologically be a very different experience for pure petrol heads. For example, the cars lack the exciting roar of an internal combustion engine.

‘You’ll always get the people who like the sound of the V8 or V12,’ he said. ‘If you want a car that can have incredible performance but cost one-tenth of the price to run and you want the green credentials, then this is the car.’

Carpenter said the information gathered from the demonstration project will tell electric car manufacturers how to better build their cars to meet the practical and psychological needs of consumers. The information can also be used by government to help accelerate the amount of electric vehicles on the road.

‘The government is planning to take all of that information at the end of the programme to decide if there are some holes that need to be filled with further research and development, technologies or support for the electrical infrastructure,’ he added.

Siobhan Wagner